CLARKE Chamberpot award
- Trial and Tribulation
March 30, 2004
Today's Richard Clarke Award for Stepping in your Chamberpot goes to
Richard Ernest, a ballistics expert who testified in the trial of Jason
Williams, one of the several NBA players in trouble with the law.
Williams faces 55 years in prison if convicted of aggravated
manslaughter in the death of his chauffeur, but claims he didn't pull
the trigger that the gun went off by accident.
Williams' lawyers put Ernest on the stand to give expert testimony that
it was possible for the gun to go off spontaneously if a tiny wood chip
has somehow clogged in the trigger mechanism. And so he did, saying it
could have happened just like that. When the prosecution got its chance
at cross-examination, Ernest was asked if he had performed any
experiments to test his theory. Uh-oh. Seems he had indeed, taking a
similar gun to a firing range and painstakingly, using "a stereo
microscope and fine tweezers" inserted a chip into the inner workings.
But try as he might, he was never able to get to the gun to go off
spontaneously, without pressing the trigger. Williams story is that his
hand wasn't on the trigger, though eyewitnesses say otherwise.
You've got to give the defense kudos for chutzpah, though. In order to
show the jury just how their theory worked, they prepared a little
animated film, in which the animated gun actually does go off by itself.
Where the heck do they think this trial is being held, Toontown? Anyway,
the judge told them they couldn't show jurors the Roger Rabbit version
of the gun going off, on account of because Williams' twelve peers might
actually think that when they saw the gun go off on its own in the film,
it meant the gun could actually go off like that. The judge did let them
use the animation sequence without the explosion, though, so the jurors
would have some idea what they were talking about.
So here's the upshot, so to speak. When the supposedly edited animation
is shown to the court, BLAM, off goes the animated gun. The prosecutor
leaps up like HE'S been shot, and starts yelling objections at the top
of his voice. The judge pounds his gavel like he's spotted a poisonous
scorpion on the podium and the bailiffs whisk the jurors out of the room
for their own protection, although whether from the animated gunshots,
screaming prosecutor or hammer-whacking judge is not certain.
When the confusion dies down, at least a little, the defense counsel
claims it was all an accident, that they were sure the banned sequence
had been edited out, and can't imagine how it got back in.
See the neat little parallel here? The animated gun went off by
accident, just like the real one did. Cute, eh?
Eventually, the jury came back into the room and the judge instructed
them to disregard what they had seen. You hear TV judges say that sort
of thing all the time, but I've never figured out how it can work. It's
sort of like being ordered to enjoy yourself, isn't it? Here a gunshot
has gone off, all hell has broken loose in the courtroom, you have been
shoveled into the jury room by a bunch of gun-toting bailiffs, and when
it's all over, the judge does his Tony Soprano imitation and says, "this
never happened, got it?"
I'm not saying Williams is now certain to be convicted. New Jersey
juries are highly unpredictable. But the thing the defense tried today
Now, I know what you're thinking. How is it that the award mentioned in
the lead paragraph of this article got to be named after Richard Clarke?
Well, I'll tell you. It's because his whole gambit, like the Williams
defense, is a fictional, unsupported proposition so improbable that its
likelihood rests way out on the end of the continuum between reasonable
doubt and utterly impossible.
Like sad sack ballistics expert Ernest, Clarke made up a story, only to
have it turn out his own paper trail contradicted his claims. In
Clarke's case, release of the news interview he did in 2002, when he
sang the praises of the Bush administration's anti- terrorism policy to
the hilt, put the lie to his book-Sixty Minutes-9/11 panel statements
that they were all asleep at the switch. Clarke may have thought he had
a smoking gun, but just like the one in Ernest's tests, it wouldn't
fire. It turns out not to have been real, just an animation.
Ernest will collect his expert testimony fee, and Clarke will collect
his book royalties, but their credibility is, if you'll pardon the
expression, shot. A new poll shows only about 25% of Americans believe
Clarke is a sincere fellow, while twice that number think he's motivated
by politics, greed, narcissism or some combination thereof.
Outside the Somerville courtroom, a posse of placard-carrying Williams
supporters marched in support of their man. They probably believed every
word the ballistics guru said, and didn't think there was anything wrong
with the jury seeing the ersatz explosion. Whatever Williams' clever
lawyers peddle, they buy.
Outside the Beltway, lots of fervent Democrats will march to the beat of
Clarke or any other anti-Bush drummer, explaining away inconsistencies,
demanding that Condoleezza Rice be stretched on the rack until she
confesses. Whatever John Kerry's clever spin-doctors peddle, they buy.
And, of course, there's lots more testimony to be heard. Maybe the jury
will let Williams off. Maybe the voters will go with Kerry. But their
causes haven't been helped lately, that's for darned sure.
Veteran GOP media consultant Jay Bryant's regular columns are available
at www.theoptimate.com, and his commentaries may be heard on NPR's 'All
©2004 Jay Bryant