Apr 29, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 36

Judge Darrow Hears Arguments

The day started with some very heated argument over what Det. Diskin can testify to. (I missed the beginning of this because CNN was asleep on the job but more on that later.) When In Session began broadcasting the legal arguments, they were discussing the case of Daniel Pfankuch and how it informed the direction of Det. Diskin's investigation. There is much about this situation that is debatable. It happened 6 years ago. There is some conflicting witness testimony and there are seemingly irreconcilable differences in interpretation as to what happened. Both Pfankuch interview transcripts and those of other participants can be found here.

People on the scene at that sweat lodge event described Pfankuch as hullucinating, combative, and ultimately unconscious. His wife had to force him to leave the sweat lodge. He wandered around hitting and kicking people and was generally irrational before passing out. He believes he had a near death experience from which he really didn't wish to return. His wife, Michelle, pounded on his chest and pleaded with him to come back. Another participant named David Duhaime aggressively cooled him by hosing down his head with cold water. Duhaime believes he would have died, otherwise. Duhaime demanded JRI staff members call 911 but they refused to do so without checking with Ray who had gone to take a shower. He became "very animated" and believes he persuaded them to call because but they didn't. Amayra Hamilton did and James Ray screamed and yelled at her for it.

Pfankuch was taken by ambulance to the hospital where he was treated for heat exhaustion and syncope. Daniel Pfankuch, though, believes he was told he had heatstroke and that is what he told Det. Diskin. The hallucinations and combative behavior are also consistent with heatstroke. He was also dehydrated and kept on IV fluids for some hours at the hospital.

Here's where it gets tricky for the prosecution and how James Ray has actually protected himself through his inaction. Because of all the foot dragging and the staff's refusal to call 911, Pfankuch's body temperature had, no doubt, dropped by the time he got to the hospital. The worst of his symptoms had also abated. A doctor can't diagnose based on symptoms he does not see. So the official medical diagnosis is hampered by the lack of promptness in getting Pfankuch to the hospital. The same thing occurred in 2009. And in 2007 and 2008, no one even went to the hospital so there are no medical records to refer to; only eye witness testimony to symptoms. This is also very dicey for Judge Darrow who has repeatedly stated his unwillingness to allow testimony filled with laymen diagnoses that have never been medically corroborated.

Sheila Polk would like to have the testimony admitted and connect the dots between what people observed and the medical definitions of heat related illness. Judge Darrow has given her some latitude in this regard but it's still tenuous and there is only so far he will go out onto that limb. It's understandable. Frustrating but understandable.

Today, though, he came as close as I've ever seen him come to losing his temper. There is another problem that was laid out today that ties back to the PowerPoint presentation and discussion between the prosecutors, the police, and the medical examiners. Apparently, in that presentation, Det. Diskin described Daniel Pfankuch as having suffered heatstroke which could have prejudiced their diagnoses in the cases of Kirby Brown, James Shore, and Liz Neuman, and according to Tom Kelly, this was after the police had the actual medical report with the lesser diagnosis in their possession. Polk argued that if such aspersions were going to made against Det. Diskin, he needed to be offered the chance to testify to the issue directly, which would mean presenting the Daniel Pfankuch to the jury. And that, according to Judged Darrow, is a bridge too far.

The defense would also like to get its limiting instruction on the burden shifting issue. The prosecution has no objection to a limiting instruction but this morning they were still going over precedent and languaging. Luis Li, predictably, got very agitated over the issue, insisting that he and Truc Do were getting suspicious looks from the jury as Sheila Polk ran through her litany of questions about the many opportunities defense attorneys had to raise the question with Det. Diskin but didn't. I think its entirely possible that her phrasing could have created confusion about what the responsibility of the defense is in a case like this but I think Li might do well to consider that he and Do are getting looks because they've damaged their own credibility with their tactics. The other significant event that occurred yesterday was that Li's lying to Amayra Hamilton about nails in logs was laid bare by Diskin's testimony and the presentation of the logs themselves to the jury. Tactics like that look bad. No one likes to be lied to and the witness is not the only person deceived in a case like that; the jurors were also being willfully, and I think, noticeably misled.

There was also some argument over another exhibit. Polk explained that she wanted to present a chart showing the corporate structure and hierarchy. Seems pretty straightforward, right? But Kelly renewed his objection. This seemed to confuse Judge Darrow. He seemed to be laboring under the misapprehension that Kelly's corporate chart, created on the easel during Melinda Martin's testimony, was actually designed to clarify the corporate structure rather than to obscure it.

Darrow: I mentioned the specific thing you wanted to show was corporate structure, hierarchy, officers and those things... I mentioned in the ruling and I think one of the things that the State had objected to then in their written response had to do why, why all of the articles, and, um, I mean I understand Mr. Kelly spent a lot of time with the, on the easel, and there was discussion about who does what and that kind of information I, and I thought that's what you wanted was to actually get the document in and you'd have foundation for that.

Kelly: Judge. We will stipulate that James Ray was the president of James Ray International if that's its purpose. Again, I never thought that was a disputed fact, but, even a relevant fact but it uh

Polk: Judge. It's not the Articles of Incorporation. It is the -- this is exhibit 809 -- which is the list of corporate officers.

Darrow: Mr. Kelly, you gonna object to that?... Again I don't know that the detective would be the foundation witness for this if there's an issue on foundation.

Polk: Your honor this is a certified public record. It, um, I'm just bringing it in through his testimony but the foundation is through the rules. It's a certified public document.

Darrow: There's the certification and authentication --

Kelly: Judge [inaudible crosstalk] The point of the chart was to point out the lack of any personal knowledge by James Ray. I just don't think this is relevant. But, uh, we respect your ruling. If that's the document, it appears to be rather innocuous so I don't have any objection. [All Emphases Mine]

James Ray International Offices

When Polk resumed her questioning of Det. Diskin it became clear why Kelly would not particularly want JRI corporate structure laid bare, if his goal was to show how detached Ray was from the day to day goings on at JRI. She brought out Kelly's chart and compared it to the actual certified copy listing the officers for JRI.

Polk: Detective, are you able to see who is listed as President for James Ray International?

Diskin: Yes. It's James Ray.

Polk: Are you able to see who is listed as Secretary for James Ray International?

Diskin: Yes. It's James Ray.

Polk: Are you able to see who is listed as Treasurer for James Ray International?

Diskin: Yes. It's James Ray.

Polk: And are you able to see who is listed as Director for James Ray International?

Diskin: Yes. It's James Ray.

Polk: Are you able to see who signed the filing of the corporate officers for James Ray International's Secretary?

Diskin: Yes. Has James Ray's name there.

Next, Polk addressed some of the materials that were discovered during the search executed at the JRI offices in Carlsbad, CA. These were all items pertaining to Kirby Brown, James Shore, and Liz Neuman. Some of them are in dispute and their admission is pending further argument. What was admitted were the release waivers for the Spiritual Warrior event. The bulk of these waivers were found in Megan Fredrickson's backpack, which was sitting by the door to her office. So they had clearly been hurriedly transported from Arizona to the offices. Worse, the backpack did not just contain the JRI waivers but also the Angel Valley waivers. So, in their haste, they actually stole Angel Valley property and took it back to Carlsbad.

Whether or not this pertains to the attempted scrubbing of the Spiritual Warrior records discussed in Megan Fredrickson's police interview, I can't say for certain.

Kelly Does Fancy Math

Kelly started his cross examination with Det. Diskin in a very aggressive and accusatory manner. He questioned his skill as a case agent, given his overlooking of crucial lab findings. He broke out the easel to show chemicals which were found in a sample of the sweat lodge coverings.

Kelly: I wrote up on the, on the board there 2 ethyl 1 hexanol. You ever seen that chemical before?

Diskin: I don't know.

Kelly: I'm uh, handing you what's been marked as evidence item 356. You recognize that can, detective?

Diskin: I do.

Kelly: Do you know that uh, that chemical was determined from the carbon strip in that can?

Diskin: I knew that there were quite a few chemicals determined from the carbon strip in that can.

Kelly: If 2 ethanol 1 hexanol is the inert ingredient for residential insect spray, would that not be important for a case agent to making a determination during his investigation?

. . .

Kelly: And again. Take a look at 2 ethyl 1 hexanol. Are you aware that Miss Sy provided an analysis of exhibit 356 and found trace evidence of 2 ethyl 1 hexanol?

Diskin: I know that there were quite a few chemicals or as she called it volatiles that were detected.

Kelly: Were you aware that 2 ethyl 1 hexanol possible use is as an inert ingredient for residential insect spray?

Diskin: No.

This is the kind of questioning that could truly make me hate defense attorneys. It's the worst kind of lawyering when people use deliberately misleading phrasing like that to confuse a jury. It would be hard not to take Kelly's implication that this was evidence that there was insect spray in the tarps. But let's break it down... Now where's my giant easel...

Here are some of the key, weasel words, the meaning of which directly contradict Kelly's tone and implied meaning:

  • trace evidence -- very, very small amount of the chemical in question
  • inert ingredient -- not one of the active ingredients that would actually serve the purpose of killing bugs
  • residential -- something commonly used and available in any hardware store
  • 2 ethyl 1 hexanol -- a common chemical constituent found in numerous household products including packaged foods

Moments later, Kelly claimed that Diskin said he'd ruled carbon dioxide as well as carbon monoxide. Diskin corrected him and said that, no, he did not rule out carbon dioxide. "You didn't say that? We can review your transcript." Which he made no move to do. But I have reviewed the transcript and put the relevant portion here. This is the interview in which Diskin clearly stated that carbon dioxide was being considered as a contributing cause of death, but which the defense attorneys apparently still fail to grasp.

So basic chemistry may not be the defense team's long suit but Kelly did demonstrate some impressive math skills. He calculated the square footage of the sweat lodge and pointed out that Diskin only took 1% of the overall structure for samples. He may not really understand how sampling works either because that's quite sufficient to the purpose.

Kelly then restated all of Diskins impressive credentials in investigating crimes against children... for some reason...

Then he began to wax philosophic about the dangers of wrongful accusation. "And, uh, that's happened," said Kelly.

"Not in this case," replied Det. Diskin.

Then Kelly started monologuing about Richard Jewell. Polk objected. Darrow sustained the objection. Kelly said, "Can I finish?" and just continued to talk about how Jewell's life was ruined. Objection. Sustained. Bizarre. Kelly likes to chat with rugged, male witnesses, like Scott Barratt, the cowboy, and he doesn't like to be interrupted by annoying judges and their rules.

In one of the uglier episodes today, Kelly used Diskin's questioning to attempt to invalidate Fawn Foster. He showed photos, completely out of context, that he asserted showed she left the scene of the sweat lodge instead of sitting on the log the entire time. Polk objected, pointing out that it misstated the prior testimony. Diskin's memory of her testimony was also different. My memory of her testimony is different. But this distortion of the evidence was not enough. He went after her as a person. He mocked her characterization by Amayra Hamilton as someone who was good at communicating with animals. You know, not only is it fairly indecent to mock a witness, in front of the jury, and behind her back, but he also managed to insult many people of many faiths who respect the dignity and sentience of all life. Buddhists, indigenous peoples, me...

It was an ugly sequence and another creepy, little peek into Kelly's male bonding rituals. Diskin actually disarmed Kelly, I think. He didn't get flustered at all by the accusatory Kelly and as the questioning progressed, Kelly got more than a little chummy... and gossipy... and just weird.

"What the buggery bollocks is this?" ~ Edina Monsoon

If you really want to see my husband get wrapped around the axle about something, remind him of the days following the near simultaneous deaths of Lady Di and Mother Theresa. He still gets angry over how we were subjected to endless royal drama and near silence about a woman who spent her life attending to impoverished, orphaned, and desperately ill people in India. I was reminded of that today while trying to watch the James Ray trial coverage on CNN's live feed. The attorneys were well into their legal arguments this morning before coverage started. After the lunch break, trial coverage was preempted for the rest of the day by empty feeds, weather, and two continuous feeds of the royal wedding. One of those ran endless replays of the wedding, so it wasn't even live. The other was -- and I'm not kidding -- the silent darkness outside Buckingham Palace at night. The palace, at night, in the dark, with no sound.

To CNN a lineup like the following was more important than a trial involving the deaths of three people.

LIVE: The Royal Wedding replay

LIVE: Outside Buckingham Palace

LIVE: Alabama Storm Coverage

LIVE: U.S. weather outlook

Anyone who finds CNN's priorities as disturbing as I do can relay their comments to CNN here.

All information on the trial comes from news articles with provided links or live courtroom footage on TruTV's "In Session" or CNN's live feed. All quotes and paraphrased statements that are not linked to a source document are my best attempt to transcribe material from live broadcasts.

Comments on this entry are closed, on this blog. If you wish to comment, please find this and all newer blog entries crossposted on Celestial Reflections.

Apr 28, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 35

Sheila Polk Argues for Inclusion of Exhibits

Getting Det. Diskin's direct testimony into the record is a game of inches.

In the balance between trial testimony and legal wrangling, the latter probably tipped the scale today. There were lengthy legal arguments during breaks and numerous sidebars, mostly about what Det. Diskin could and could not say and what exhibits could be admitted with his testimony.

The day started with over an hour of argument over what exhibits would and would not be allowed during Diskin's questioning, with the defense arguing that many of the evidence photos in question are prejudicial. In other words, they depict an accurate portrayal of James Ray. It could be inferred from some of them, according to Tom Kelly, that Ray is a flight risk. That's only because he fled almost immediately after the event, avoiding police questions and returning to his home in California. It might look suspicious to the jury that Ray left his wallet behind. But Sheila Polk explained that it would be made clear that he only left his wallet and other personal effects because his room was in the process of being searched and he could not enter it. So it's really only as peculiar as it would be for anyone to grab an early flight, and leave their wallet in anther state rather than wait to retrieve it.

Ultimately, Judge Darrow ruled that items like the wallet, that constitute indicia of occupency, were allowed in, for a narrow purpose, and with address information and the like removed.

Less successful for the prosecution were arguments to bring in evidence like Ray's script for Spiritual Warrior, and other writings about the events. The script, which had references to Hindu and other spiritual beliefs, Kelly wanted out because he didn't want Ray's religious beliefs to become an issue. (Remember. The Hamiltons' wacky spiritual beliefs are fair game. James Ray's Spiritual Warrior event was business seminar.)

Kelly also expressed his understanding that a listing of costs in the document was disallowed under a previous ruling. Polk disagreed, saying that Ray's high pressure sales tactics have been precluded; not his costs.

Polk also argued that the document was necessary for her to rebut the assertion that Ray "just showed up" and did the event, rather than playing the pivotal, guiding role. Kelly insisted that the defense has never implied that he "just showed up." But it was Kelly himself who insisted that the event was run by JRI and Ray was simply the talent who came in, led events, and left.

Judge Darrow was not comfortable with it as a foundational issue because it was not clear if it was a final document. Polk argued that the whole thing had been compared to the recordings of Ray's lectures and it was consistent. Oddly, though, the speech before the sweat lodge is missing from any document, except for the recorded statements, which they had to fight to get. The script for that speech has never turned up; not at Angel Valley and not in his offices in Carlsbad.

Judge Darrow declined to bring it in with Det. Diskin's testimony but left open the possibility that it may be admissible in a different context, later on.

Polk argued that a document entitled "The Dream" was an example of Ray's promise to participants that if they did every crazy, risky thing he wanted them to do, they would get what they wanted in life. Kelly insisted that "The Dream" was never even read at Spiritual Warrior because it was supposed to be read after the sweat lodge. So that seems like a fair argument against its inclusion.

A document explaining the rules to the Samurai Game was also excluded, but again, Judge Darrow left open the possibility that it might be admissible in another context.

Polk also argued that his agenda was germane and discussed that an appointment at Enchantment Spa scheduled for the day after the sweat lodge showed his false representation to participants. Witnesses have testified that he told them the sweat lodge would be a deep cleanse that left their skin baby soft. And yet, the very next day he planned to go to a Sedona restort to have lymphatic drainage and a facial.

Ultimately Judge Darrow ruled that while the various documents were outside the scope, photos showing where he stayed, the indicia of occupency, and a narrative describing his general movements after the sweat lodge would all be admitted.

The next issue Polk raised had to do with a witness named Dr. Kent. She explained that he attended Spiritual Warrior in 2008 and became immediately concerned over what he recognized as heat related illness. He feels that two participants probably would have died had he not attended to them. He expressed his grave concerns to the JRI staff.

Polk explained that he has been on the witness list since the middle of February, having contacted the State after he learned about the trial from the media. An email sent at the time of the incident was not received, so the State had been unaware of him or at least not aware that he was a doctor because he was on the attendee list as David Kent. After they learned of him and interviewed him, they fully disclosed him and their interview to the defense team, who apparently ignored it completely.

They were going to remove him from the witness list after Judge ruled against any more testimony of prior events coming in. But, in light of his statements about the lack of medical testimony to lay foundation for that prior incident testimony, they wanted to proceed with calling him as a witness.

Then Tom Kelly had a meltdown. You can always tell when Kelly thinks his argument is weak. It's when he gets the most strident about constitutional issues and the outrageousness of the prosecution's claims.

I have a hunch that Judge Darrow is leaning towards allowing Kent's testimony. I think he really wants to see that medical foundation laid. So, we shall see. Fingers crossed.

Det. Diskin Demonstrates Wood

Today Det. Diskin explained about sampling of items for testing. He explained that he was initially very concerned about toxins and collected many items for the lab work.

Polk asked him why he would not have seized the entire sweat lodge and brought it in as evidence. He explained that there was no way to move the structure in tact. The form is held in place by tension. Unearth the willow pegs and the whole thing collapses.

Polk asked him further if it would be common practice to seize an entire structure, like say a burned out house. He said it was not. This brought a request for a voir dire from Kelly, who questioned his credentials to make such a suggestion. Wasn't this Det. Diskin's first homicide? No. It was his first homicide as the case agent. Had he ever worked a case involving a burned out building? No.

Something tells me that Kelly did not request a voir dire because he so objected to the assertion that a burned out building would not be seized and moved by police. It was a fairly cheap attempt to impugn Diskin's credentials that, for some reason, could not wait for cross examination.

Det. Diskin also explained in his testimony that he had given the Hamiltons leave to destroy what was left of the sweat lodge in their memorial ceremony. They had even called the next day to reconfirm it.

Sweat Lodge Structure After Investigation and Sampling

So that was the skeleton of the sweat lodge as the police were completing their investigation. The funny little space alien looking guy in the background is a police officer in a Tyvek suit. Its a type of hazmat suit which police wore, in this case, because of their concern over toxic exposure.

In explaining what they chose to sample, Det. Diskin explained that they knew the structure itself had been used without incident by many other people and that the extreme nature of Ray's sweat lodges had led to problems for at least the previous three years. So the problem, he believed was specific not to the sweat lodge structure but to Mr. Ray. Needless to say, Kelly called for a sidebar.

After the sidebar, Polk clarified that his statements were based on his beliefs.

Then they moved the discussion to the wood samples. They both removed the cedar log from the evidence container. Drawing on his construction experience, Diskin confirmed that, yes, the nail Luis Li had pointed out to Amayra Hamilton was the type that is used to hold down plastic and paper. So, yes, it was for securing tarps over the stacks of wood.

They then opened up two more of the evidence logs and Diskin inspected them and showed them to the jury.  Neither of those two logs contained nails.

The fourth log had to be brought up from evidence so it was examined later. That one did have a nail. So it would appear that Luis Li was half right when he shamelessly lied to Amayra Hamilton.

Det. Disken also discussed how soil samples were taken from inside and outside of the sweat lodge. Samples were also taken from the beverages and fruit at the comfort station. It was never tested because not everyone who had drinks and fruit got sick and there were people who got sick who had neither.

According to Det. Diskin there were bugs on the fruit and ants crawling under the table. He saw them when he was there taking evidence. He also blew the photos up on his computer and saw bugs. He did not mention if the fruit photos were in fact taken 24 hours later and I still consider that to be impossible.

Fruit With a Side of Insects

Det. Diskin explained some of the difficulties with getting things tested. Samples are sent to the Deptartment of Public Safety Crime Lab and it's that state run lab that makes the final determination about what merits testing. They consider the severity of the crime and the likelihood that they'll find anything of value.

There were a number of problems with Diskin's request that they check the blanket and tarp samples. Because plastics emit their own volatiles, it is difficult to determine what other volatiles may be present. Volatiles are chemicals that are released when something is heated. Some are toxic. Some are not.

Det. Diskin explained to the crime lab that people, including Ray, had described very high levels of heat inside the sweat lodge. He also explained the illness and death. He did not recommend specific toxins to check for because he didn't know what toxins would correlate with the symptoms experienced.

Ultimately, two of the excised sections from the tarps, two rocks, and two of the four wood samples were tested. The soil samples were not tested by the crime lab and were sent back. We will not know the results of that testing until someone from the crime lab to testify to the results.

Polk addressed, at length the organophosphate question with Det. Diskin, in order to explain why he had not pursued that particular line of inquiry. In short, it had never been suggested by any person or evidence until shortly before the trial began. Polk read the statement from the mysterious "EMT" that the defense has repeatedly relied on as evidence of the possibility.

At no point did anyone interviewed by the police department mention the possibility of organophosphates. At no point, in any meeting with the defense team did they ask him about organophosphates. The first mention he ever heard came from the defense's expert witness Dr. Paul, in an interview, weeks before the beginning of the trial. That was the first and only reference and it wasn't even to be found in the doctor's written report.

After that Det. Diskin scrambled to have things tested for organophosphates. None were found in the blood samples of Kirby Brown or James Shore. So much time had passed by then that testing wasn't very reliable. Testing Liz Neuman's sample promised even less because she had lived and been treated for a number of days before her passing. Soil samples were also tested but, again, too much time had passed for a reliable result. In any case, it all came back negative for organophosphates.

Det. Diskin also offered some background on how the information is shared between the State investigators and the medical examiners. He explained that unlike coroners, medical examiners don't have an investigation arm. All extrinsic investigation has to come from police investigators. He also described the meeting in which information was shared between these various state agencies with a PowerPoint presentation. Worthy of note, this is the meeting that caused the pretrial Brady violation finding against the prosecutors.

Defense Argues Over Burden of Proof and Mystery EMTs

Another lengthy episode of legal wrangling commenced over the break to discuss Diskin's organophospate testimony. They were very upset that it appeared that Polk was shifting the burden of proof to the defense by pointing out that they had never raised the issue. Polk explained that she had two cases on point which she turned over to Judge Darrow.

But her point in raising the issue in this way is that the defense has repeatedly insinuated that Det. Diskin didn't do a thorough investigation and ignored crucial areas of interest. Polk needs to be able to demonstrate why Det. Diskin did not investigate the mysterious organophosphates.

Kelly loves to point out that Dr. Lyon said he couldn't exclude organophosphates. I don't know if he doesn't really understand how medical determinations are made or he's being disingenuous. No doctor can completely rule out anything they haven't tested for, whether or not there's any reason to consider the possibility. Dr. Lyon couldn't exclude fairy dust, either, but I doubt that fairy dust killed or sickened anyone in Ray's sweat lodge.

Li also misrepresented medical testimony by saying that the State's medical experts won't say beyond reasonable doubt that heat killed these people. In fact, every one of them has said that they were satisfied to a medical degree of certainty about their findings. A medical degree of certainty is not one hundred percent certainty, but anything less than that seems to embolden the defense into claiming that the medical findings were wrong.

Li did some remarkable grandstanding about how the recording of the "EMT" is part of the state's evidence and it was their responsibility to find that evidence and hunt it down. 

True. The State didn't spend hours combing through the background noise in all its recorded interviews and search for clues to causation. They just interviewed actual, known, paramedics, doctors, EMTs, and other witnessess with names and faces. So sloppy of them to have missed that one barely audible reference when they should have based their case on it. It's the State's burden to research all background noise and ignore people they know treated the victims.

In all seriousness, I've noticed a change in Li's demeanor since he argued successfully, if nonsensically, at the Brady hearing. He's gone from being whiny and servile to flourishes of incredible arrogance.

In the final episode of extended, largely pointless, legal argument at the end of the day, he opined that the state had all the information they say they couldn't get because they've seized all of JRI's computers. Polk explained that they didn't have them all and that there were obstacles to retrieving that data. Those obstacles, said Li, are "the law." There are constitutional issues. But, he explained, that he when HE was a prosecutor, he knew how to get evidence from computers. He's been mentioning his history as a prosecutor more and more and always with a sniff of derision towards Polk and Hughes.

Personally, I think Li is displaying increasing levels of irrational grandiosity. He's spinning out of control. Pride cometh before a fall. That's all I'm sayin.'

James Ray's Room at Angel Valley

James Ray's Briefcase

James Ray's Spiritual Warrior File

James Ray's Wallet

All information on the trial comes from news articles with provided links or live courtroom footage on TruTV's "In Session" or CNN's live feed. All quotes and paraphrased statements that are not linked to a source document are my best attempt to transcribe material from live broadcasts.

Comments on this entry are closed, on this blog. If you wish to comment, please find this and all newer blog entries crossposted on Celestial Reflections.

Apr 27, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 34

Amayra Hamilton at Sweat Lodge Memorial Site

Today marked the end of the Hamiltons' testimony. It involved more torturous cross examination by Luis Li, which I'll get to in a moment. But I have a few closing thoughts on these very important witnesses who we won't see again unless and until they are recalled.

Michael and Amayra Hamilton are very polarizing figures. Even amongst those who want to see James Arthur Ray convicted, there are many who wanted to see them roasted on a spit by Ray's defense team. Michael Hamilton draws particular ire. I will say that having listened to him, I think there is a slipperiness to the man. That said, I would probably get real slippery if I were being questioned by Truc Do, just as a survival mechanism. Ask a simple question, get a simple answer. Push poll me or put words in my mouth... well, don't expect cooperation. So, I can see both perspectives on Michael Hamilton. He's a little too good at evading aggressive questioning but it was very aggressive questioning and he's in a rather vulnerable position.

Amayra Hamilton, I thought, came across as very likable. She seemed as sincere as she did decisive. She stood up to Li when he tried to belittle her and mischaracterize her testimony. And considering that her cross examination was the most sneaky and smarmy I've ever seen Li, I admired her all the more for recognizing when he was being manipulative.

As near as I can tell, there are three basic reasons people are skeptical of the Hamiltons. The first is their outre spiritual beliefs which they charge money for dispensing. I have outre spiritual beliefs myself so I can't really get judgmental about that. I also charge money for spiritually based serviced. Not only can't I throw stones, I wouldn't. The need for everyone to make a living regardless of what kind of work they do is something I'm very much at peace with. Religious and spiritual institutions have to earn at least enough income to be self-sustaining and pay their bills. That's a simple fact. Among indigenous people's it's usually donations and barter, all of which are forms of payment. Early on, when I started doing psychic and healing work, I had to address various forms of this question: How can you charge money for a gift that comes from God? My general response: Can you think of a gift or a talent that doesn't come from God? Because I truly believe that we are spiritual beings having a human experience rather than the other way around, I really don't draw a distinction between the spiritual and the material in work or anything else. So, I personally, don't have an issue with the Hamiltons' charging fees and asking for donations for their work and their resources. Their hourly rates are well within reason and based on numbers of spiritual significance, 111 and 144. Their other rates I can't speak to because I don't know what their overhead is for big events. They may be too high. I don't have a basis of comparison as to what the market bears in their area.

As I said before, I think James Ray's rates were egregious. And that, I have a problem with, whether it's for "spiritual" work or anything else. What constitutes too high? It's like any other obscenity. I know it when I see it. And then, there's the larger problem, very much at issue in this trial, as to what kind of psychological manipulation was at play in getting those sums out of people.

The second reason people have a problem with the Hamiltons is that they enabled James Ray. They didn't reign him in. They didn't terminate their business with him, although it would appear they were in the process of doing so. They agreed to make that monstrosity of a sweat lodge to keep Ray as a client and to do so, they trusted people of questionable credentials and authenticity like David Singing Bear. They were at best a bit gullible and naive. At worst, they put their need to dig their way out of bankruptcy ahead of responsible decision making. I tend to think the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

The third reason people don't trust the Hamiltons is that they took down the sweat lodge and in a hurry. It's not surprising that people wanted to see the prosecutors get to the bottom of that. They failed, in my opinion, to do so. They needed to prove that the Hamiltons knew there was specific, legitimate interest in surveying the structure within the two day period following the sweat lodge incident and before they took it down. They didn't because they could at most imply the Hamiltons knew at that time was that there was gossip about it. No government agency expressed an interest and the police had concluded their investigation and given them the go ahead to dismantle the scene.

The main problem with the argument that they "destroyed evidence" is that it's really not evidence once the scene is no longer secure. It gets real hard to get something admitted as evidence if it comes from an unsecured crime scene because it could have been contaminated by any number of things, intentionally or otherwise. It makes sense for the defense to rant about it but it's an illogical diversion designed to do what defense attorneys do; create any sliver of doubt however they can.

To blame the Hamiltons for taking down the sweat lodge ignores that they had very legitimate reasons to do so and do so promptly. The first they've stated repeatedly. It was part of the healing process for a number of people who had just been through a horrific event. You may disagree with their spiritual belief system and the way they articulate their process but such rituals to process grief are necessary. That's why we have wakes and funerals.

There is also a very pragmatic reason for them to get rid of something that was, as Michael Hamilton put it, "out of alignment." The new agey lingo aside, I can't think of a single business or church -- and Angel Valley is both -- that wouldn't move as quickly as possible to get rid of such a ghoulish spectacle. Any business that plays host to a gruesome death or crime scene wants the police to conclude its business, let them repair the damage, and restore their property to a normal appearance. Anything else is bad for business... or attendance. Or worse, it could draw a rather creepy, voyeuristic element. No facility, least of all one that is trying to provide a peaceful, serene, healing environment, would want a macabre reminder of tragic death as a sight seeing attraction.

Luis Li Cross Examines Amayra Hamilton

Well, I don't know why I put such effort into documenting so much of Luis Li's cross yesterday since he's just repeated every element of it again today... and again, and again. I'll say this for him. It's impossible to miss the fine points because he repeats them anywhere from three to a hundred times. I also have to give him credit for opening up a few gaps in Amayra Hamilton's testimony; mostly having to do with the fact that she's not completely aware of what the staff might do that isn't in accord with the Hamiltons' rules. As I said before, Ted Mercer, who I'm sure means well, isn't the sharpest pencil in the box. And some of his testimony on the rat poison doesn't jibe with her understanding. She seemed more than a little surprised. Frankly, it's one of those things anyone who has staff or employees has to learn. Sometimes you think you're understood when you're not and employees make mistakes you  know nothing about.

In this for instance, the issue was the rat poison which Ted Mercer claimed was in little piles on the floor in the pumphouse. Now of course Li never clarified for her that Mercer expressed, in court, that he was never sure it was rat poison. But the bottom line is that Mercer did not think he'd ever seen rat poison on a plate. Of course I don't think he'd ever seen any rat poison that wasn't the piles he wasn't sure were rat poison. So the whole line of questions was really misleading... as usual. But it got creepier.

Li: I don't want to force words into your mouth but do you think he's lying?

Amayra: I don't want to say that to a person. If that is his perception, I have never seen it and I have never wanted that to happen.

Li: Okay. I'm really sorry to just push you on this but, uh, just one more time, I mean, are you saying that Mr. Mercer is lying to this jury.

Amayra: I don't want to say yes or no to that question.

Li: Okay but what you think he told this jury, you think what he told this jury's untrue.

Amayra: I have never seen it.

It's like watching a pathological liar sow seeds of conflict between friends for entertainment. But, of course, the point here was to sow seeds of reasonable doubt with the jury. It is unfortunately true that pesticide rules may not have been perfectly understood by every employee. What it does not prove, however, or even indicate, is that the employees were misusing those pesticides. But who knows what the jury will do with such little gaps opened up by a slick, misleading, defense.

Li started this day's hours long continuation of his cross examination with a seemingly pointless tangent about Angel Valley's waivers; a waiver he tried to pass off once as James Ray's waiver. (It's a much better, more thorough waiver.) I'm really not clear on why he brought up the waivers and as near as I can tell, he didn't get back to that issue... which is strange. Either he didn't get the answer he was looking for or I've completely missed the significance of this line of questioning. Maybe it's as simple as, look, everyone has waivers and it's all about personal responsibility anyway. I just can't say for sure because, unlike every other question, he didn't beat this to death.

Next Li went back to listing Amayra's media interviews. That he did beat to death... for the second time. Apparently, we needed to hear them all again. Then he listed all of the police interviews. He even made another giant chart. Finally he worked his way to a point. Amayra didn't mention pesticides in any of those interviews. Apparently, it was her responsibility to make the defense's case even though -- and most people would think this was a significant point -- nobody asked her about pesticides in any of those interviews.

According to Li, she should have known that pesticides were at issue because rat poison was mentioned briefly in Ted Mercer's police interview. And because the issue was raised in Li's opening argument. Never mind that she was precluded from listening to any news about the trial because she's a witness.

Li tried several times to trick her into saying that she had violated the court ordered rule of exclusion so that may have been a dual purposed question. Later, he implied that she finally came clean with Det. Diskin about the Amdro ant poison because Fawn Foster had testified about it and, you know -- wink, wink, nudge, nudge -- she might have been given the heads up by Foster. Amayra explained that she had told the detective about the Amdro when she did because that's when he had asked the Hamiltons for every such chemical product they had ever used. The Amdro was not in use until 2010, after the sweat lodge, so it hadn't occurred to her before that to list it. It was also barely used.

Li also tried to snag Amayra on her unwillingness to do a recorded interview with the defense attorneys. When she was able to actually explain the reason, which took some doing, it turned out that it was because her lawyer thought a recorded interview of unlimited scope was a bad idea. No matter how clearly she stated it, Li continued to imply that she had put the lawyer up to refusing the interview.  I love it when lawyers pretend they find legal advice, that they would probably give themselves, unethical.

If you ever doubted that Li will parse any issue to dust, the meaningless, court-time wasting discussion of Hamilton's camera should put that to an end. First, he tried again to make hay of the incomplete listing of numbered photos. It seems pretty obvious to me that Hamilton put together and edited the photos that were germane to the investigation. It's not like the dated photos were out of sequence or anything really questionable like that. There are just numbers missing in the sequence. You'd have thought it was the "18 minute gap" in the Watergate tapes. But what really became clear from Li's questions is that he had all the metadata for the photos, so if anything had been truly awry with her claims about the photos, we would have heard about it. He even knew what camera she'd used in 2006 and that it was a different one in 2011. Amayra explained that the camera she used in 2006 was long gone.

Li: It was a very nice camera. It was a Sony, uh, TC9, or something like that? It's like a six hundred dollar camera. Yeah.

Amayra: No this was a little, uh, T9 I think.

Li: Yeah. It's like a five to six hundred dollar camera.

Amayra: [inaudible]

Li: Would you disagree with me if I researched what, how much that camera cost when it came out and it was about five or six hundred dollars?

Amayra: Well, if you want to research that, fine.

The man will argue about any pointless thing. Remarkable.

Not surprising in any way is the fact that he invoked the "not a big deal" issue of the nail he'd found in the cedar log. He even claimed that there were nails in all four of the logs in police evidence. Amayra explained again that it was due to the tarps but I, personally found that explanation confusing; probably because she wasn't able to explain it exactly. I just didn't know how tarps could put nails in wood. Neither did Li and that nail was now his leverage to discredit any "assumption" she made.

He also went back to the mysterious, nameless, faceless "EMT" who talked about organophosphates. He conveyed his incredulity that she could remember only part of his statement; the part about how to care for one another and what symptoms to look out for but not the part about possible toxins. I think it's amazing she remembered that much considering what she was dealing with in the dining hall where they were caring for sick, traumatized people. Not to mention that they were all probably in shock. I don't find it even a little difficult to believe, though, that she would have retained what was crucial at that moment which was the health issues themselves. That is what she expressed to Li.

Thus began another song and dance to get the hearsay background noise played and admitted into evidence. Judge Darrow called for a sidebar and then lunch. He ruled that it could be used again with the limiting instruction that it only be considered as to Amayra's state of mind, not for the truth. So we got to hear the inaudible recording of the nameless person the defense keeps insisting was an EMT again. Jolly good fun.

Judge Darrow also cautioned, I think quite tellingly, that the admission of the recording was not an invitation for Li run his suck endlessly again over something that's already been litigated to death. Okay, I'm paraphrasing. But I really think Judge Darrow is getting fed up with the Li's logorrhea and the whole defense team's grandstanding.

Bill Hughes Redirects Amayra Hamilton

Bill Hughes made his redirect mercifully brief.

He rapidly alleviated my personal confusion over what the tarps had to do with nails in the cedar by asking the right question. The tarps had to be tacked to the wood with nails to keep them from blowing off and sometimes they were left behind when the tarps were removed. 

Hughes also clarified with Amayra that the largest group to use the sweat lodge ever, except for James Ray's, was a group of forty people. She can tell that, oddly enough, by looking at a contract that claims fifty participants. She knows this because if there had actually been fifty, it would have included her creating additional accommodation because they can't provide rooms for a group of over forty people. This group, she also remembers, included some of the Angel Valley staff so she had her eyes on the whole thing.

Amayra affirmed that she was completely unaware of the pit being off-center in the sweat lodge. It looked centered to her. She also tried to answer a question about the sweat lodge being inspected by someone from JRI but it was stricken because she couldn't name the person.

Hughes also clarified the media training question. There was a class it was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and taught by a PR specialist. Li just had all the names and dates wrong. But she did receive guidance after the incident on how to interact with the media that was circling; no talking points, mind you.

She also clarified again that the first time she heard about a pesticide issue was in March of this year, after the trial had already started, when Det. Diskin asked her what products were used.

Hughes also tried to ask her about Fawn Foster's statement that caused Amayra to recommend she speak with the police. Li objected, was overruled, and demanded a sidebar. An exasperated sounding Judge Darrow agreed.

I found all of this very hard to follow and I think there was subtext I missed completely. Hughes says there was an accusation of fabrication. I don't know if that's the subtle implication that Amayra and Fawn Foster may have improperly discussed some things but Hughes felt that Foster's comment needed to come in to explain why Amayra wanted her to talk to the police. Ultimately he was not able to get her statement in. But he did ask her to clarify that it was an utterance from Foster that caused her to refer her to police investigators.

Amayra Hamilton was excused subject to recall.

Det. Ross Diskin

Under Sheila Polk's direct questions, Det. Diskin quickly established his local boy bona fides. His family has been in the area for several generations.

Next he established his construction bona fides. It turns out that Det. Diskin worked in construction to help pay for college and still does some carpentry. In other words, he knows a little about wood, too.

Diskin primarily works on crimes committed against children and has had a great deal of training in handling those deeply disturbing crimes. He came to the James Ray sweat lodge investigation to take over for Det. Polling who was going on vacation. It was on the second day of that investigation. Right after the incident much of the police department was focused on this investigation because of its seriousness.

Secured Sweat Lodge Scene

He began his testimony on the incident by explaining how crime scenes are handled and pointing out the crime scene tape that marked the area. The trailer in the background houses the officers who are on the scene 24 hours to keep it secure. He also explained how some participants wanted to get back into the area to retrieve things, which they couldn't.

People also wanted to leave flowers at the scene. He explained how he kept the flowers at the perimeter and placed them inside after the scene was released. It's one of those bits of testimony that, for some reason, makes the horror and sadness these people were experiencing so vivid for me. And it is another reminder of what makes the Hamiltons' sweat lodge destruction and memorial so crucial as a healing event for those grieving people.

Det. Diskin also had the lovely task of notifying James Shore's next of kin. It required a little detective work because no one from JRI had any information on how to contact his family. He had to go into the room he shared with Lou Caci and look through his personal effects. Another officer contacted Kirby Brown's family.

Initially, Diskin explained, they thought the cause of this tragedy must have been some sort of toxin. It didn't occur to them that a sweat lodge could be hot enough to cause death. Carbon monoxide was eliminated by blood work at the hospitals. The hazmat team and the Arizona Poison Center were also contacted.

Det. Diskin's first interview was with Ted Mercer who approached the police. He answered some questions about where the blankets were stored. Diskin also asked him to explain the fundamentals of how the sweat lodge worked; how the stones were heated and so on.

Mercer also explained to him which wood pile the fire wood was taken from. He clarified that it was the pile of cedar logs which it was. He also asked him if any of the firewood was pressure treated but his answer was hearsay so we don't know. What is somewhat concerning is that Diskin's concern came from having observed a single piece of pressure treated wood in a different pile; one that was not used for the fire. I say it's concerning because it wasn't in a trash bin. Hopefully, we'll gain a little more clarity on that. But Det. Diskin felt secure that the only wood pile used for the fire did not contain pressure treated wood. He is well familiar with pressure treated wood because of his construction background.

At this point Tom Kelly was distressed enough by Diskin's wood clarity that he asked to voir dire him. He then asked thin the kind of question that one would more expect during cross examination. He asked him if was present when the fire was made. Obviously, he was not.

He also addressed the scrap wood pile that has been repeatedly asserted by the defense as containing possibly pressure treated wood. Det. Diskin doesn't think it looks at all like pressure treated wood which is easily recognizable.

Polk then asked Det. Diskin about his interview of Debbie Mercer, which raised the sticky issue of how Debbie Mercer's statements shaped the direction of the investigation. It's because she told him James Ray's sweat lodges were the only ones where there were problems. The answer was stricken.

Judge Darrow Hears Arguments

After the jury was dismissed for a break, Judge Darrow took up the issue of Debbie Mercer's prior sweat lodge testimony. Kelly, of course, was against it.

Polk argued that the question goes the central issue of how Diskin focused his investigation. Because the defense has made Diskin's investigation an issue by insinuating that it was less than thorough, the State needs to be able to clarify why he focused where he did and how the investigation progressed.

Judge Darrow allowed that they can't leave a hole in explaining the course of Det. Diskin's investigation. The Mercers' testimony on the prior sweat lodges is already in. But he conveyed that the questions will have to be extremely careful not to elicit hearsay or there is risk of a mistrial.

After this there was also a lengthy discussion of how some exhibits that show Ray's personal effects, make him look bad, and for some reason make it look as though he fled the scene. He did flee the scene but I guess that's something else the jury can't know. (???) There will be more to come on that, I think as the defense believes they already filed a motion to exclude those photos. Maybe there's a photo of his pharmaceutical collection. I kind of doubt it but it's fun to speculate.

Polk and Kelly Agree on Some Sweat Lodge Photos

After the break and legal discussion, Polk did, very carefully ask Det. Diskin about Debbie Mercer's impact on his investigation and Det. Diskin very carefully answered. It probably helps that because Diskin is also the case agent and sits at the prosecution's table, he's also privy to the legal wrangling. I don't think he wants a mistrial either. So it was distilled to this: James Ray's sweat lodges were more extreme than others. This caused him to focus on the sweat lodge itself and the heat. He also continued to investigate toxins but toxins seemed unlikely because only some people got sick.

Most of today's testimony had to do with the physical structure and positioning of the sweat lodge. There were many photos of the structure from various angles and they demonstrated the size of the structure with a tape measure. It really is hard to imagine cramming 60 people into a structure that size.

Then Det. Diskin explained interior photos of the sweat lodge and where Kirby Brown, James Shore, and Liz Neuman were sitting... and how they and others were dragged out.

Entrances Ripped Open by Debbie Mercer to Remove Unconscious People

Where Liz Neuman Was Sitting

Where Kirby Brown and James Shore Were Lying and Dragged From

A Clearer View of the Drag Marks

Another View of Drag Marks

All information on the trial comes from news articles with provided links or live courtroom footage on TruTV's "In Session" or CNN's live feed. All quotes and paraphrased statements that are not linked to a source document are my best attempt to transcribe material from live broadcasts.

Comments on this entry are closed, on this blog. If you wish to comment, please find this and all newer blog entries crossposted on Celestial Reflections.

Apr 26, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 33

Judge Darrow Precludes Prosecution from Calling Haddow

This morning Judge Darrow heard arguments about the prosecution's decision to call Richard Haddow this week. I read the defense's motion to preclude Haddow as a witness last night. After reading their fairly solid legal arguments, I determined this to be a stunt on the part of the prosecutors. I don't think they ever thought they'd get Haddow into the courtroom. They're just calling the defense team's bluff.

As I expected Sheila Polk argued that they needed to call Haddow because the defense team has twice referred to Haddow's "report" when cross examining witnesses, even though they never intend to call him as a witness. She also attempted to leverage the fact that they relied on the Haddow material to block further testimony on prior sweat lodges, including the 2005 Daniel Pfankuch incident. They did not get the 2005 sweat lodge admitted but Judge Darrow reaffirmed his ruling that the defense cannot invoke a report with a witness who is completely unfamiliar with the source document.

A weary Judge Darrow upheld the defense's argument that rule 15.6(d) was not followed and excluded Haddow as a witness. Again, no surprise here. And it seems fairly obvious that those simple legal criteria would have been ample. So I find it kind of interesting that the defense team's response was such overkill. They also managed to completely discredit Haddow and his findings, which I would think might make it all the harder to rely on that information, in any way, in the future. Here is what the defense felt the need to emphasize in their motion:

Third, even if admission of Mr. Haddow's testimony for the State were constitutionally permissible, which it is not, a hearing and full briefing would be necessary to determine Mr. Haddow's qualifications as an expert. As the State itself has acknowledged, there are significant questions as to whether Mr. Haddow, who is neither an environmental engineer nor a medical doctor, can properly opine as an expert on many of the topics of his report. See State's Response to Defendant's Motion for Mistrial, filed 4/12/11, at 5 ("[T]he state was concerned about Mr. Haddow's qualifications.")

 So, now the defense is reinforcing the prosecution's statement in its response to the defense claim of a Brady violation. Haddow was unqualified. There was also no actual report, as per the much disputed claim of the prosecutors. What he said in his email was preliminary. He was not given materials by the State to test his hypotheses because they were uneasy about hiring him and paying his rather substantial rates.

There's a good write-up on some of the central points of the defense's motion here.

The reasons the defense laid out seem like fair justification for their not calling Haddow or wanting him called but there are others. I've only skimmed the transcript of their recent interview with the man himself but a couple of things jumped out at me. Their long list of contacts between Haddow and Det. Diskin turn out to be comprised mostly of attempts by Haddow to get information to use in his investigation for Liz Neuman's civil attorney. The State took very little information from Haddow and shared very little information with him. The email that the defense wants to call a report, they now admit was very preliminary. It also turns out that it was based on information that he was later told by Diskin was incorrect. The diagrams had the directional orientation wrong in their earlier reports.

Most importantly, Haddow's opinion places the responsibility for carbon dioxide poison solidly on Ray because he packed too many people in the sweat lodge and the intense temperatures created a greater than usual heat barrier which cut down on circulation even if when the door was open. He also said that if the door were left closed, even an unheated structure that size, with that many people, it would cause people to die of carbon-dioxide poisoning in a couple of  hours. Of course this also explains why it has become so important to the defense to try to sneak a terms and conditions document into evidence that shows Angel Valley offering a sweat lodge facility to accomodate seventy-five. Never mind that that's the structure they're stuck with because that's what Ray demanded. I would call that the Hamilton's trying to turn lemons into lemonade but that's just me.

"Staged" Rat Poison Platter

Last week, after Michael Hamilton's cross examination, I read an article in The Daily Courier. Mark Duncan had a very different take on Hamilton's testimony than I did, which is his right. Obviously, there are a lot of people who don't trust the Hamiltons for a range of reasons, which is also perfectly fair. Duncan's coverage, however, is not so fair, right from the lede.

Staged photographs of rat poison, evasive non-answers to seemingly simple questions and implied immunity from criminal responsibility were the highlights of Michael Hamilton's second day on the witness stand Friday in the manslaughter case against motivational speaker and author James Arthur Ray.

I questioned the misleading nature of his reporting in a comment:

Your reference to "staged photographs of rat poison" is misleading. There was one staged photo that never purported to be anything other than a recreation of how it would have looked in 2009. The other photos of rat poison on plates were taken before the sweat lodge disaster and subsequent investigation, as a method of cataloging the rat activity and determining what poison was working best. Those photos are darkly fascinating, date stamped, and should put an end to such speculation that the Hamilton's blue plate special photo was not representative of the way they contained rat poison. In short: They've always served the rats their poison on a plate.
And I agree with richard sam. Asking "simple" questions appears to be against Truc Do's religion. I've never heard her ask a question that wasn't ten times more obfuscatory than anything that might issue from even the most evasive of witnesses. Yesterday, was one of her most confusing cross examinations yet. I still have a headache.

Sheila Polk has clarified the "staging" of the rat poison photos in both her direct examination and in the redirect. The only "staged" photo was a recreation at the request of Det. Diskin. The other plated rat poison was taken in 2006, as the date stamps indicate, to track the activity of the rat infestation of Angel Valley vehicles.

A Not Staged Photo of Rat Poison

A Not Staged Photo of Rat Poison Well Used by Rats

But there was another misleading statement by Mr. Duncan, which I did not address in my comment; that of the "implied immunity" of Michael Hamilton. I noticed the issue again this morning on In Session when they were replaying Do's cross of Hamilton. The only person who implied his immunity was Truc Do in one of her slipperier areas of questioning.

Do: In your mind did you see that as a grant of immunity? Do you know what that means?

Hamilton: Yes. I did not see it as a grant of anything.

Do: Alright. Do you know what that means, first?

Hamilton: Immunity?

Do: Yes.

Hamilton: Yes

Do: Okay, and in your mind, when the detective said, you're not under investigation criminally, uh, that didn't mean to you that you had immunity.

Hamilton: Not at all.

Do: You did understand that you were not at all a target, correct?

Hamilton: Yes.

There's a very big difference between not being a target of an investigation and having immunity. Immunity means you could well be a target but that police and prosecutors are weighing that against the value of your testimony and choosing the testimony. They can make you immune from prosecution if what you tell them is useful and true. Do certainly knows this. I suppose there could be some value in determining whether or not Hamilton knows this, but mostly what that line of questioning does is confuse people into thinking that Hamilton was a possible target who was given immunity. See Duncan's article. Duncan was either confused by Do's cross or dishonest. One hopes the jury is not so easily confused by Do's verbal bombardment of this witness. If Duncan's article demonstrates anything it's that the defense's tactics work on some people.

Polk and Hamilton Deconstruct Pesticide Issue

When Polk started her redirect, she went straight at the erroneous "implied immunity" issue. And it was clarified that the Hamiltons were not given immunity. They simply weren't targets of the investigation. They did not hire their attorney, either. Their insurance company did to protect its own interests.

Polk also allowed Hamilton to clarify some of the issues regarding fees at Angel Valley. We learned that the entire facility is open, free of charge, to all for Sunday services. It is only retreat services that are charged for.

Do had also implied that the Hamiltons were using bankruptcy to avoid paying their creditors. Hamilton explained under redirect that they filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which does not vacate debts owed. It's simply a reorganization structure used by businesses that are trying to get back on their feet. They did not file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy by choice.

Polk also broke out easel and giant pad of paper and put it to its proper use; to clarify something for the jury. She also had Hamilton initial the result to validate its authenticity. What a concept. On the easel, she had Hamilton break down what pest problems they'd had in what years and what methods of pest control they'd used.

Polk also clarified that contracts for large events like Ray's were signed a year to two years out. Ray's contract for Spiritual Warrior 2009 had been done in 2007 but was modified in 2008. The Hamiltons also knew already that Ray would not be back to Angel Valley for 2010. (According to Connie Joy, Amayra Hamilton told her that she had offered to void the 2009 contract because they didn't want Ray then either. Ray refused.)

Polk also addressed the destruction of the sweat lodge ceremony that has been such a bone of contention. Hamilton clarified that the police had released the scene before their ceremony. She points out that at that time Hamilton plenty of time to examine the coverings and note that they were the ones that he had purchased and always used.

There was also more discussion of the wood, even though I should think it's really a mute point by now. It turns out CCA treated wood has been illegal since 2004, making many of Do's questions meaningless. Hamilton is quite clear about what wood was stored and where and what was directed to be be burned for the sweat lodge fire. Hamilton also explained that he knows of no one who got sick from the wood he sold off as firewood. No one complained but many reordered.

Polk also clarified the building of the sweat lodge, including the fact that there are no industry standards to go by or inspect. (FWIW, Haddow said in his interview that he does zoning and a structure like that, with no floor, would not need to be permitted.) Hamilton explained again that David Singing Bear designed the sweat lodge and, after a struggle and a sidebar, Polk got it read into evidence that the specs came from James Ray. She bypassed the hearsay issue by having Hamilton read from his civil complaint against James Ray. The defense opened the door during cross by invoking that law suit, as per rule 106.

In September of 2008, Angel Valley's general manager Gary Palisch contracted with David Singing Bear, a full-blooded Native American, to design and oversee the construction of a sweat lodge to accomodate seventy-five people, as per defendant's instruction.

Michael Hamilton was dismissed subject to recall.

Amayra Hamilton

Amayra Hamilton corroborated a lot, if not all, of Michael Hamilton's testimony. She also understands the wood issue well and she insisted that wood with metals or toxins would not be burned. Most of the original buildings were demolished when they purchased the property and the bulk of that was hauled off; not burned. She also corroborated the cedar logs were from an inferior grade of wood and most were unusable for construction. All but one pumphouse had to be made from a newer shipment of high grade pine logs and the rest of the cedar became firewood. None of it was treated.

Amayra also explained that there are some people who barter work at Angel Valley for an opportunity to use the facility for their own growth process.

She explained her commitment to a non-toxic environment. She explained that the garden is entirely organic and there are natural ways to reduce pests, like fencing it off to keep out the deer and planting some things that deter pests. (Marigold for instance? I'm just guessing.) And, like most organic farmers, she fully accepts that some of the produce will feed pests.

The soaps and detergents at Angel Valley were all non-toxic, holistic products. Weeds were killed by the aforementioned saltwater solution and, she said, compost tea mixed with vinegar and essential oils. Other weeds are pulled.

The rodent problem was addressed mostly with traps and cats and it was in 2006, when they were temporarily catless, that the rat infestation occurred. This is when they introduced the plates of toxic treats pictured above. The still used the biscuits in facilities like the pumphouse, where the cats can't gain entry.

Amayra's testimony was most dramatic when she talked about the sweat lodge incident. She had been around a little before and for a while after it started but she found that it didn't resonate for her so she left. What of James Ray's pronouncements specifically didn't resonate?

I am the alpha and the omega. I am God.

So, I guess Fawn Foster was not the only one heard that particular gem.

Amayra came back near the end of the sweat lodge to find Fawn Foster in a highly emotional state and saying things like, "Something is really wrong here. This is not right." The defense pulled out all the stops to prevent her from repeating what specifically Foster told Amayra was so wrong, but she was able to explain that she calmed Foster down by explaining that if it were true, the people inside were going to need their help when they came out. This, of course, turned out to be true.

Amayra described what happened when people came out after the final round as being "the worst thing" she had ever seen. It was "total chaos."

She described people who were coughing and vomiting and unable to breath properly. Most people could not get clear of the sweat lodge by their own power. Many had to be dragged out. Amayra, like pretty much everyone except for James Ray, jumped into action. She grabbed towels from the baskets her staff had provided for the participants. She got them water. She helped people get off the sand and onto the tarps.

Amayra wasn't terribly aware of Ray's activities. He was standing erect and didn't need help. She saw him taking refreshment, sitting in a chair, under the shade of the canopy of the comfort station.

When she heard Debbie Mercer yell that they needed to call 911 and get into a golf cart to head home, Amayra also grabbed a cart and headed in the other direction back to one of the main buildings. She called her husband -- probably to tell him that Ray "did it again" -- and then called 911. Learning from the operator that they already had someone else on the line, she hung up and went to find a retired nurse who volunteers at Angel Valley and is on their board.

Amayra also explained that the medical personnel remained in the dining hall for many hours treating people who hadn't gone to the hospital. Many of them had to be rounded up because they'd gone back to their rooms. As we know, James Ray had directed people who could, to vacate the sweat lodge area. This necessitated a search of the rooms to make sure there was no else who needed medical help.

The Hamiltons had also extended participants an invitation to stay an extra night to recuperate. They were also invited to participate in the ritualized destruction of the sweat lodge structure. Amayra confirmed that the police had released the scene and were made aware of their intent to destroy the structure. The sweat lodge area was turned into a memorial site, which they now call the Garden of Transformation. It's a place to meditate and contemplate issues of life and death and to heal.

Li Tries to Deconstruct Tax Structure of Angel Valley

One of the devices the defense uses is to start with a lecture on some facet of how honest testimony is important and have the witness agree that, yes, honest testimony is a good thing. Then they try to point out some area where the witness has failed that honesty test in their direct testimony. They were sloppy, or exaggerating, or something along those lines. I can't help thinking that starting off by insulting a witness might not be the best plan, but it's their plan and they're sticking to it.

Today it was Li's turn to insult Amayra Hamilton, which he did by asserting that she might not know the difference between things she'd actually witnessed and assumptions. She disagreed, of course. He also explained that this included hearsay testimony. Now Amayra was just confused because, "What I hear is not an assumption for me." No kidding, huh? But she assured Mr. Li that she would only testify to things that she saw or heard herself.

By way of example of Amayra's tendency to assume, Li got out the wood log sample from police evidence. He pointed out that she had testified they wouldn't burned wood that had nails in it. Lo and behold that sample log had a nail stuck in it. So, fair enough. Not every piece of wood can be thoroughly inspected. Things slip through the cracks. Stating that the general rule for wood being nail free true one hundred percent of the time, is an assumption. Even Li admitted it was trivial. I think if they'd found lots of melted nails at the bottom of the fire pit, we all would have heard about it. But fair enough; score one for Luis Li.

Li also tried to score cheap points by putting the Hamiltons' spiritual beliefs under a microscope and scrutinizing their financial structure. For this, a chart was needed. You can see above just how complex the chart needed to be and why it would require a good 20 minutes of discussion. Amayra explained why the funding is necessary to keep the ministry afloat. She also explained they have never been able to make it self-sustaining which necessitated their bankruptcy filing.

Li then questioned her extensively on their rates for different services. I'll save time by explaining that their rate structure for all types of consultations is the same: $111 per hour and $144 per hour and a half. The rates for their retreats vary somewhat.

I really thought that Li was only asking these questions to prejudice the jury against the Hamiltons for charging for spiritual services and for having wacky, new age beliefs. I still think this is a risky proposition given who they are defending and that, like it or not, the "business" retreat Ray was charging nearly $10,000 for was called "SPIRITUAL Warrior."

I was wrong, though. That's not the reason Li was pecking away at the Hamilton's rate structure; at least it wasn't the only reason. He was trying to backdoor a document that Truc Do also tried to get into evidence last week. Today he dramatically recalled that, oops, he'd forgotten about a document that listed all their rates and services. Why he had it right to hand all along. And he tried to move it into evidence. Bill Hughes asked to voir dire the witness. He asked Amayra whether that document was a contract between them and Mr. Ray. It was, of course, not. It's a "terms and conditions" document that is the starting point before they hammer out a more specific contract. Hughes's objection to its admission was sustained.

"I'll walk away from this in a second," said Li. Then he tried again to move it into evidence by clarifying that it's their general form for every group as a starting point. Hughes asked to voir dire the witness again. Amayra clarified under questioning that they could not have referred to that document when they were negotiating the contract with Ray because that particular document wasn't created until 2009, after their contract with Ray was already done. Hughes's second objection to putting it into evidence was sustained.

Do, as I said, pulled the exact same stunt last week. After reading Haddow's report, it's clear why they're so hot to get this in. It says on there that they have a sweat lodge to accommodate up seven-five people, as discussed above.

I believe Hughes successfully blocked this for today. But, CNN had a few technical glitches that caused me lose chunks of testimony today, so I can't be a hundred percent sure. I'm sure it will come up again anyway. It's clear the defense is pretty determined.

There were a number of obvious stunts today that caused me to almost be impressed by Li's acting ability. At one point he asked her about the nylon weed barrier and indicated that Michael Hamilton had described it that way. This was, of course, a lie, and Hughes's objection was sustained. But Amayra caught it and clarified that she did not believe it was nylon and that it was a breathable material.

Li also learned, to his disappointment I'm sure, that Amayra is also quite clear about what wood is burned. She's also clear that what scraps of pressure treated wood are left over specific construction projects are disposed of properly. He asked if she was concerned about Ted Mercer's police interview in which he was concerned that treated wood had been burned. Her response was really brilliant. She explained that she knew was upset and reaching for any explanation during that interview. It didn't concern her at all because she knew full well that pressure treated wood would never have been laid aside for firewood.

Li was probably at his most comically wrong when he implied that Amayra had sought training in handling the media and that this was why she was media savvy enough to know to give an interview to the Associated Press first. She had taken a class sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce on how to handle the media in the event of disasters. He insisted that she had learned her "talking points" from Alison Zelms who instructed the media training seminar. The problem is that this seminar was in August of 2010, almost a full year after the sweat lodge incident. This didn't stop Li from talking for another fifteen minutes about all the media interviews she'd done in the aftermath of the tragedy and with what networks. Surely this represented her coached media savvy. He continued to insist that Alison Zelms, whom she barely knew, had coached her in talking points. It's a long time to talk about information you're a year off on.

Then Li demonstrated his own lack of media savvy by trying to demonstrate that she did an interview with NPR after jury selection started for the trial. Apparently he's never heard of pre-recorded interviews.

Also wrong was Li's assertion that the Hamilton's took down the sweat lodge before the city could inspect it; well it was wrong in the sense that no one from the city had asked to inspect it. If they had, she explained, they would certainly have waited to take it down. This did not stop Li from insisting that they had taken it down before the city could inspect it, which is technically true. Well, in the same sense that it's true that I purchased a new dress before the fairy tale prince asked me to the ball.

The smarmiest stunt today, though, was when he started waving around a container of ant poison he picked up at the hardware store, which contains organophosphates. It's not a brand that has ever been mentioned as having been used by the Hamiltons. Amayra was quite sure it was something they would not have used. But, Li insisted, the she couldn't possibly know what their employees or volunteers might have picked up at the hardware store and used could she? That's right. Their employees and volunteers, like Fawn Foster or the Mercers, would use their own meager resources to by ant poison for the Hamiltons. Sure. This stunt was on a par with Colin Powell waving around a vial of salt and announcing to Congress, "Less than a teaspoon of dry anthrax..." You know the rest.

I have to admit that I was a little taken aback at some of Li's tactics today. It was filled with blatant misrepresentations and straight-up lies and I don't think Hughes caught them all. People who can lie that casually make me nervous. He scored a few points, like the nail in the wood and pointing out that the dates of the 2006 rat poison photos were digitally added to the photos -- which matters not if the dates are verifiable, and they are. But mostly it was just a stream of distortions and verbal tricks, few of which Amayra Hamilton fell for. Li is a smoother liar than I realized and that's not a compliment.

All information on the trial comes from news articles with provided links or live courtroom footage on TruTV's "In Session" or CNN's live feed. All quotes and paraphrased statements that are not linked to a source document are my best attempt to transcribe material from live broadcasts.

Comments on this entry are closed, on this blog. If you wish to comment, please find this and all newer blog entries crossposted on Celestial Reflections.

Apr 22, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 32

Judge Darrow Rules on Prior Sweat Lodge Testimony

There were no big surprises in Judge Darrow's rulings this morning. Daniel Pfankuch is out. So is the 2005 sweat lodge entirely. He also ruled that there'd be no more prior incidents admitted because at this point it is cumulative.

The testimony on prior incidents that has already been given will not be stricken -- at least not at this time -- which is what the defense had specifically asked for.

Judge Darrow also said that if the defense opens the door on prior incidents with their cross examination, he will allow the prosecution to pursue the issue on redirect.

As I said yesterday, I fully expected that Truc Do would want to cross examine Hamilton on whether or not he was in legal compliance on tax classification. Judge Darrow said, no. It's not relevant. Do argued that the prosecution opened the door by asking him to clarify his tax status. Judge Darrow explained that Sheila Polk was just clearing the matter up because the issue was raised by the defense in its cross examination of another witness.

I'm not surprised that Truc Do raised the issue. I'm only surprised she checked with Judge Darrow first.

Truc Do

Truc Do spent the day debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin with the co-owner of Angel Valley. And Michael Hamilton also owned Do. It was, for the defense, an unmitigated disaster. The combative Do didn't land a single, clean blow. If she scored any points at all it was through implication and because, as usual, she managed to confuse something enough to cause a little doubt.

I thought yesterday, watching Hamilton's direct testimony, that he must have experience testifying in a courtroom. It's the little things. He speaks slowly, clearly, and thoughtfully. He takes time to think through his answers and to seek clarity when he needs it. (He needed a lot of clarification from Do.) And he turns in his chair to direct his answers to the jury, not to the attorneys. That's a learned behavior. Most people look at the person who asked them a question.

Today, Hamilton demonstrated that he knows courtroom procedure better than Truc Do. Not only did he have to correct her numerous times on matters of fact, he even highlighted how bad and improper her questions were by asking her things like "Do you want hearsay?"

Truc Do doesn't do well with witnesses who aren't compliant. She needs them to follow her script. She takes her time baiting the trap by asking a series of questions she thinks she knows the answer to, to lead the witness along to the big piece of cheese. Then she clobbers them with some piece of prior testimony or something that is at least inconsistent enough to raise a little doubt. The problem is that she a) is very unsubtle, b) often doesn't get the answers she expects to her teaser questions, and c) isn't mentally agile enough to adjust her strategy to the changing circumstances. Instead she just keeps be pounding people to try to get them to give some version of the answer she's seeking, even if she has to put that answer in their mouths. This makes her look simultaneously aggressive and a little obtuse. It also takes for frigging ever. I was amazed at how little ground was actually covered today in the hours of cross-examination.

She started by reminding him how important it was for his testimony to be clear and honest; something he agreed with wholeheartedly. But after several minutes of dancing around that topic, she slammed him with the accusation that when he examined pieces of the sweat lodge blankets from the police evidence samples and determined them to be the same material used in sweat lodges from 2006-2009, it was "sloppy testimony."

"It was not," retorted Hamilton, making no attempt to hide his anger at her insult. There are probably any number of ways that she could have made the same points about him not being directly part of the chain of custody and having no idea what processes police and lab technicians may have put them through, without being blatantly insulting. He bought the blankets. He recognized them as what he bought.

Next, Do's script required that Hamilton agree that he "cringed" when he heard the criticism directed at the sweat lodge structure itself, in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

Do: You heard things like the sweat lodge structure was quote unquote makeshift, correct?

Hamilton: Correct.

Do: And that made you and your wife cringe didn't it?

Hamilton: All truths are true to the people who hold them, so yes, that's their truth.

Do: No, I understand. I'm asking how you and your wife responded. That made you cringe because you did not believe it was makeshift, correct?

Hamilton: No, we knew it was not makeshift.

Do: Right. And it made you cringe to hear people make that accusation, correct?

Hamilton: Did I love it? No.

Do: Alright.

Hamilton: Did I accept it? Yes.

A more skillful attorney would simply have asked Mr. Hamilton how he felt instead of wasting time trying to get him to accept her projection of how he would react. No one likes to be told what they're feeling. A more skillful attorney might also have avoided seeking hearsay information on his wife's feelings; especially considering that she's scheduled to testify next. I highlight the exchange primarily for its weirdness. But also because the discussion of his knowledge of what he knew when about public criticism went on for a while and was raised later.

At one point in this exchange, he agreed that he became aware of some criticism the day after the incident but as she continued to expound, his confusion and frustration became increasingly apparent.

Hamilton: It's challenging because you're taking a whole eighteen month period where I heard things and wanting to condense it the day afterward and I don't, I don't know that.

Do: Well, if you can't just tell me you can't but I'm asking you the question of whether or not you became aware of any of these criticisms the next day and I believe when I asked the first time you said yes.

Hamilton: Yes but when you narrow it down to particulars, no I can't answer that.

Do: Okay, so that's your testimony now, correct?

Hamilton: Yes.

Later in the day, of course, it became clear why she wanted so desperately for him to admit that he knew about public scrutiny of the sweat lodge structure itself. Because that would bolster the defense's theory that they destroyed the sweat lodge to destroy evidence. In asking him about things like whether it was inspected and permitted, she looped back to the issue of his awareness of public scrutiny.

Hamilton explained that the police had released the scene and were well aware that Angel Valley intended to destroy the structure. No, he did not think to hold onto it for anyone from the county to look at because the police work for the county and they were done with that part of their investigation.

Do continued.

Do: Earlier we talked about whether you became aware, in the aftermath of the accident that there were criticisms about the structure not being permitted, that it was makeshift, and that it was faulty. Do you remember that line of questioning?

Hamilton: Yes. And I told you that I did not know for sure the day after on that Saturday that it was going after the lodge itself. We got rid of it because it was out of alignment. People died there. We needed to continue our business. So we went in and we did the most honorable thing we could and that is to, honoring the people that died, is to burn the lodge, which is the traditional way of doing it and get on with putting our lives back together again.

Do: I understand Mr. Hamilton and let's just, I'll ask the questions, you give the answers so the jurors can decide what to do with facts, okay? My question to you is this. When we began this morning we talked about how in the aftermath of the accident you became aware that there was negative public scrutiny about Angel Valley and the construction of the sweat lodge. True or not true?

Hamilton: I said there was [exasperated sigh]

Do: I'm not putting a time frame on it, if you listen to the question. I'm not saying you learned about it on the 9th or the 10th. I'm saying that in the aftermath, after the accident, you did become aware, correct?

Hamilton: After the lodge was physically taken down, I became aware that people were questioning the structure of the lodge. It was afterward. That morning. I did not know anybody questioning the lodge itself.

Do: This morning you had told the jury that you learned about it on October 9th, 2009. And then -- let me finish the question please -- and then after that you said you weren't sure about the time frame. Do you remember that? Do you remember that?

Hamilton: I remember part of what I said yes.

Do: You told the jury after the first answer, you then told the jury, that you just simply don't remember when it was that you heard ABC. Do you remember that?

Polk: Objection. Mischaracterizing his earlier testimony. Council is arguing with the witness. And this is all asked and answered.

Darrow: Sustained.

Do: You're now telling this jury that you remember specifically, correct? That you heard about the scrutiny, I'm sorry the criticisms of Angel Valley and the construction after you took down the structure. Is that your testimony now?

Polk: Same objection.

Darrow: Overruled.

Hamilton: May I be clear with exactly what I'm saying?

Do: I'd be happy to give you the opportunity to explain it but I want the jury to get an answer.

Ultimately, Judge Darrow had to step in and ask him to offer a yes or no answer, or say that he couldn't answer that way.

Do: Mr. Hamel, my question is this: Did you just now tell the jury that you recall hearing the criticisms of the construction of the sweat lodge, whether it was makeshift, faulty, not permitted. You now remember that that came to your attention after you took down the structure. Is that your testimony now? Yes or no.


Do: Do you believe that to be in any way inconsistent with what you told this jury this morning?

Hamilton: No.

Let's face it. To call that an inconsistency is really quite a reach. And the punchline is that that sequence was probably the most effective she was all day in making Hamilton's words fit her strategy.

Michael Hamilton

She had even more difficulty when she tried to impugn the business practices at Angel Valley. She sidled right up the line on the tax structure question, making it glaringly apparent in the process that she doesn't understand tax law.

But, despite the fact, that Darrow did not give her leeway to question the legality of their tax status, she asked a lot about how the ministry, the business, and the property fit together. She also tried to draw him out on his services and his kooky beliefs -- he believes the name Angel Valley was given to him by the Archangel Michael and that there are many angels there. He also believes in channeling and autowriting. Do was very obviously trying to set him up as a figure of ridicule, freedom of religion be damned.

She also asked a lot about the rate structure. The rates are high, although Hamilton really threw her for a loop when he explained that there's flexibility and that services aren't always charged for. There is also no refund policy. It varies from contract to contract, which makes sense really. I think it goes without saying that a facility has a lot more to lose when a huge event is canceled than when, say, an individual cancels. Of course the jury is not allowed to hear that Ray offers no refunds for any reason, even his own cancellation of events.

The prosecution must feel very confident in their ability to recast James Ray's events as business rather than spiritual, because they're demonstrating a lot of antipathy for charging rates for spiritual teaching and services. Ray's rates are, of course, higher, and far less flexible. It just seems a little bizarre for Ray's attorneys to keep making an issue of the mixing of money and spiritual services when they represent someone who's been doing just that with abandon for years.

Do also tried to get Hamilton to agree that Angel Valley set the menus and everything else the Spiritual Warrior retreat. This is, of course, the opposite of true. JRI picked the menus. And Angel Valley had to follow JRI's syntax; not the other way around. Amayra picked locations for the vision quest but they had to be approved by James Ray.

On the subject of those vegetarian menus, I found this little tidbit quite interesting. Hamilton mentioned that in past years they had provided fish and chicken during Spiritual Warrior -- but only for Ray. So while he was, by his standards, making everyone "ungrounded" and "off-balance" with vegetarian meals, he was tucking into the animal protein.

Do brought up the waivers used by Angel Valley. Let's just say that Hamilton and Do have a very different frame of reference for "personal responsibility." Hamilton's is philosophical and, even though he recognizes what the lawyers did in structuring the documents, he doesn't see the waivers as something that can prevent him from being sued.

Do also, once again, introduced a document that she did not actually want admitted into evidence. This time it was Hamilton who balked because he didn't see how it was fair for him to read segments out of context. He made it very clear that he thought Do was trying to force him to misrepresent himself.

But where Do looked the most desperate was when she tried to salvage the poisoned wood argument. Did all the employees know not to burn pressure treated wood? He was pretty sure they did. He was a little surprised to learn that Ted Mercer thought he may have burned the wrong wood. Mostly because that's not what Mercer said at all, as Polk pointed out. He was concerned that the wood he'd been instructed to burn was treated. Okay, Mercer's not the sharpest pencil and Hamilton probably didn't realize what he was dealing with there. But the bottom line is that Mercer testified that he burned wood from the pile he was instructed to use by Hamilton and Hamilton knew exactly what wood he allowed to be burned. Do asked about scrap from the bridge that must be pressure treated because Hamilton had said that pressure treated wood was required in bridge building. But, no, the wood he'd thrown in the scrap pile was from the railings; not the parts of the bridge that would have contact with water and need to be pressure treated.

I'm abbreviating the wood discussion. It went on for quite a while. Do failed utterly. Hamilton knows his wood.

Hamilton also explained that a lot of that wood was sold off as firewood. Hear of anyone in the greater Sedona area dying of toxic poisoning from their firewood? Neither have I.

She also tried to trip him up on the rat poison but by the end of that, it was unclear who was more confused; Hamilton or Do. Seriously. I think sometimes she confuses herself. She couldn't seem to grasp that the rat poison he originally reported was that which was used in 2009, around the time of the incident. Amdro, for the ants, wasn't even introduced until 2010 but she still wanted to ask about it. Weird.

Strangely enough Do closed by asking about prior lodges and whether he'd heard of any incidents. He hadn't. But it seems odd that she would want to open that area on cross when it could open the door again for the prosecution.

All in all, I thought Hamilton came off as forthright and like someone who had been very cooperative with the authorities. Do's aggressiveness actually made him seem more sympathetic than he otherwise would have because, once again, she turned a witness into a victim by trying to beat him up and deliberately confuse him.

Sheila Polk

Sheila Polk barely got into her redirect this afternoon. In part, because the schedule was cut short for the holiday. She only asked a few questions but I was struck anew by the dichotomy between her courtroom style and Do's. Polk always seems grounded and clear. Listening to her is such a relief after the frenetic, disjointed, and unbelievably confusing style of Truc Do. It's like the world suddenly makes sense again. If they teamed up, they could do a hell of a good cop, bad cop routine.

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels' hierarchies?
and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the call-note of my dark sobbing.
Ah, whom can we ever turn to in our need?
Not angels, not humans, and already the knowing animals are aware
that we are not really at home in our interpreted world.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from the 1st Duino Elegy
Translated by Stephen Mitchell

All information on the trial comes from news articles with provided links or live courtroom footage on TruTV's "In Session" or CNN's live feed. All quotes and paraphrased statements that are not linked to a source document are my best attempt to transcribe material from live broadcasts.

Comments on this entry are closed, on this blog. If you wish to comment, please find this and all newer blog entries crossposted on Celestial Reflections.