Isaiah 3:13 13 The LORD takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people.
There are good court stories (funny, interesting), and there are bad court stories. Real bad. About 15 years ago, I got a call from a client wanting me to appear for a guilty plea hearing in Washington County, Ohio. The courts in Ohio use digital recording, and if they have something important, they will bring in a live court reporter to do trials and things like that. My client explains that this was set for a trial that day, but his client was going to plead, so it would just be an hour or so to get that done.
I arrive in Marietta, get set up, and the defendant comes before the Court, and she asks him if he is there to plead, and he says he’s pleading not guilty. She immediately proceeds to put a jury in the box, and there I was, the official court reporter for a trial. I had no idea what I’d shown up for. This guy was a professor at Marietta College, and he was caught with thousands of child porn images on his computer. He had also pursued and groomed young boys from Parkersburg to get them to engage in sexual acts with him, and he had filmed it, photographed it. There was a lot more, but that was the gist of the charges. We began to pick the jury, and one of the questions the lawyer asked was what magazines the jurors received at their homes. One guy said he received Playboy magazine. They left him on the jury – I thought, “What’s up with that?” He was a big, burly, tattooed former Marine, looked like a pretty rough guy.
We get the trial started, and the story begins to emerge, of how this professor would go to Parkersburg and seek out boys who appeared low income, sort of lost little waifs, and he would befriend them, begin giving them rides home, buy them tennis shoes, pizza, ingratiate himself into their lives, take them to Kings Island and other fun places, all the while making them do sick and perverted things in exchange for their shoes and food. It was beyond sickening. These boys testified, and by the time of the trial, most of them were grown men. I’ll never forget one of them testifying about how he was going to school to be a teacher, and I’m sitting there thinking to myself that it would be a miracle if he was ever hired, once the newspapers printed all the details of this situation. These boys talked of how they were confused and hated themselves for selling their soul and their body for these little piddly tokens of affection. Each of them knew each other and knew the others were probably going through the same thing as they were, but they didn’t talk about it amongst themselves.
On top of these horrible in-person acts, this professor (Doctor Robert Anderson) was an online predator, pursuing children and preteens in America and even across the ocean. He had this little 7-year-old that he had quite the running action with, who would tell him he got up in the middle of the night to talk to him on the computer while mommy and daddy slept. He had this child go get a ruler in one of these exchanges and take a picture of it next to his privates so he could measure it. Sick, sick. I truly went to work each day nauseous and resenting my client who got me trapped into this nightmare. There were times I had to physically regurgitate the vomit and bile that would rise in my throat.
This case lasted almost a month, and we had to go through thousands and thousands of pages of instant messaging (back in the AOL days), thousands and thousands of sick, wicked photographs of children. The jurors had to view each of these pieces of evidence so they could determine a series of things: Age of child, perverse nature of image, etc. I had to mark the exhibits and see them as I put stickers on them. The attorneys would put them up on a big screen, and I would just wheel my chair around so that I wasn’t looking at the screen, which would put me staring at the jury instead. The juror I had wondered about that received the Playboy magazine, the muscle-bound Marine, sat in that jury box and bawled like a baby with every image. I mean tears pouring down his face, snotting and blowing his nose, just torn up. The women cried at first and then got looks on their face of resolve and purpose and just DONE.
The day the authorities swarmed into the college to try to seize these computers, they had the professor away from everyone, but somehow he was able to get word to a fellow partner in crime at Athens, Ohio University, and that guy remoted into the computers and wiped them clean. They had a Doomsday plan, and it almost worked. Thank God the forensic computer guys wouldn’t give up, and they worked and worked and worked until they got those images restored. That guy from Athens ended up dead before the Anderson trial of some weird poison or something, and there was an investigation ongoing about that.
This guy was a creep. I mean, he looked like a creep, and the evidence proved he was not just a creep, but a sick, sick purveyor of evil. True evil. It took me over three years to remove the things I saw from my mind. I would see a blond little sweet, innocent boy, and I would have a flashback of the 7-year-old from Sweden. I would see a preteen boy with ratty clothes and shoes, and I would see those young men who will never be the same. I would drive by that adult book store place on the way to Parkersburg and images would flood into my mind. I prayed and prayed for the evil to leave my mind, my memories, but it took a long time. And I am an ADULT. What does this kind of thing do to children? It is unthinkable.
I tell this story today because I haven’t thought about Doctor Anderson in a long time. Thank God. But there was a recent killing at Mount Olive prison, and I read the article, and it was HIM! I honestly thought he would have been in an Ohio prison and someone would have done him in long before now, but he had been sentenced in West Virginia as well, and had lasted this long before someone beat him up and killed him.
Parents, if you have given your child an Internet-enabled device and do not have a block on it, you have just opened up the door to the Doctor Andersons of this world. By this time, 15 years later, the accessibility to this evil has multiplied a thousand times. You say, “Oh, I have good kids – they know not to do anything like that.” You may have good kids, but even though children don’t go searching, there is evil lurking right around the corner searching for THEM! Please, please, protect your family, your children, from these things. I shudder to think of what the chances are that my granddaughters will be able to find a young man to marry who is pure in spirit, whose eyes have not been tainted by the pornography that is around every corner. Or that my grandsons will be protected from this so that they can have normal and healthy marital relationships.
There is no greater duty as parents and grandparents than to help our children navigate this world with confidence, with safety and with peace. Just wanted to remind you today that there is GOOD and there is EVIL in this world, and the Bible is true when it tells us in 1 Peter 5:8 that we are to “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Don’t let it be your family! Your kids may hate you for a while for “depriving” them of what everyone else has, but wouldn’t you rather that than they be a victim to this evil? Stay strong, parents – this is the highest calling we have in our lives!
This past week was Court Reporter and Captioner Week, so I had drug up some of my favorite court stories into my mind to make little videos and put on the website. Well, I got them refreshed mentally, but my body didn’t get time to video them. For several years, we have taken depositions of inmates who have accused guards in the prisons of sexually abusing them. One of the very first cases we had was of an inmate who had gone to a facility as a kitchen worker, transferred from another facility. This woman had accused one of the administrators of long-term sexual abuse. She described the man coming in late at night and sending for her to come to the kitchen to cook him something, and then something else would get cooked, you might say.
There were letters written back and forth between them, and some of it did sound like a love affair. The attractive female attorney who represented the prisons began asking her about this “affair,” and intimating that this sexual relationship was consensual and that she encouraged it and wanted it. The inmate answers a few questions, then she gets real direct and says to the female attorney, “Have you MET YOUR CLIENT? Have you met him?” She gets no answer, so she proceeds on. She says, “If you have, then you KNOW! You can smell this man coming 50 feet away, and his teeth are all rotten and his breath would knock you over. And he has a mole the size of a quarter right at his privates. The ONLY way this man could get a woman is to get one that’s locked up and has no way to say no.”
Wow. That was one of those moments you don’t forget. I felt really sorry for this girl. She was a woman by then, of course, but just like most of them, had been abused as a child, started doing drugs, then stealing, and before you know it, she’s locked up in prison and is the play toy of a monster. I hate like anything that I missed the administrator’s deposition, but the story that came out of it was that it was videotaped, and they begin asking this man about whether he has this mole or not, and he denies it. The inmate’s attorney says, “All right. I’d like you and the videographer to go into this side room, and he is going to film you proving that you have no mole there.” The videographer goes pale. He didn’t realize this was in his job description. But amazingly, the truth begins to get told. “Well, I might have a mole, but I’m not sure it’s the size of a quarter…..” You’ve got to laugh.
As I thought about telling that story, it reminded me that our sins will always find us out. Anytime I have EVER tried to hide something in my life, either God reveals it or my guilt forces me to reveal it. It’s just not worth it…
I read an article in the Charleston paper this week that has stuck with me as well, on the same vein. A man in Texas died, and his daughter wrote things in his obituary such as “he lived 29 years longer than expected and much longer than he deserved.” The obituary noted that he left behind two “relieved” children, a son and daughter, along with “countless other victims,” including an ex-wife, family members, friends, neighbors, and “doctors, nurses and random strangers.”
“Leslie was surprisingly intelligent; however, he lacked ambition and motivation to do anything more than being reckless, wasteful, squandering the family savings and fantasizing about get-rich-quick schemes,” it stated. “Leslie’s hobbies included being abusive to his family, expediting trips to heaven for the beloved family pets and fishing, which he was less skilled at than the previously mentioned.”
It continued, “Leslie’s life served no other obvious purpose. He did not contribute to society or serve his community and he possessed no redeeming qualities besides quick-witted sarcasm which was amusing during his sober days.” The Houston Chronicle reported that this man had pleaded guilty to an assault charge in 1979. He also pleaded guilty in 2008 to assaulting a family member by pouring hot liquid on his then-wife of 40 years. The next year, he pleaded guilty to violating the resulting restraining order by calling another family member and threating to kill her.”
As we watch ugliness and vitriol poured out on this forum called Facebook, I pray it does not get on us, get in us, so that we turn into people who spew forth hate and rantings and ravings about this or that. Let’s use our lives so that when we leave this world, our children and those around us “rise up to call her blessed” like the Proverbs 31 woman. Life is too short, and as proven just this week by a dear friend of mine not awakening at 53 years of age and a terrible murder occurring to another man who just committed the crime of simply opening his front door. Let us all be about our Father’s business, trying to save those whom the devil seeks to devour……
Talia had to prepare her first-ever trial transcript this week, and because it’s totally different than depositions in formatting and language, I told her I wanted to proofread it myself rather than one of our regular proofers. She had complained and complained about the acoustics in the courtroom and the attorney who talked like he had marbles in his mouth, how her ears hurt from pressing the headphones in so deep to try to pick up what he was mumbling. She has a tendency to exaggerate, so I didn’t pay much attention to her griping. I should have, though!
I remember when she came home from her first deposition and said it was terrible, she couldn’t hardly understand a word the guy said, that he talked so low and gravelly that she was three sentences behind trying to sort out what he was saying, on and on and on. She always has been a good storyteller, and sometimes she embellishes on the details, so we just laughed and said, “Oh, yeah, Talia, I’m sure it was!” I proceed to rail on about “Let me tell you about some witnesses I’ve had!” She goes to her car and gets her backup recorder and says, “No, you’re not hearing me. Listen to this guy!”
She turns on the recorder, and out comes this growling sound, kind of like you would do if you were pretending to be a bear. “RRRRRR.” Honestly, it sounded exactly like the people who do the “Do not smoke” commercials that have their finger over that little hole in their throat. All of us were sitting around the table listening to this when she pushes “Play” like a maestro, needing to prove her point. We all were like, “What?? What was wrong with him?” She recounts that he said he had smoked his whole life, like several packs a day, and he said he just kept getting worse and worse.
Anyway, that wasn’t the story for today, but today’s story reminded me of that event. I’m reading this transcript, and I thought she did a great job, not very many “off” things, so I forgot about her saying she had a hard time hearing. There was one point where the Judge says to the marble-mouth lawyer “You know I can’t hear a word you say.” And then again later, the Judge says, “I can’t understand a word you say.” Well, we get to this one point in the transcript, and something just wasn’t right – it didn’t make sense, and seemed like something was missing. I ask Tal what is up with that part and she’s like, “I have no idea – you listen and see.” We’re both sitting at our kitchen table at the time, computers and papers spread everywhere, trying to get through 775 pages together. She passes over the computer and sticks the headphones in my ears.
She turns on the audio and all I hear is this huge roar of a fan and beneath the fan real low is this “garble, garble, garble” kind of like someone talking under water. My eyes bug out and I practically scream, “What?? THIS is what you’ve had to listen to for 775 pages??” She begins to laugh and says, “I TOLD YOU! Listen to it about six more times, and you’ll finally realize there’s a human trying to talk in there.” I listened and listened, and honestly, I couldn’t make heads nor tails out of it. I could pick up enough to make the sentence seem right, but only God knows if it was perfect or not. I take the headphones out and say, “Well, I thought you did a good job before hearing this, but now I’m really impressed!” She says, “Well, my ears are about broken, and I practically have callouses from pressing the headphones in”……see what I mean about exaggerations?
We keep reading, and honestly, we were both so bleary-eyed and tired that it’s a wonder we were sitting up straight. We both had had to work the two days we were doing this, so we wouldn’t start reading until late in the afternoon anyway. Let me tell you a little bit about this case so the next part will make sense. This was in a very rural county, and there was this family who did not have their children at the hospital, they had no birth certificates, they never went to school, no electricity or running water in the house, and there were seven kids, five boys and two girls. The father and one brother had already been convicted of sexually molesting the girls, and the father even testified that “Well, my brothers and I fooled around with our sisters, so yeah, I figured my boys were also.” It was a bad bad deal.
One of the brothers who had not been charged yet was named Forest. One of the sisters had testified he also abused them, but so far he hadn’t been indicted. So the prosecutor is in his closing argument, and he says, “This brother forced his sister” -- and up jumps marble-mouth and screams into the courtroom, “Forest hasn’t even been charged with anything!” The prosecutor turns around and says, “I said ‘forcible.’” The Judge then says, “No, you said ‘forced.’” When I read that, I began to laugh hysterically! Talia looks over at me with this “What’s wrong with you – I’m trying to read here” look. I read it to her and say, “Even they can’t hear what they’re saying!” This leads to Tal acting it out, of course, and we both laughed until we cried. Proof of how tired we were, as I’m sure you guys are not seeing it’s that funny. I guess you had to be there.
For some reason, that has stuck with me this week, and I’ve laughed over it several times. As I was laughing over it, God began to speak to me. He says, “When I say things to you, it’s in a still small voice, and you don’t seem to hear me sometimes either. And you don’t listen hard and harder and longer and take more time to make sure you heard what I said; you just move on to the next thing.” And how right he is. How many times do we stop everything, turn up the “God ears” and listen and listen and listen, trying to make sure we don’t miss that tiny small voice?
I would encourage you today – put in those “God headphones” and press so hard that you get callouses…..all of us will be better for it!
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Tom and I spent a few days out of town this week for our anniversary (22 years!), and we ate at Cracker Barrel on the way. I cannot eat at Cracker Barrel without remembering one of the craziest depositions I ever took. I was excited to do this deposition because it was a new client, a really nice young attorney we used to go to church with. Turned out this was his first deposition, which he tells me kind of nervously before the depo begins. I assured him that he would do great, may have even told him about actually throwing up during my first deposition, so he certainly couldn’t top that experience! He laughed, and the opposing attorney brings his client in, and the deposition begins.
I had noticed the young attorney had a neatly-typed outline before him, which is crucial for most attorneys, but certainly unseasoned one who don’t want to forget something or lose their train of thought. He starts out with the quintessential first question: “State your name, please.” The witness says, “Well, you want my name I go by now or the name my mama named me or the second name they gave me when the courthouse burnt down?” Well, even for me, with 20 years under my belt at that point, that was a new one. The young lawyer says, “Well, I’m not sure. I guess the name your mama gave you.” The witness starts down this trail of how he got his name at birth, then when he was four years old, the courthouse burned down and he had to get a new birth certificate, so they decided to name him after a relative, Uncle So-In-So because he was so successful in business (then we heard all about his business), and then when he got older, he decided he wanted to go by a different name.
No lie, this answer went on for FIVE full pages. I had never had this happen before, and as I look over at the lawyer, he has this deer-in-the-headlights look. The witness finally winds down, ready for the next question, and the lawyer goes back to his outline. Next question is address, followed by some background information like high school, work history, that type of thing. You know, the usual in every deposition. About three background questions in, this deponent decides he’s going to take control of this deposition. He says he doesn’t need to answer these questions because it has nothing to do with all that junk that Cracker Barrel had sitting around, and he wasn’t there to talk about himself – he wanted to talk about Cracker Barrel and how they injured his wife.
This kind young lawyer tries gently to get him to continue on the normal way, and his own lawyer even told him that “It’s just background – don’t worry, we’ll get there.” He balks at this and will barely give any information, which is totally frustrating the questioner. Not only is he giving little information, he is actually fighting about almost every answer. Finally, the lawyer gives up and heads to the day of “the incident.” He says, “Let’s talk about the day of your wife’s accident. What were you doing that day before you came to Cracker Barrel?” By then, this deponent has had it. He practically screams, “What in the world does it matter what we were doing that day? None of that has anything to do with the fact that you cannot walk into a Cracker Barrel without tripping over all that junk you guys want to put everywhere when all we wanted to do was come and eat. I don’t know why you’re wasting your time asking me these questions when if you hadn’t had that quilt rack where it was and that quilt hanging over so you couldn’t see the legs of that thing, none of this would have happened! Do I need to ask these questions for you?”
The lawyer tries to peel back to his question so he can stay with his outline. I mean, his order had already been blown way out of the water, but if he couldn’t keep control on the actual details of the accident, he was going to be in trouble. He explains that he will get to the actual incident, but that he needs to get the background so he can lay a foundation. The man just continues on and on and on, arguing and fussing and wanting to tell his story. I mean, it just wouldn’t stop. I cannot remember all the details, but about halfway in, I was spurting laughter, trying my best not to, but it was just impossible. The plaintiff’s attorney was Mike Ranson, and he was literally laughing out loud. I kind of thought during the whole thing that this would probably be about like trying to take my father’s deposition – he’s a storyteller, and sometimes he can get off on a yarn…
I hate to admit that as the day went on, I laughed out loud more than once, and literally wrote this young attorney an apology note for my behavior. I just could not help it. This man’s wife had tripped on a quilt rack, and he just couldn’t stop with the mantra of “If you didn’t have all this junk in the way and allowed people to just get into your restaurant to eat, none of this would have happened!” At the end of the day, this poor attorney looked like he had been run over by a train – well, a run-away witness of the likes I had never seen before nor since. And now I cannot walk into a Cracker Barrel without thinking he was probably right, and he sure gave this new attorney a story to tell about his first deposition. I think it beats my story of throwing up, actually…
The moral of the story is: Every day is an adventure to be enjoyed – sometimes you’ve just got to go with the flow. And you’ll be happy to know the young lawyer is now a seasoned professional who manages a very successful law firm, so it all ends well. Enjoy those storytellers in your life, and make sure that God knows your name (you know, the one your mama gave you and the new one you got after the courthouse burned down and the one you like to go by….)
1 John 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
Every court reporter secretly wants to be a lawyer. There are times when in trial or deposition, I know the court reporter is thinking, “Would you just sit down and let me do it?” I’ve seen lawyers that are so far afield in their thinking about what’s important in a case, lawyers that were so unprepared it was painful to watch, lawyers who could care less about their client’s case (and it showed!). Then again, there are the phenomenal lawyers, and I am blessed to have many of them as clients.
Occasionally, I’ll have to get aggressive when trying to collect payment, and I just hate, hate, hate collections! Every month, I’m on the phone trying to make sure people got their invoices, see if they have a problem with something, etc., etc. Lately, I have sued a couple people that were just literally blowing the invoices off, acting like they didn’t owe them or just didn’t care if they owed them or not. My reporters work on a percentage basis, and if I don’t collect, they don’t get anything, and frankly, that’s just not okay with me. They work very hard, get their transcripts turned around in seven days, and to have to beg to get paid a year later is ridiculous.
This week, I had a hearing coming up in magistrate court against a plaintiff’s firm that had just blown off a couple bills. They had gotten the case continued once a couple months ago, last minute, and this week was our day of reckoning. I got my case prepared, all my documents ready, put on my best “lawyer” attire, and off to court I went. I had my cross examination of this lawyer all prepared as to why he didn’t think he owed the bill, what his defenses were, etc. He shows up about the time the hearing should start, slides into the bench beside me, and says, “Now, what is it going to take to get this thing to go away?”
I say, “Get your checkbook out, and it will be gone in an instant.” He laughs and says he doesn’t owe the bill. Now mind you, we are sitting very close to each other on a bench, legs touching, faces about five inches from each other, the public all around. I said, “What do you mean, you don’t owe it?” He says, “I didn’t authorize this expense. I don’t hire court reporters. I never, ever hire a court reporter, and I didn’t hire one on this occasion, so I don’t owe it.”
I pull the invoice out, and his firm did in fact hire us, even expedited the transcript because their trial was coming up. I had been told by his associate who used to work for him that the client didn’t win and wouldn’t pay the expenses, so that was why we weren’t getting paid. I said, “Your firm did hire us – even expedited it – and do you understand what happens when you expedite something? That means my reporter goes home, stops doing whatever her family needs her to do, and she does whatever YOU asked her to do.” And then you just can’t find it in your heart to pay her for her work?
He keeps insisting he doesn’t owe me, that this young associate who worked for him didn’t really work for him but had this deal if he brought in money, the firm got money – if he didn’t bring in any money, then the firm didn’t make anything. Therefore, he made nothing, so he doesn’t owe anything. I look at him, my mouth agape. “So because you lost your case, my court reporter gets stiffed?” Let me make sure I understand this.
“Well, she’s not getting stiffed – she just isn’t going to get paid, because I don’t owe her anything. My client might owe her something, but not me.” I pull out the case law all across the country that is right on point that when a lawyer orders a transcript, the obligation to pay is between the attorney and the reporter, not the client and reporter. The reporter doesn’t even know who the client is half the time, much less have any communication or agreement about paying the bill. The law is clear that the attorney owes.
He can get out of that one also. It’s not him – it’s this young attorney. I should go after him. I say, “He worked for you at the time, so it is YOU, your firm, that owes.” “Oh, no, no, it’s not me, it’s him personally.” I say, “Did he or did he not have a business card with your firm name on it?” “Well, yes.” “Then he worked for you, he is your agent, and you are stuck. You owe this bill – why don’t you just pay it?”
Well, the stories began to roll – he’s a corporation and I should have served him through the Secretary of State, not personally. If that didn’t work, he got a divorce and didn’t have any money – his house was for sale and his beach house is for sale and all he got was his kids and his Harley. You name it, he had an excuse. We are sitting here arguing for 20 minutes so far. He says, “Well, just give me a continuance and I’ll try to get some money out of the young associate and see if that works.” I said, “NO, you have continued this once and I’m ready – I’ve got case law and I’ve got a statute that says the court reporter can’t work on a contingency fee, and I’m ready to go. NO continuance.”
The bill we were arguing over was around $650.00. He says, “I’ve got two $100.00 bills in my pocket – I’ll give you those and we’ll be done.” I just about came unglued. I said, “You know what? Your sob story does not touch what happened to my court reporter this year, and I am not going to give her work away for free just because you want to come up with every excuse in the world not to pay her. She deserves better than this!” He says, “I can see you’re really into this – don’t you have enough money anyway?” I said, “Yes, I do – but SHE DOESN’T, and I won’t make a penny off this mess – having taken two days off work already, gotten the paperwork ready, pulled hair out just getting the suit filed, paying out $90.00 just to file it. The more he said he didn’t owe, the madder I was getting.
Long, long 45-minute story later (in which he said even though I was getting heated, I had good legs), we settled for $500.00 in 45 days. He offers to shake on it, and I say, “No, you’re going to write me out something saying you’re going to pay it.” He says, “You don’t trust my word?” I say, “Well, you just told me you didn’t have a good reputation and you didn’t care to take this sob story in to the judge and let him and the public see that you don’t pay your bills. You just put it in writing.” He writes me out a little note saying he will pay me in 45 days, signs his name. Then he waits a minute, grabs the pen again and puts below his signature “(UNDER PROTEST).” I literally laughed out loud – “Just had to get the last word in, didn’t you?” “Well, it IS under protest.” Whatever.
And what spiritual lesson is there in this? I have thought about this so much this week. As I think about this situation, I realize it is EXACTLY what our Lord does for us – he is OUR ADVOCATE. When we can’t make our way, Jesus intervenes for us, he does the arguing for us – he goes to God and begs for us for the things we deserve, regardless of the circumstances. He is our advocate against satan, arguing for us when we’re so messed up, we can’t think to hold our strength up against the wiles of the devil. The devil can get us so confused, he can put reasons and excuses into our lives, story after story of why we’re so defeated, so depressed, make such bad choices, why we’re not living up to our potential and doing right.
But you know what Jesus is doing? He’s going to our Father, reminding him of what we deserve, all the goodness that God has for us, and the fact that the work has been done to pay for it – it is paid in full, and all we have to do is claim it! Always remember, you have that advocate, the one who will fight for you when you can’t fight for yourself! Seek Him …..
We went to the Roane County Bar dinner last night, and as usual, it was such a great time! The attorneys that practice there are warm, funny and have great stories. Mort Titus regaled us with his annual comedy routine which involves everyone in the audience being made fun of, embarrassed in some way or sucked up to (the judges, of course!) He is talented way beyond his legal mind. We sat at a table with Orton Jones and his wife, and Orton is one of the best storytellers I have ever known. He remembers details about everything and was telling a story about having gotten a severe spanking because he found a grasshopper in his spinach in eighth grade and he took it to the cooks to show them. These were the days school administrators whipped with paddles with holes in them, and he said he got it good. I’m not sure what was so bad about his showing of the grasshopper, but he turned out to be such a good man, I guess it didn’t hurt him any
Ryan Ruth and his wife were there as well (the couple who had the wreath stolen off of their front door as well as packages that had been delivered by UPS to their home). Their security camera caught it all, and they have been on the news all week. Seems 20/20 is interested in their story as well, so we may see them on national news soon. They are such a nice couple, and we got all the details on their ordeal and how they’ve been made famous because of it. Oh, and interestingly enough, the thief had 34 misdemeanor charges dismissed just a couple years ago, and drives a BMW!
It reminded me of the Mahan brothers who used to hang around the courthouse and do petty little crimes just to “get by.” One of their crimes was to go to convenience stores (back when deposits were made on pop bottles) and the store would have all the cartons of returned bottles stacked up out front. Well, the Mahan boys would just pick up a carton or two out of the stacks up front and take them in to get a refund on the bottles. I guess it worked a few times until the clerks got wise to them. Carol, Tom’s secretary, said she knew of them hanging around the courthouse after hours, and if anyone wanted to go in, they would collect a $5.00 “entry fee” to allow them to enter the courthouse. They did know the system fairly well…
They also got in a fight one time that resulted in one brother getting his rear end slashed with a knife. He comes before the court, and I’m the court reporter, and George Scott was the judge. He is getting arraigned, and somehow the nature of the crime got brought up, and he unbuttons his pants and begins to drop them, turning around in the process, and Judge Scott quickly shuts that down! I was glad, as his rear was right on my eye level about two feet away from my face….oh my. They would get sent to the drunk tank at Weston to dry out, and if they’d be there together, they’d always try to escape out the third-story window by tying sheets together and helping drop each other down so they could sneak and get something to drink. One time, the sheets broke and one of them fell two stories down. Did not get hurt a bit. I’ve always heard you can’t hurt a drunk…….
One of the other “old days” stories that came to mind is a Jackson County story. Cheryl Cunningham Donohoe was the judge’s secretary, and her office was where everyone sat to await going in for hearings that were held in the judge’s chambers. The judge had something else going on, so several of us were waiting our turn in Cheryl’s office. We were going to have a hearing on a 60-day evaluation on a young man who had been sent off to determine his competency to stand trial. Homer Fisher was the sheriff, so he had the prisoner, and Joe Hash was the prisoner’s attorney, so the three of them were on one wall, and I was on a different wall waiting to go in with them. This young man starts telling his attorney (loud enough for all of us to hear) that he had a really hard time while he was at Weston. See, there were these bugs that just kept crawling on him, crawling on him at night, in the day, while he slept, while he was awake, just kept crawling all over him and all over him and they were in his hair and in his ears and on his stomach and on his back and just everywhere. He just kept repeating this mantra over and over, all the while scratching himself from top to bottom. These bugs just wouldn’t leave him alone, they kept crawling on him and crawling on him and crawling on him. His hair was standing on end where he was clawing for these bugs, and he was pulling his shirt up to scratch, just still digging while talking about these bugs.
His attorney, Joe, was just calmly listening with half an ear, barely registering what he was saying. Well, not the rest of us. Cheryl and I were looking at each other, and we were watching Homer begin to scratch his head, and I’m scratching my neck, and Cheryl is giving me the “shivers” look. He kept on and on about these bugs, and by the time we got called in, we were all scratching from head to toe. We get into the hearing, and to tell you the truth, I can’t remember the result, but when we come out, Cheryl is going crazy with a Lysol can. She’s spraying the chairs, the handles, the desk, the lamp, wiping furiously like there is a monster chasing her. I said, “What in the world’s gotten into you?” She says, “While you were in there, I read his report – HE’S GOT CRABS!” I can still see the look on her face, 30 years later. Thank God we all escaped his fate……I can feel the bugs crawling on me even now……
Today I wanted to tell my bank robber story…
When I was about 19, I had my first job with Judge George Scott covering the counties of Roane, Calhoun and Jackson. I was young and naïve, having grown up relatively sheltered. One thing my father taught me was the value of picking up hitchhikers – oh, I know, not the safest thing in today’s evil world, but then and now, it is a ministry of his. I sat in the back seat with random yahoos frequently, and really didn’t mind it a bit – they all had a story to tell, and my parents were showing me how the Good Samaritan of today should act.
That said, I’m on my way home from work one day, and it is around 6:00 p.m. probably. We lived on a country road, Barr Run, that wasn’t frequently traveled really, and I come upon this green car sitting in a curve kind of pulled off the road, heading in the opposite direction of where you would have pulled off on your side of the road. That should have been Clue No. 1. Anyway, I pull up beside the car, roll down my window and ask the guy if he needs help. He says no, he’s just waiting on a friend to come and help him with his car. This was before cell phones, so I say, “Well, would you like to come home with me to wait on him or to call someone?” He says no, he’s good, he’ll just wait there. I say, “Okay, but you’re more than welcome.” He says thanks, and on I go.
I get home, start making supper, turn on the news, and there has been a bank robbery in Ravenswood and they are still looking for the robber! Driving a green car and may be hidden on a side road! AAAAAHHH! I’ve just invited this guy home with me! I call in to the Ravenswood Police Station and tell them my story, and they ask me to come down. I go down, and it is the most pitiful interview I have ever seen. They ask me a few questions and then say, “Okay, that’s it.” Every question he asked, he wrote the whole thing down and then asked it, then wrote my answer down, so it took forever! I say, “Do you think you should ask me what he looked like?” The officer (who isn’t there any longer) says, “Oh, yeah. What. Did. He. Look. Like.” I tell him what I noticed (which honestly wasn’t much and perhaps I shouldn’t have suggested the question), and I am released. They don’t catch him, and you don’t hear a thing about it again.
About three to five years later (A LONG TIME), this FBI officer calls me and says they believe they have caught the bank robber that I spoke to, and he needs to come and see me with a line-up. I’m like “Oh, gosh, I didn’t even notice that much at the time, and now all these years later, I am sure I won’t be able to ID him.” He wants to try anyway. I begin to fret and pray, “Oh, God, give me wisdom I don’t have; give me discernment; show me this face that I cannot remember so a criminal does not go free because I NEVER pay attention to anything!” The FBI guy shows up at my home, I look at the array and they all look exactly alike. I say, “Could I maybe see the statement I gave at the time to help me remember?” “No, ma’am, we cannot help you with this – you have to do this on your own.” Oh, it was awful. I had to send him away with the news that I had no idea. I was sick.
I don’t know if they were able to convict the man or not – I was supposedly the ONLY witness who had seen his face in Ravenswood, but he had robbed other banks as well, so hopefully they caught him for one of those. I think our current bank robber isn’t as sophisticated, or he would have had wheels……let’s just say if you think you see or talk to him, TAKE NOTES and PHOTOS!
Have been crazy upside down with three focus groups this week, but it’s all good – amazing, though, how we interact with each other. The jury system is revered by the world as we are the country with the best justice system, the system where our peers judge us – how could it be more fair than that? If you’ve read any of the John Grisham novels, you know that there can always be a “bad guy” in every situation, but in 32 years of reporting and trials, I have only come home sick to my stomach two times, just feeling like what happened was wrong, so wrong. Sometimes as a court reporter, you know way more than the jury does and you wonder if they had known “the rest of the story,” would the outcome have been different?
The focus groups we did this week were kind of like that – the attorneys argued their case, but they would leave certain pieces of information out, and then after the group had deliberated, I would go in and fill them in on a few tidbits to see if it changed their opinions any. There was a really sweet African-American lady in one of our groups, and she was really fighting hard for her side, but everyone else wasn’t buying it. Once I told “the rest of the story,” she says, “Now, Mister, you done gone and disappointed me.” It was hilarious – she says, “Now, buddy, I was your best friend here, but now knowing all this other junk, we can’t be friends anymore.” I so love the black culture and how real they are – I’ve often said I could easily go to a black church.
Anyway, I say that to say this: Our last group didn’t have as much information as the other ones, and they were a mix of two for the plaintiff, two for the defendant and two undecided. What ended up happening was an unbelievable lesson in human behavior. The two for the plaintiff were way more passionate about their cause, and they literally took over, rolled over these other people and swayed them in their direction through the force of persuasion and passion, oftentimes in very heated ways. The two undecideds caved easily, and the other two held out for the defendant for a short while but ended up caving all the same. I literally could not believe it, watching remotely, how those who previously believe something just threw it away and went with the strongest in the pack.
The whole experience made me wonder about our passion for our faith. How often do you try to persuade someone to believe in Jesus Christ? Have you ever? Would people even know you’re a Christian? One of the most interested books I’ve ever read was written by a guy named Lee Strobel, and it was called “The Case for Christ.” Lee’s wife had gotten saved, and he wasn’t having it – her faith was threatening their lifestyle, their marriage, their relationship, and he was a journalist, a seeker of the truth, and he set out to show her logically and intelligently how this faith in this dead guy was just wrong, a made-up desperation of seeking for some emotional crutch to deal with problems in her life.
What happened was the exact opposite. He set out to seek the truth, who was this Jesus, what did history say about him, did he really exist, was he just a prophet or a good man? How many times did the Bible contradict itself, on and on. He set about this like he was going to do an expose on 20-20 of this cult of these infantile people, religious fanatics, built around this mythical figure Jesus Christ. As he studied and researched, the evidence became clearer and clearer that this Jesus really was the Christ, and he ended up getting saved also and is one of the most passionate speakers and writers of how to share your faith and to make “The Case for Christ.”
When I first read his book, I was very convicted that I knew this Jesus, had known Him for years, and I wasn’t sharing my faith and researching it and studying it like he was, and I vowed to do better. I would say I failed at that. Oh, I don’t hide my faith – it is all over me – but I do not actively debate those who may not know him and try to convince them of my passion. Why don’t I? If we were on a jury and someone disagreed with us, wouldn’t we fight to the end, until we got them convinced of our belief? I would wager to bet that we have argued with our friends and co-workers and perhaps relatives about ten times as many things as we’ve tried to convince them to try our Savior. Am I right? Lord, help us.
I so appreciate when the Lord comes in and convicts me – it lets me know He’s still working on me, He hasn’t turned his back on me. And don’t worry, I’m not gonna beat anyone over the head with it, but I am going to study to show myself prepared so that I am always ready to give anyone willing to listen a passionate argument on why they should try Christianity – won’t you join me?
Today’s story is gutwrenchingly awful, followed up by knowledge that is overwhelmingly powerful – just like life in action.
A few years ago, I got hired to go do this big death penalty murder trial in Ohio. I arrive, knowing nothing about the case, so it’s almost like I’m a juror, a fly on the wall, just hearing this case developed with all the rest of those in the audience. The trial was of a young African-American man, good looking kid, looked nice as could be. The charge was murder. Seems a college-age girl had gone missing in Columbus one weeknight after working her shift in a bar, having been given a ride home by this young man (supposedly). He had been interviewed and said he dropped her off near her apartment and never saw her again. Her friends knew something was up when she didn’t show up for a margarita party they had planned, and her contribution was the blender. She had purchased a new blender for the party, each of the girls had purchased items to share, and they had planned it for a long time and they knew she would not miss it. She had not been heard from since the night before at work.
They took a good bit of time developing this girl’s personality, and you really felt like you knew her. She was very hard working, quirky, had a duct-tape wallet that she ALWAYS had with her, had a habit of wearing those panties that say “Monday,” “Tuesday,” etc. on them. I sit there sometimes and wonder if something happened to me, what in the world would they say about who I was? Kind of a scary thought…..
Anyway, this girl goes missing and months and months go by with no word, no leads of any type. This was back before the Internet was what it is today, so her friends and family made flyers, tried to get as much publicity as they could. All to no avail. About nine months after her disappearance, a man is knocking on the door of a trailer out in the woods in another county of Ohio that’s about an hour and a half away from her college when he smells something terrible, something that just isn’t right. He couldn’t find the owner of the trailer, so he calls the police, and they come and begin to search. In the closet of this trailer is a body, fully clothed, rolled up in a rug. She has been there almost a year and has hardly decomposed because the winter was very cold and it hadn’t gotten hot in the current summer. Really unbelievable.
They begin to investigate and find that the trailer belongs to this young man or a relative of his or someone connected to him. And that he worked with her. And he was the one who supposedly gave her a ride home that night. While logging the evidence at the trailer, they came upon this pottery thing in the yard where you’d burn trash or have a wiener roast or whatever, and in sifting through the ashes, they find what they believe to be fingers, or a part of a finger, or a toe, or part of a toe. Very curious. Her body was totally intact, no evidence even of sexual assault. They start looking at other missing persons records and find that there was a man who had come up missing about six months prior, sort of a homeless person, but guess what? He had last been seen with this young man.
They start a search of the yard, the whole area surrounding the trailer. The bring in this forensic anthropologist, a woman about 75 years old, and she makes a grid in the yard of squares and begins to dig and comb through the dirt. Before long, they have an entire body, all cut up and buried in different places, hidden randomly throughout this property. They were able to measure the bones and pretty much identify that it was positively this homeless guy as he was almost 6’6” tall and had a previous injury that showed up in the leg bones. This whole case was riveting, in a macabre sort of way – not that I enjoy things like this at all, but the prosecutor did a phenomenal job tying the evidence together, painting a picture of these missing ones, making them real people who had lives and loves and family and dreams.
This young man had been in juvenile detention for MURDER, and while there, he got romantically involved with this Indian woman who was his guard, and they got married when he got out! She was very traditional Indian, long black hair, braided, almost down to her rear, little beads in it. She wasn’t there every day as they had small children, but after he was convicted, she came in to testify in the death penalty phase of the trial, talking about what a good father he was, all this junk – oh, right, great father (when he’s not off murdering people and cutting them up!) It was truly a spectacle.
I tell this story to tell you this: This forensic anthropologist gave the most incredible testimony I have ever heard. She took those finger and toe bones, and she could tell that -even though they had been burned in this fire, buried for months – that those toes and fingers had been cut off while this man was still alive! Yes, you know how? She delivered the most impassioned argument for the existence of God I have ever heard – and she may have been an atheist, for all I know. She says that the INSTANT we are hurt, the INSTANT our bodies suffer an injury, they begin to heal themselves. The INSTANT! That means that she could see on these burned up, chopped up bones that they had already started to heal themselves, to try to grow back over where they had been chopped off. Isn’t that incredible? She believed they were chopped off a couple of days before the death occurred. Wow.
This young man celebrated his 21st birthday on the day the jury was deciding to give him the death penalty. He was out in the courtroom, in the shackles and chains, dancing by the defense table in the courtroom, singing “Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me.” It was a bizarre two weeks, I’ll tell you that. But I have NEVER FORGOTTEN that EVIDENCE that our God is alive, He is real, He is our creator, He is our deliverer, our healer! You think a big bang created this universe that works in sync with nature and the animals and ocean and sea creatures and humans whose bodies heal themselves? Humans that procreate from a little gel substance that grows into children? A big bang did that? Don’t think so. And frankly, these liberals that want to spout this nonsense just show their stupidity, if you ask me – sometimes the things they say make such little sense that I can’t believe they even say it out loud, but boy, a bunch of other idiots will jump right on the bandwagon with them – all in the name of “I am my own god, I don’t need someone judging me, telling me what to do.” Sad what they are missing not knowing that God who isn’t a judge, but is a comforter, a forgiver of sins, a mercy giver….
I know a lot of you read my posts and don’t comment – but I would ask you today, if you believe God isn’t dead, give us a little comment on why! My comment is: My God isn’t dead, because He talks to me, He convicts me, He soothes me, He makes His presence known every day….
Last week at our family reunion, people were telling stories, and I told one about one of my most memorable court stories – thought you might enjoy. When I graduated from court reporting school, I was able to get a job with George Scott, the judge here, and he also had Calhoun and Roane Counties. My first trial in Calhoun County with a terrible, awful case of a daddy who was a pedophile, and I believe it scarred me to this day. Every time I would drive to Calhoun, my stomach would start to hurt and I would dread not only the drive, but the possibility of more evil taking over my day.
Court reporters love trials, though, so I was excited when I heard we were going to have another trial about someone who tried to burn down the State Police barracks – how exciting would this be! There’s nothing like our system of justice, from the choosing of the jurors who will hear the case, to the tension that builds throughout a trial as all parties wonder who will come out on top. This particular defendant’s name was Daniel Dewitt. I’ll never forget it. He reminded me of a cartoon character, but I can’t for the life of me come up with the name of the cartoon guy. Anyway, we begin the trial, and the prosecution gives their opening statement: Daniel had gotten in some trouble, had forged and uttered some checks. And just FYI, if you’ve ever wondered, the “uttered” means he tried to use them, to pass them off as good. Well, Daniel got to thinking about his trouble, and he decided the best way to get out of this problem he had was to burn down the State Police barracks where the checks were being held. Get rid of the evidence, they’d have nothing to charge him with, right?
So he gets his plan ready, loads up his car, waits until about midnight and drives out to the barracks. Grantsville is laid out sort of weird, and to get to almost anywhere, you have to pass through the center of town, which he does also. He waves to the police officer sitting in his cruiser guarding the town, he proceeds out to the location, pours gasoline all around the building, breaks a window and pours some inside, climbs back out the window, makes a Molotov cocktail (pop bottle with gasoline in it and a rag you light), throws his Molotov cocktail inside, hears the whoosh of the gasoline igniting, jumps into his car and back home he goes – oh, of course, not forgetting to wave to the officer stationed in town.
When the State Police show up the next morning and find their barracks a little scorched but not burned down, the investigation begins. There are muddy footprints all around the barracks, tire tracks, the works. The city officer tells them about seeing Daniel Dewitt, so off to his house they go. They find Daniel still sleeping from his night of hard work, gas can still in the trunk, and like the nice son he was, his muddy tennis shoes were left right outside the door.
Are you thinking like I’m thinking? Case closed. Why are we here? Usually in the court system, if someone is guilty, they know they’re guilty, they know everyone else will know they’re guilty, they’ll just plead guilty, take a plea offer and make it quick and simple for everyone. I’m sitting there thinking, “What in the world can his defense be?” Comes time for Daniel’s attorney to do his opening statement, and he passes, says he’ll do it at the beginning of his case. Never heard about that in court reporting school, never seen it done, but okay, if I was his attorney, I’d probably be passing too. What in the world is he gonna say?
Well, we go through the trial, State puts on their case exactly as it was laid out in opening, time for the defense case and his attorney passes on his opening again, says he’ll just present his evidence. First witness is Daniel’s mother. She seems like a nice lady. He lays a little foundation as to their background, then he gets into “Tell us about Daniel.” She launches into a description of the best baby you’ve ever seen, slept through the night, sat up early, did all these great things, knew his letters before everyone else, talked early, up until about age three, and then she pauses and begins to look around the courtroom real dramatically and she says, “And then that’s when it happened!” The courtroom is silent, all of us waiting on the proclamation, leaning forward to hear better. She looks around and gets the jury’s eye, pauses some more and says very fast and loud: “He got bit by a black widder spider and he ain’t been the same ever since!”
You truly had to be there. I can hear her voice in my mind clear as a bell 30 years later. For some insane reason, I thought that was the funniest thing I had ever heard. I knew how inappropriate it was to laugh, but it kept welling up. I’m trying my best to tamp it down, my eyes are beginning to water, I am truly about to just lose it. Sue Oshoway was the clerk there, and she and I were close friends and had about the same sense of humor. I made the mistake of looking at her, and she was shaking, tears running down her face, trying not to laugh. Oh my goodness, it was about like getting struck with some hilarious moment at a funeral and knowing how awful it would be to laugh or even make a sound. The testimony has continued, but I swear, I don’t even know if I got it down, I was having so much trouble getting myself together. I don’t want to bore you with the details, but let’s just say the debacle ended when the judge called a break because his court reporter and clerk were both hysterical. We got a “talking to” but even being afraid of Judge Scott didn’t truly dampen the hilarity of it.
Daniel was found guilty after about five minutes of jury deliberation, and I have often wondered what happened to him. Now that I’m older and more compassionate, I can imagine if that were really true, what a nightmare his mother must have lived with. To think his reasoning ability had become so skewed must have made raising him a real chore.
And you wonder, how are you going to pull something spiritual out of that? As I thought this week about telling the story, it kind of reminded me of how we do God – we come up with these absolutely idiotic schemes to get ourselves out of trouble, tell lies and sneak around to hide our sin, when all along, God knows all of it. He not only knows what we did, he knows what our heart was feeling and thinking when we were doing it. We may be able to hide some of our evidence from other people, but God still knows. And how do we know He knows? Because if you are like me, there are things that only God knows I’ve done or thought or said, no one else even knew, but God began to take me to task over those things, just like a mother would force you to see the truth of your actions. If God is not all-knowing, all-seeing, how does He do that? He can do that because He is everywhere, with that eye that can see even what we are on the inside. There is no hiding from God. We might cover up on the outside, but when the vision is pierced to our very soul, the blackness or grayness or even dinginess can be seen. I’m so thankful for that! God’s omnipresence has kept me from doing all kinds of bad things, and his conviction has allowed me to seek forgiveness for things I still went ahead and did – He makes me a better person! If you don’t have a peace in your heart today, you still carry things you wish you could be forgiven for, you can! Stop hiding and running and fighting against it – a relationship with the Lord brings a peace that cannot even be described!
My name is Teresa Evans. I am a wife to Tom, a retired Circuit Judge, and I am a court reporter by trade, a mother by God's grace and a lover of Jesus Christ. I've grown up in a family blessed with many miracles, and have received multiple miracles myself.