Updated: Judge Lynch Gavels In!

Since Tuesday morning, I’ve been observing the debut of Judge Peter Lynch and the second trial, a “do-over” for defense attorney Greg Teresi in the trial of the People vs. Israel Bishop. While the trial is sort of a “do-over” for me, I thought observing the entire trial would give me some insights into what kind of Judge we elected in Peter Lynch as well as an opportunity to observe a young Teresi at work.

But, first, the trial….

Israel, or “J,” is charged with burglar y in the 2nd for the August 12, 2011 burglary of a 95 year old resident of Forest Avenue in Albany. The prosecution allege that Israel entered the Forest Avenue house with Shawn Ellis after Jasmine Griffin was boosted through a rear window by her friend Keona Bostic and opened the side door for them.

Obviously, the defense team, admirably led by Greg Teresi, disagree with that theory. Teresi believes that Jasmine and Keona walked over to the Forest Avenue home with a boy named Peter and Shawn Ellis. The girls stood in the front lawn while the mastermind, Shawn, and Peter went into the house and stole some jewelry, coins and assorted other valuables.

From here the theories split even further. The prosecution, Mr. Mastaitis, states, with the support of their alleged “accomplice” Shawn (who has gotten deal for his testimony) and an admitted serial burglar, that all four, Keona, Israel, Shawn and Jasmine, went into the house to rob the 95 year old victim but he didn’t even bother to look at the loot after the robbery. Opting instead to go home and hit the sack.

When Jasmine took the stand, she told a story more believable to my ears. Her story didn’t include either Israel or, his baby mama, Keona, at the scene. She and Kay, Peter’s girlfriend, walked over to this old lady’s house with the serial burglar, Shawn Ellis and tagalong type, Peter. Shawn left the girls at the front and went to the back of the house and let Peter in the side. The girls talked make-up and boys while the boys looted the house and woke up the senior homeowner.

Now, to support this story, all parties on the stand (except the Mr. Ellis) stated that ONLY the two boys were in the house. The girls were never in the house…even the victim stated in the 911 call that she only saw two boys. By all accounts, there were only two black males in the house. At one point, Mr. Mastaitis reminded Jasmine of her plea in which she stated on the record that she was “in the house. “

Pretty damning when she has repeatedly stated she wasn’t in the house, right? Well, it would be so damning if you were in the courtroom when Jasmine plead. Ya see, she was adamant that she was not in the house…she balked at the plea…off the record. She conferred with her attorney who reminded her that she was “required” to state that she was “in” the house. The Judge did his job by sternly having her on record as being “in” the house….to which the teeny tiny Jasmine agreed…on the record.

Think about it this way…you might have a ticket for parking in front of a fire hydrant…and you plead it down to a “parking on the pavement.” You are required by law to put on the record that you are guilty of “parking on the pavement” but you aren’t at all. So, the plea bargain system is built on lies…everyone knows it…but the DA is hoping a jury doesn’t know that. So, what they do in pleading is they force defendant/witnesses to plead to conditions that make their case…in this situation, they placed Jasmine inside a home where she says she never was…and she swore to it…almost as if she parked on the pavement.

The parade of witnesses included the victim’s son, who was called before the police that evening and tells of Mom describing two boys in her house. Several police officers including a now retired Officer Cook, our favorite, Detective Halpin, Detective Van Amburgh, Shawn Ellis, Melody Gage (DNA) and Jasmine Griffin.

Remember, I wasn’t able to attend the “proof” in the first go round so I was super impressed with a Greg Teresi that knew the testimony from the first round well enough to call out even little nuances of falsehoods in Mr. Ellis’ testimony. As Mr. Ellis testified, Teresi would call out every little lie, “page 174, Question, “where were you when Jasmine went through the window, Answer, on the side of the house.” Teresi would then confront Ellis with the current testimony which contracted his testimony at the last trial. Teresi poked at the lies like it was a hornet’s nest, page after page after page of contradictions…all of which the prosecution requested the jury overlook.

After two days of police testimony which, to me, seemed rather lacking in particular areas including the investigation, the chains of custody and the maintenance of the integrity of the evidence, the most convincing of testimony belonged to the two accomplices to Bishop’s alleged burglary…Jasmine Griffin and Shawn Ellis.

In the close, Teresi hit several of the questions I had in my mind…1.) Keona and Israel lived together, the gloves came from their kitchen. My kitchen gloves have my DNA in the fingertips, perhaps Israel does the dishes also. And, gloves are re-used…you peel them off inside out...then blow them up like a balloon after they dry. An “multiple-use” glove would have been more likely to break also. 2.) Shawn mentioned Keona and never Isreal as his partner in crime in several priors, why would Israel all of a sudden participate in a crime? 3.) Shawn Ellis’ testimony is in constant conflict with his testimony from the last trial, this is a strong indication of lying for a plea bargained story. 4.) Shawn claims to have “never” examined the loot yet he is a “serial” burglar needing money for rent and phone…to claim he went home to bed rather than to a party and to examine the loot is preposterous. I could go on and on…but I’m not on the jury.

Mr. Mastaitis’ close is up next and he hasn’t reached the same conclustions I have. He points out that the defense, I’m paraphrasing, has provided no proof of innocence…and he pointed that out twice within five minutes. Judge Lynch reminded him twice in five minutes that the burden of proof is on the prosecution and never ever shifts to the defense.

Judge Lynch’s debut was impressive….I smiled as he bound into the courthouse on the morning the trial was to begin…he had wore a rather casual hat atop his head never giving anyone the idea he might be a Judge. He gained an admirer when the Jury entered the courtroom and Lynch stood until each had taken their seat. There was a lot of up and down in the courtroom as the court attendants grew more familiar with the Judge’s preferences. I was pleased that he took a tip from Judge Lamont in taking a rather casual approach to the leaping of the feet.

Since this was a do-over trial, it was interesting to watch his decisions. For instance, Judge Lamont permitted the elderly voice of the victim be played in its entirety for the Jury’s interpretation during the closing but Judge Lynch determined that part of it was inaudible which made for more of a choppy finish for the prosecution…but also cultivated the grandma sympathy factor.

While I usually skip the Judge’s charge to the jury, I was convinced by some of the court staff who reminded me that I would be just like the TU if I didn’t…so there I sat. If you don’t know what a “charge” is, it’s when, after hearing the opening statements, the proof (witnesses and evidence), and the close, the jury, in this case made up of 12 jurors, 2 alternates (10 women and four men), is instructed on how to deliberate…what they can and can’t consider in their deliberations and the rules of law to apply in this law.

The charge is something unique to each Judge, they have standard language which they read but have largely memorized, with instructions that are modified based on the attorney’s input and specifics of each case. I’ve sat through each of the Judge’s charges…while I adore Judge Lamont, his charge has to be the best cure for insomnia. Judge Breslin sort of tricks the jury into believing he’s just having a little chat with them as he lures them into gaining the knowledge they need to make a proper legal decision. Judge Herrick is in between the two…very specific with a conversation like tone which passes the hour long monologue tolerable with a tease that it could end at any moment.

Judge Herrick is the only Judge I’ve seen who limits entry to his courtroom when he is charging a jury…he is correct in his thinking…the charge is the most important part of a trial…unfortunately, it’s not nearly as entertaining as the rest of the trial….also unfortunately, for this reason, I often challenge the jury’s verdicts.

Judge Lynch launched into his first charge clearly and deliberately…he had the most well-defined “beyond a reasonable doubt” explanation I’ve ever heard in a charge. I wished the jury could write it down as, in this case, I believe there is really some reasonable doubt. (Of course, I was in the Jasmine Griffin ‘off the record’ plea and the jury was not.)

Lynch was also very clear that the “burden” of proof is always in the prosecution and I wondered if he read my article “Guilty until Proven Innocent.” He told the jury they could not base their decisions on feelings or emotions but on the facts presented in the case.

Overall, if this first trial of Judge Lynch is any indication of things to come, the citizens are getting their money’s worth. 

I left the courtroom after a note from the jury indicated that they wanted a read back of Jasmine Griffin’s plea bargain statement (a bad sign for the defendant) as well as several of the statements contained within the charge. Sorry, I had other commitments…I’ll update you if there was a verdict over night and I’ll keep you updated if the deliberations are continuing.

[Update: the Jury is still deliberating, I have a few things on the agenda today myself but I'll keep you posted.]

Oh yeah, and once again, I was the only “reporter” in the courtroom…except for the half hour of opening statements.

Update: At about 2:30, a guilty verdict was delivered. Unfortunately, most people in the courtroom thought the verdict was Not Guilty so the reading of the verdict also got a "do over." 

Israel's young son was in the audience with his Mother on Friday, his father's birthday, in the hopes of celebrating....instead he went home to wait the nine years to see his father.


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