Week Three, Day One
Closing arguments today, and in State Superior Court each side is only permitted 40 minutes. Unlike Federal Court, there is no chance of a three or four hour summation, or worse.
Grock’s lead lawyer, Jeffrey Denner, reminded the jury that it was the Commonwealth’s job “to prove sanity, or disprove insanity.” He added that “most people are sane in this country.” (I would quibble with that.) Then he did a riff on reasonable doubt. No Atticus Finch here.
Next came Bradl, the lawyer who’s in the second seat. He said the Commonwealth’s case failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the false name charge. “Look at the time of the arrest. Was he using the name in good faith? He was known as Clark Rockefeller during the marriage; the amber alerts were for Clark Rockefeller. The cops said, when they found him, ‘Hey, Clark.’ At booking, suddenly it’s a crime to be Clark Rockefeller?” He then said he’d had that name for “several decades.” Well, at least for 15 years.
Then counsel took a leap off a cliff by suggesting Yaffe, the court monitor knocked down by the SUV, “was embarrassed” (presumably by his ineptitude?), so he made his injury seem more serious. “He forgot he was assaulted.” I have no idea where that came from, because he was taken to a hospital with cuts and bruises and, he claimed, a slight concussion. Bradl called Yaffe’s “an inconsistent statement” and stated that he was “unreliable.” (Remember his calling 411 first, instead of 911? One might be rattled under the circumstances, seeing as how he could’ve wound up under the car.) “As for the charge of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, Yaffe chose to run along with the car.” This harkened back to a previous day when the defense pointed out that Yaffe assaulted the vehicle.
The closing returned to Denner. He puffed up his experts, Drs. Ablow and Howe, who were “highly trained.” He played his forensic card. “Howe devotes 100 percent of her time to testing and being an expert witness. Ablow spends a good deal of time on forensic psychiatry.” (Though much of it is on television and the radio.)
Then he took almost all of the remaining time trying to paint Dr. Chu as “absolutely unqualified. His testimony should be rejected completely. He has an absolute lack of training.” (Just 33 years.) “Dr. Chu has never been in a jail setting.” (How different, I am wondering, can it be from a locked ward?) “He could not recite the Massachusetts statute on insanity. Outrageous.” (I thought that was like asking if I could recite the small print on my driver’s license.) “This man had no idea what he was doing. … A different expert might have agreed with the defense!” (Uh, then he wouldn’t have been an expert for the prosecution.) “Just looking at Rockefeller, you know something is wrong with him. He changes identities. He’s not playing with a whole deck. He doesn’t pay rent; he stays with people and in guesthouses.” (This sounded pretty crafty to me, actually, and didn’t seem at all insane.)
Denner continued. “He took the name Rockefeller and it’s working for him--for example, his marriage to Boss. His grandiosity explodes. There is deep mental illness; he is intermittently delusional. ‘Woofness’ is madness, irrational. He had a psychotic break! He was pushed over the edge. Delusional! He’d lost his wife and children.” (In his excitement he gave Snooks a sibling.)
“He believed he had to rescue his daughter. He was clearly insane.”
There was a short recess. A longtime television reporter of trials said in the hall, “Openings and closings are not Denner’s forte.”
We all filed back to the courtroom for Deakin’s summation. He is everybody’s favorite in the building--probably because he’s good. His headline point was that, “Rules are for everybody else … but not for Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. Not the immigration laws; not any laws. He is a controlling and manipulating man, and Sandra Boss finally took that control away.”
Other snippets from his peroration …
On Grock’s mental health: “Of course he’s not a perfectly psychologically healthy guy, but two tests showed no elevation of mental health issues. There is no doubt that he suffers form a personality disorder, but it did not compromise his ability to know right from wrong.”
On the problem of calling himself Clark Rockefeller: “He wasn’t trying to fool the police with who he was. Recall the instructions about using false name for dishonest purposes. He could be deported if he coughed up Gerhartsreiter. That was his name for the green card marriage. In either situation, his comfortable life in this country would come to an end.”
On truthiness: “Why would he lie about being ‘Chip Smith?’ Why lie to the driver and to Ang about New York? Why would he turn off her cell phone? Why would he tell her she couldn’t stop to use the bathroom? Why turn money into untraceable American currency? He understood what he was doing was wrong.”
On his devotion to Snooks: “The defendant told Ablow he thought Reigh was in danger, and that was the reason he took her. If he believed that, why didn’t he say so in probate court instead of taking the monetary settlement? If he had a truly deluded belief, why did he not tell Ang and the driver, ‘I have no recourse. She’s going to die’? He didn’t do that because he knew society would not regard that as reasonable.”
And the kicker: “This is not a case about insanity. This a case about a man who lost his family and got $800,000. This is not madness. This is manipulation. He didn’t care how it affected his daughter--or her mother. Don’t let him get away with that,” he said, pointing at the defendant.”
Then the judge gave instructions to the jury and spoke of constitutional principles: The defendant started with a clean slate. There is the presumption of innocence. An arrest and an indictment are not evidence. The defendant is entitled to the benefit of the doubt.
Before shuttling the jury off to deliberate, Judge Gaziano cautioned them about what to do with the evidence: “Bring to bear your common sense and experience.” Oy, most of the jurors are too young to have what you’d call experience, so let us hope for common sense.
Margo Howard writes "Dear Margo" for wowowow.com and Creators Syndicate.