Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Murder on the Klamath, continued

Today, ten days after my last update, I spent my first actual time in the courtroom. I was summoned to the courthouse for jury duty on an unrelated case, and got to watch the Nelson case before and after. Defense attorney Lael Kayfetz could be described as hot, with rippling brunette curls, big brown eyes and a youthful body, evident despite her discreet lawyerly garb. Prosecutor Christine Chenevert (green oak in French, for name trivia fans) is older with hair starting to gray, but evidently spends a lot of time working out. Nelson looks like a typical guy in his 50's. I wouldn't place him as the whacked out doper of the arrest photos, nor would I recognize him as the mouthy teen I knew in 1973. The few spectators were mostly on the prosecution side, including the victim's sister Irma. Kayfetz, nearing the end of her case, spent a lot of the day trying to poke holes in the interrogation report of lead detective Nathan Mendes, accusing him of leading the defendant by supplying information that the defendant later repeated, and of ignoring potential exculpatory reports. Yet her best point seems to be a potential alibi for Nelson noted in the 1976 police reports. The source of this alibi--Nelson's now deceased parents. Mendes is tall and appears to have some mestizo background, being darker than the natives in the audience. He was not the sharpest witness, being unable to recall some points in the voluminous interrogation and the original police reports. But his performance was probably adequate and Chenevert established on redirect several areas where the testimony of other witnesses corroborated the incriminating parts of Nelson's statement.

The defense rested near the end of the day. Kayfetz looked a little harried. Chenevert called her first rebuttal witness, a former sheriff's deputy to go over an alleged stabbing incident in l998 involving Nelson. I'm not sure what the relevance was.

Ten days earlier, Chenevert's cross examination of Nelson had emphasized inconsistencies between his court testimony and his earlier interview with police investigators. Chenevert elicited a lot of "I don't remember," responses. Nelson did say that the arresting officers missed part of his methedrine stash, which he consumed at a restroom stop in Happy Camp. This probably made him quite loquacious during the first day of his questioning. This case is a classic example of why a defendant should ask for a lawyer and shut up. From here, it looks like the prosecution case would be weak without Nelson's own admissions. Nelson claimed that the meth induced him to make a false confession. Defendants rarely testify in murder trials, but in this case the defense lawyers deemed it necessary, in order to try to undo the damage from his police interrogation.

For the following two days, the defense called Dr. Angelo Leo, a psychology professor, as an expert witness to attempt to show that Nelson's confession was coerced. District attorney Kirk Andrus took over the cross examination of Leo, challenging his personal credentials and the science behind his theories. (Links for these two days, unfortunately, have expired.)
Leo had testified in the case of the Central Park jogger, getting five of the originally convicted defendants released after another defendant testified that he had been the only attacker. This was considered by many to be an outrage and a very selective reconsideration of the evidence.http://nicholasstixuncensored.blogspot.com/2009/06/why-reyes-admitted-rape-1989-central.html

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