Lost in Translation

If you are going to be right in the eyes of the jury, you must first be memorable. I decided that today, after reading another transcript from the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Trying to follow the testimony of expert witness Jerry Grant, a computer forensics investigator for the New York Public Defender’s office, was torture.

I could not imagine having to sit through this narrative as a member of the jury. Being a rather conscientious individual, I would have been sorely tempted to “check out” mentally but afraid to do so lest I miss something important. I wondered how many actual jurors succumbed during the trial.

As I read page after page, absorbing nothing, understanding less, constantly flipping to the end to see how much I had yet to endure, I suddenly found myself thinking about a scene from an old movie, a comedy, starring Diane Keaton.

The movie “Baby Boom” follows the misadventures of Keaton as an unmarried, high-powered, highly-successful New York career woman who inherits a baby upon the untimely death of a distant relative. This could be funny enough but the real story begins when she quits her job and moves to an old house in the country to start a new (translate that: stress-free) life.

Her hundred-year-old dream house falls apart one system at a time. The final straw comes when she runs out of water. The well is dry. This means nothing to Keaton’s character, a city girl.

The small-town contractor who has fixed everything else in her house explains this is not a simple matter. She cannot, as she suggested, just use the hose she saw out back to fill it up again.

Keaton’s reaction is priceless. She says quite a lot in this meltdown-on-the-lawn scene, but the main three sentences to remember are:

1. I don’t understand these technicalities.
2. I just want to turn on the faucet to have water.
3. I don’t want to know where it’s coming from.

I could easily imagine a juror reaching the end of their endurance during testimony from Grant and leaping to their feet in the jury box to give their own “I-can’t-take-it-anymore” speech.

Before I relate this scene back to trial testimony, have a listen and a good laugh.

As I worked to connect with my own thoughts about the testimony of Jerry Grant, I realized why I believe my opinion on the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is important enough to blog. What I have to say about this trial matters. Everyday people like me end up on juries and there is another trial coming, somewhere, someday.

I intended to publish this blog post over a week ago. I don’t remember how many times I started over. It was difficult to pull meaningful points out of material this technical. Like the character in the movie I realized:

1. I don’t understand these technicalities.
2. I just want to turn on the faucet to have water.
3. I don’t want to know where it’s coming from.

Most jurors are everyday people, not rocket scientists. They get bored and frustrated when forced to listen to protracted discussion that does little to foster their understanding of a subject. When it comes to the Boston Marathon bombing, I just want the truth.

With Grant on the stand, the judge as well as attorneys for both sides engaged in more than one three-way conversation that clearly displayed their own lack of understanding adding to the confusion. People wondered why Dzhokhar was fidgety…they should have seen me reading this transcript.

Several times I regretted having agreed to write a post about Jerry Grant’s testimony but a promise is a promise.

Sometimes the best strategy is not to go toe-to-toe with an opponent. Sometimes what shakes things up and gets people to pay attention is to be unexpectedly different.

Different, in this situation, would have meant brief. It would have meant simple. When relevant facts get lost in translation, you need to dumb it down.

I believe the point of testimony from Grant was to prove where Dzhokhar was on certain key dates when certain key activities occurred, such as when certain purchases were made. Grant explained how it is possible to know Dzhokhar’s physical location based on tweets, due to date and timestamps, as well as his cell phone activity based on what cell tower pings. Swipes of his student ID card were also analyzed and presented.

When Tamerlan was buying BBs, for example, Dzhokhar was in the proximity of school per the data analyzed by Grant. Fingerprint evidence already presented showed that Tamerlan’s prints were on the receipts for everything bomb-related anyway, supporting the testimony from Grant as well.

Facts like this did not stop Chakravarty from trying to mislead the jury during cross-examination. Biased rulings from the bench overruling not all, but most objections from the defense, allowed some rather “remarkable” questions to be asked – and answered. My favorite pastime became making up my own answers to some of the prosecution’s more ridiculous ones.

I found only one portion of testimony sufficient to sustain my interest. For some reason, the prosecution wanted to prove that Dzhokhar had gone to the Boston Marathon with his friend Steve Silva in 2012, the year before the bombing. For the life of me I could not determine why that mattered.

Chakravarty for the prosecution (my observations and comments in italics):

Q: But the rest of the tweets you talked about were all tweets around the day, Patriot’s Day 2012, the day of the Boston Marathon? (Remember the bombing happened in 2013.)
A: Correct, sir.

This was followed by a couple questions that honestly seemed pointless and irrelevant. Then Chakravarty asked what he really wanted to know:

Q: So you don’t know what the defendant was doing when he wasn’t tweeting that day, right?

How, I ask, would anyone know that unless they were physically present with them?

A: You mean, like, in between the times?
Q: Right.
A: No, I have no idea, sir.

Q: So you don’t know that he actually did go to the Marathon later that day?
A: I have no knowledge of that.
Q: If he went in the afternoon and he hung out with his friend Steve Silva, you wouldn’t know that unless there was a tweet at that time, right?

Mr. Watkins: Object.
The Court: Overruled.

A: I would have no knowledge of that, no, sir.
Q: So you don’t know at what time after this tweet Jahar Tsarnaev went up to Boston, the 45-or-so-minute ride, right?

(Remember, it was not proven by tweets or anything else that Dzhokhar was in Boston at the marathon in 2012.)

Watkins: Object to the form of the question, Your Honor.
The Court: Overruled.

A: Can you repeat it sir?

This is a break for the defense when the witness asks Chakravarty to repeat the question. However, Chakravarty does not repeat the question, he asks a different question instead, leaving out what he was trying to suggest without proof. Remember, he wants to insinuate Dzhokhar definitely went to the Boston Marathon in 2012, for some unknown reason.

Q: Is it about 45 minutes to get from UMass Dartmouth to Boston?
A: I’m not familiar, but it appears about that time, yes, sir.
Q: And so you don’t know at what time he left UMass Dartmouth to go to Boston, do you?

Mr. Watkins: Objection
The Court: Sustained

Finally the judge sustains an objection by the defense. But Chakravarty doesn’t miss a beat. Sustained or not, he is determined to plant an idea he can’t prove in the minds of the jurors:

Q: You don’t know where he picked Steve Silva up, either at UMass Dartmouth or in Cambridge?

Mr. Watkins: Objection
The Court: Sustained

Sustained! Again! But it doesn’t matter. Chakravarty has completed his quest to plant an idea he can’t prove in the minds of the jury and that is all he wanted to do. He knew those two questions would raise an objection. His only goal was to say them. The jury only needed to hear him ask the questions to implant the idea in their minds. It matters not whether evidence was presented to support Chakravarty’s idea.

Q: In fact, when was the next time that Jahar Tsarnaev swiped back into UMass Dartmouth?
A: So the next swipe after the 4/16 would have been on 4/17 at 1:38am.
Q: So it’s possible that Jahar Tsarnaev left UMass Dartmouth, went to the Marathon with his friend Steve Silva, and came back in the early morning hours of the next day?

Mr. Watkins: Objection
The Court: Rephrase it.

Q: Based on the records that you just described, is it possible that Jahar Tsarnaev went to the Boston Marathon during Patriots’ Day and returned early in the morning the next day?
A: When you say “based on the records,” you’re talking about the swipe cards?
Q: The swipe cards.
A: I do not know where he would be anywhere between those times based on this.
Q: Let’s say beyond the swipe card records, is there any other data that you’re aware of that would contradict that?

Mr. Watkins: Objection, your Honor.
The Court: No, you may answer that.

A: There’s phone activity where the 5112 (that’s the last 4 of Dzhokhar’s cell phone number at the time) is in that area down by UMass.

Q: At some point later in the day?
A: Yes.
Q: And you don’t know whether he went to the Marathon that day or not, do you?
A: I’m not aware of any of that information, no, sir.

How I wish the witness had responded instead with something like this:

“I have not been given data to analyze supporting whether Jahar Tsarnaev went to the Boston Marathon, Disney World or to the moon for that matter on Patriot’s Day 2012. I can only give testimony on what the data shows; anything else is guessing.”

I’m still wishing someone would have explained why it even matters if Dzhokhar went to the marathon with a friend a year before the bombing happened. The day I care about that will be the day I care about where tap water comes from.

 

 

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Lost in Translation”

  1. Ha! Love the ending. Almost fell off my chair. I imagine some stuff said in court was purposely trying to make the jury succumb to a nap and don’t we know that. It was even tweeted by reporters that there were sleeping jurors. Unprofessional in my opinion for a federal court case involving literally a life or death situation. They were biased anyway. Each person walked in that courtroom in the beginning with one thing in mind without even hearing evidence….kill Mr. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev! Great blog Lynn!

    1. So true… When I read that the jury foreman, the female restaurant manager, actually glared at the defense attorney as they were giving their closing that told me more about her bias than any words could have!

      1. True Lynn! I knew right off she would be cold hearted and of course was chosen as jury foreman.. Didnt surprise me one bit!

  2. This testimony is a perfect example of how prosecutors use underhanded tactics to bias the jury in any way possible. Meaningless questions, just to sway the jurors, to think or believe that something happened or was said or was proven, when no such things happened. Jurors should be a bit smarter than this, but as we now know, the jurors in this case swallowed everything the prosecution said, hook, line and sinker. They were bias to begin with, so it wasn’t hard to accomplish. It goes to show that real evidence or proof , when not available, isn’t always needed. A lot of this kind of BS will suffice. What a pathetic broken system of “justice” the US has, and as a result many innocent people get thrown in prison, and the “justice” system or gov. could care less. Good post Lynn!

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