UKIAH, CA -- The murder trial
of Bear Lincoln entered its final phase Monday, September 15, with lawyers from both sides arguing that this case comes down to two starkly different stories: that told by Bear Lincoln and that told by deputy sheriff Dennis Miller. |
Turning on the heat and passion for which he is famous, defense lawyer J. Tony Serra repeated that Deputy Dennis Miller, the only other witness to the gunfight that left a Native man and police officer dead, has changed his story repeatedly.
The defense argument followed a presentation by prosecutor Aaron Williams that that Deputy Miller told the truth, while Bear Lincoln -- and all members of his family who testified -- lied. His statements moved Bear Lincoln's mother, Lucille, to loudly denounce the Deputy District Attorney as a liar before she left the courtroom in tears.
a dry and tiring reading of jury instructions by Judge John J. Golden, Prosecutor Williams began his "opening argument." The prosecution makes an opening argument, followed by the defense closing argument, followed by the prosecution closing argument.
Williams argued Lincoln knew he was dealing with police on the hilltop by the sound of their police radio, by their verbal identification and commands to Leonard Peters to drop his gun, and by seeing the officers and their marked patrol vehicle in the bright moonlight.
He said that Lincoln's mother Lucille, his nephew Winterhawk, and his friend Bunny Hoaglen all lied on the witness stand to protect him, but that in taped interviews with investigators given shortly after the shootings they had all told the truth -- at least part of the time.
Williams told the jury Mrs. Lincoln told FBI agent John Gunn that her son told her, "they shot my friend so I killed him." Then she testified that she never told him that. Williams then asked the jury, "Who do you believe, FBI agent Gunn or Lucille Lincoln?"
Unable to contain her anger, Lucille Lincoln shouted out that Williams was a liar, and again denied telling Gunn what Williams was claiming she said. The judge twice threatened to eject her if she didn't keep quiet, but she left the courtroom voluntarily, with tears streaming down her face.
Williams continued, saying Lucille Lincoln testified that there was a shoot to kill order for her son heard on the police scanner the night of the shootings, but in fact he wasn't even a suspect until the next day when his hat was identified at the scene. (In fact Mrs. Lincoln testified that people were saying there was an order to shoot to kill whoever had slain deputy Bob Davis. She never specified that Bear Lincoln's name was used.)
In contrast, according to Williams, the two deputies were honest cops doing their duty that night. He said Deputy Miller had remained cool on the witness stand despite two days of cross-examination, had stuck to his story, and was telling the truth.
Williams concluded by telling the jury that if they believed Bear Lincoln they should acquit him, and if they believed Dennis Miller they should convict Lincoln.
finished at 3:45 p.m., defense attorney Serra asked if he should begin his argument in the remaining 45 minutes, or wait until tomorrow morning. Judge Golden asked for a show of hands from the jury, and they unanimously wanted him to begin immediately.
Speaking without notes but with oceans of passion, Serra told the jury that every word Lincoln spoke to them was the truth. He said the prosecutor had twisted people's testimony and built a case on speculations, not proof.
Serra argued that if Lincoln had wanted to conceal the truth, all he had to do was keep his mouth shut and not tell anyone what happened. But in those first hours after the shootings, he told the same thing to his mother, his friend, his relatives, and wrote the same to his girlfriend. They had been ambushed and Acorn was shot dead without warning. He had just witnessed a police murder of someone who didn't shoot at them. By then he realized it was the police he was dealing with. He fully expected he would be killed next. In the state of shock and trauma he was in after what he went through he was incapable of contriving or fabricating a story. He story has been consistent from the beginning to now.
In contrast, Serra said, Miller has lied repeatedly. He changed his story when he learned Peters' gun had not been fired, which proved his first story that Peters fired first wrong. In the first story he said he didn't know there was a second man present until Davis told him he heard someone moving in the brush. Now he said he saw two men from the beginning. He lied again when he changed his story to fill in the gap of what he heard Peters say just before he was shot. At first he said he hadn't understood what Peters said. After learning what Winterhawk Lincoln told investigators, he incorporated that into his lie and filled in the missing detail with a similar exclamation.
Serra said another lie was that the deputies were going to take cover because they thought they were being flanked. But there's none of that on the pocket tape recording. Instead we heard Davis say "I'm going down the road, cover me." Serra argued that what they were really doing was pursuing Lincoln to kill him because they realized he was a witness to their wrongful killing of Peters.
The last and biggest lie, according to Serra, was Miller's omission of how it was that Davis deposited a trail of his blood spots down the road almost to Lincoln's gate. The blood is hard physical evidence that Davis did run down the road, and Miller said nothing about that.
quietly by thanking the jury for their patience Serra had quickly built the intensity of his delivery to a high level, where it had remained for the balance of his presentation. He moved about animatedly and gestured to emphasize points. He concluded today's introduction to his closing argument with the following:
"Credibility? Bear has been consistent. Miller has lied repeatedly. They haven't got to square one. They haven't proved that Bear Lincoln shot anyone. They predicate all their case on one little tiny square of copper. Everything Bear did was reasonable under the circumstances. You can defend yourself against police officers if they use excessive force. You don't have to run away. You want reasonable doubt? There's enough reasonable doubt here to drive a truck through. I'll be back tomorrow morning."As Serra left the courthouse he was greeted with sustained cheers and applause from Lincoln supporters. Courtroom observer Karen Pickett had this reaction: "Tony Serra was like a tidal wave that washed away Aaron Williams' mound of bullshit."
Serra will continue his closing argument Tuesday morning. That will be followed by the prosecution closing argument and the start of jury deliberation.
The morning began as Judge Golden instructed the jury in the law as applied to the charges against Lincoln, which are first degree murder, second degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, and two special circumstances related to the first degree murder charge.
As the judge read the precisely crafted language -- which resulted from three days last week of wrangling over the wording -- there were some in the courtroom who found it difficult to maintain full attention. Two of the eight media representatives present were observed nodding off toward the end of the 90 minutes of dry recitation, leading one wag to quip that it had a 25 percent "snore factor."
Albion Monitor September 16, 1997 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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