By James Zambroski
February 6th, 2006 - Day 21:
Cross-Examining a Pro
No matter how well trained the defense lawyer, one thing Rodney Englert has going for him as a prosecution witness is plenty of experience on the stand, and that's what showed during an all-day grilling by David Ray Camm's lawyers in Boonville on Monday.
Englert may have presented the most damaging testimony so far in the state's case against Camm. Besides confirming what other prosecution analysts have said (that high velocity impact spatter on Camm's shirt and tennis shoe proves he was present when Kimberly and Jill Camm were shot to death) it was Englert's re-enactment of the crime in the courtroom that may have had more impact with the jury.
Using courtroom chairs arranged in two rows, Englert on Friday walked through his version of how Camm shot his family to death. While dramatic, in that the narrative switched from high magnification photographs to a stage play about murder, Englert's performance was actually devoid of intensity, focusing on his opinions and an understated manner in presenting them, albeit as an actor playing Camm a stone cold killer.
The defense initially tried attacking Englert's conclusions by bringing up his credentials -- or in their opinion, the lack thereof -- during a blistering tirade when their turn came to question the Portland, Oregon-based crime scene reconstructionist on Friday. But that strategy turned against them when Englert used self-deprecating humor to win the jury, if only for a minute.
When Katherine 'Kitty' Liell asked Englert if he'd gotten a failing grade in freshman college physics -- and be clear, lawyers seldom ask questions for which they don't know the answer -- Englert successfully deflected the truth shown in his 30-year-old grade transcript by using humor, telling the jury that he was "lucky to get that."
The jurors and audience roared with laugher, not the expected outcome of Liell's question.
Not only that, it set Liell back on her heels and may have gained Englert the advantage when cross- examination continued on Monday. Liell took a much softer tack with Englert, so much so that the prosecution and reporters made note of it during interviews later.
"Some of our manner of questioning has changed intentionally, some of it because we are rested and it's Monday," Liell said.
Prosecutor Keith Henderson, naturally, claimed the change in tone was an attempt to take a different strategy in the face of strong testimony from Englert.
"I think that underscores the strength of the state's case, that when the defense has to focus on something that happened thirty plus years ago in a man's resume, I think the defense is concerned about the impact his testimony had with those jurors last week," he said.
Even though Liell and co-counsel Stacey Uliana took a quieter, gentler tone with Englert, they continually went back to what they considered inconsistencies in his credentials and testimony in Camm's first trial -- called "a previous proceeding" in front of the jury -- and changes they allege he made in several sworn depositions.
Englert has been on this case since the beginning. His testimony under oath comprises about 1,000 pages of text. But here is where Englert's expertise as a witness came to the forefront.
Almost every time an attorney asked him about changes he made in that testimony (between then and now), Englert testified they were taking what he said out of context, saying that the lawyers needed to read lines or paragraphs before or after the moment in question to get the full meaning of his answer.
The technique kept him from being completely nailed during the day long cross-examination.
"You have to be a little more creative in your timing and the substance of your questions, because he's ready for a lot of them," Liell said later.
Henderson went further, opining that "the jury is bored; they want the meat and potatoes of this case," pointing out that Englert was hearing nothing from Liell and Uliana that he'd not faced before in dozens of similar questionings by the defense in other cases.
And for the first time in this trial, Liell seemed a touch less confident than in previous interviews.
"Are you satisfied with how it went with him," I asked her as court adjourned for the day.
"Yes, I think that we did the best that we could," she replied.
Henderson's comments took it a step further.
"The experts testified as I expected them to testify," he said. "I thought the cross-examination was very limited."
"We got the evidence in that I wanted to get in."
Liell, seeking to spin Englert's cross even as he departed Boonville for Portland, Oregon, hoped she reached the jury.
"Is it possible that if you embellish yourself, could you make your opinion bigger and better than what science permits," she asked. "We think that's certainly what happened here."