It happened on September 5, 1985. That was the day that a jury in one of my criminal cases deliberated for only 20 minutes, before finding my client not guilty. I’ve been a lawyer for more than 35 years. The 20-minute jury verdict is still an all-time record for me.
My client’s name was Roland. He was 60 years old and was a resident of Peoria Heights. He was charged with Criminal Damage to Property. The “property” was a peke-a-poo dog by the name of Buffy. A peke-a-poo dog is a small “designer dog” that is a mixed breed between a Pekinese and a poodle. It’s the type of dog that some of the famous female celebrities like to buy and show off to their friends and fans. The testimony in the case came from Buffy’s owner, Nancy, and her neighbor, Colette, who testified that she lived two lots away from Nancy.
Colette was familiar with Roland because he was her landlord. He was also Nancy’s landlord. Colette testified that she saw Roland knock on Nancy’s door. She said that when no one came to the door, Roland picked up Buffy by its chain, swung the dog back and forth several times, and then let go of the chain, which caused the dog to come crashing down onto the ground. Colette said that she saw the entire incident because she had a “panoramic view” of the area from her kitchen window.
Nancy brought Buffy to court and the dog sat on Nancy’s lap while she testified. She said that she was not at home at the time of the incident. When she came home, she noticed that Buffy was limping from an injured paw and had a red mark around her neck.
Roland testified that he went to Nancy’s home because she had not paid her rent. He said that when he tried to pet the dog, it ran away and flipped over when it pulled its chain taut. He said that he then reached down thinking that he would still pet the dog. The dog then began running back and forth, so he left it alone.
After Nancy reported the incident to the police, Roland was given a notice to appear in court for Criminal Damage to Property, a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. After Roland hired me to represent him, I told him to take pictures of the dog and the area where the incident occurred. I told him that I wanted the pictures to be taken from different angles, showing where the houses were, where the dog was tied down with the chain, and what the view of the area was from Colette’s kitchen window. I knew what the witnesses were going to say at trial because I had obtained a copy of the police report which indicated what Colette and Nancy had told the investigating police officer.
I was appalled that my client was being prosecuted for a questionable case involving minor injuries to a dog, while no one from the local abortion clinic was ever charged with killing unborn children. By that point in my career, I had already represented several different local picketers who had been arrested for Criminal Trespass to Property, because they had picketed on private property that was located in close proximity to the doors of the clinic.
Anyway, during my cross-examination of Colette, the sole witness to the alleged crime, I was able to demonstrate that she was lying because the pictures that I included as part of the evidence in the case showed that she wouldn’t have been able to see what had occurred. The pictures showed that there were two trees and several plants in a garden that were blocking her view of the area where the incident occurred.
The pictures of Buffy that we used as evidence in the case showed that the dog looked like a dirty, shaggy, stray dog. When Nancy showed up in court with Buffy, Nancy was dressed like she was going to a wedding. Her dog looked like a show dog — clean and well-groomed, with a little bow on top of its head. When Nancy testified, she hugged and stroked her cute little Buffy. On a couple of occasions, she referred to Buffy as her “little baby.” She and her dog looked like they had just come from the set of the TV show, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
During my closing argument, I explained to the jury why there was no way that Colette could have seen what had happened. I then held up pictures of the dog and told them that when I saw Nancy walk into the courtroom with her clean, trimmed, well-groomed dog, it reminded me of the hardened criminal who shows up in court, clean-shaven, with his hair cut and groomed, while wearing a well-tailored suit.
I then showed my outrage by holding up one of the pictures of the dog and shouting, “LOOK AT THIS! HERE’S WHAT THAT DOG REALLY LOOKS LIKE. IT’S NOTHING BUT A MANGY LITTLE MUTT. THIS ENTIRE CASE IS BUILT ON LIES AND DECEIPT.”
After the jury came back with its not-guilty verdict, I asked the jury foreman how the members of the jury were able to decide the case so quickly. He told me that it took them longer to select him as the foreman than it took to determine that Roland was not guilty. He said that during the first vote that was taken after he was selected as foreman, all 12 jurors said not guilty. No discussion was necessary.
The day after the trial, there was an article about the case in the Peoria Journal Star. You can see the image at the top of this page of the headline that accompanied the newspaper article. Keep in mind that all of this took place more than 30 years ago when the local newspaper had two full-time reporters assigned to the courthouse to report on trials. Today, the only trials that are reported are the high-profile murder cases that generate a lot of publicity.
I thought about my dog case last week when I read about the woman who came out of nowhere and accused a judge who is currently being considered for a position on the US Supreme Court of sexually assaulting her 36 years ago. At the time of the alleged crime, the judge would have been 17 years old and the woman would have been 15.
Despite the fact that the woman was accusing the judge of a very serious crime, she said that she had no recollection of the date, time, or location of the crime. She also said that she didn’t have any recollection of who was at the party where the crime allegedly occurred, other than the name of a guy who was with the judge. After the news of the incident was reported, the guy who the woman named as being with the judge, issued a formal statement that the incident never occurred.
As expected, Democrats, Hollywood celebrities, and women’s rights organizations immediately lined up behind the alleged victim, stating that they believed that she was telling the truth and that the judge had attempted to rape her. Republicans and conservatives immediately lined up behind the judge, claiming that the woman was either lying or was mistaken about whom the man was who sexually assaulted her.
After reading about the allegations, my immediate thought was, There’s no way that based on this lady’s inability to name any favorable witnesses or any specifics concerning location, date, and time, that a jury would ever find that the judge was guilty of criminal sexual abuse.
So here are a few questions that I have for you: Does it matter whether the woman can prove her case in a court of law? What if the judge really did commit the crime, but there’s not enough evidence to convict him? Should he get a free pass? For those who believe that the judge should still be held responsible for the alleged incident even though the woman would be unable to prove her case in court, my response would be: What if your husband, son, boyfriend, brother, father, or grandfather was accused of criminal sexual assault by a woman who claimed that the crime occurred 36 years ago? How would you react if the man in your life vehemently denied the allegation? Would you demand proof? Would you want to hire a lawyer who would do everything in his or her power to defend the man?
There’s another thing that we need to consider concerning the allegation of criminal conduct by the judge, which has to do with our Catholic faith and the teachings of the Catholic Church. That will be the topic of my article next week.