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A Cry in the Night, Part 6: Trial

[Originally published June 20, 1988]

The trial began on June 2, 1987. That Tuesday morning, the skies over Bartow were a canopy of blue, dotted with clouds that drifted toward the horizon. It was clear and pleasant. It was the kind of day when a murder trial seemed all the more unreal, when you stepped into court and were struck all the more vividly by the realization that you had entered a different realm.

Outside, people were getting on with the business of living — cleaning cereal off the kitchen counter, wiping the baby's nose, hurrying off to work in their cars, hoping that the left rear tire held out another 5,000 miles. But inside the Polk County Courthouse, men and women were gathering to dissect ugliness and death. They were there to examine the brutal murder of one human being and to consider whether another human being should now be ordered to die in the electric chair.

It did not matter how civilized they tried to make the process appear, one of Karen Gregory's friends pointed out. What had brought them to this place was inherently uncivilized.

George Lewis arrived early that morning. He did not look like a man on trial for his life; if anything, he seemed exuberant. Dressed in a grayish-brown suit, he sprang lightly up the courthouse steps with his wife and his lawyers behind him. The defense team had brought dozens of files, stored in boxes, and Lewis took off his jacket, loaded the boxes onto a dolly and carted them up to the second floor to Courtroom A, smiling for a news photographer. He seemed supremely confident. Those who sat close to him in the days that followed, however, could see that his nails had been chewed to well below the tips of his fingers.

Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell showed up shortly before 8 a.m., carrying his robe and a black nameplate. The prosecutors and defense attorneys were already waiting for him.

"Morning, sports fans," he said.

They went down a corridor behind the courtroom to a vacant office that would serve as Judge Farnell's chambers during the trial. They sat around a long table that occupied most of the room. Farnell found a cup of coffee and lit a Honduran cigar. He asked the attorneys if any problems had arisen.

"Other than what was just handed to us?" said Assistant State Attorney Beverly Andrews, angrily waving a piece of paper. It was a motion from defense attorneys Joseph Ciarciaglino and Robert Paver, asking the judge to delay the trial. The motion said they needed the delay — a "continuance" is the term lawyers use — because the prosecution had informed them only several days before about Tonja Dishong and the white teddy.

Judge Farnell looked slightly bewildered. "What's a teddy?" he said.

Paver told him, explaining how Sgt. Larry Tosi had found Tonja and the teddy in early May. The defense, Paver said, needed more time to investigate this potentially critical new evidence. Even the prosecutors could not say for sure where the teddy had come from, though it was clear they would be suggesting that Lewis had stolen it from the murder scene. Given all these questions, Paver said, there was no way they could be expected to go ahead with the trial now. It wasn't fair, he said.

Andrews disagreed. The prosecution had notified the defense about the teddy, she said, as soon as its importance became clear. Richard Mensh, the senior member of the prosecution team, questioned whether this presented a genuine problem for the defense.

Farnell looked at Mensh. "I'm sure it's a genuine problem," the judge said.

Still, Farnell denied the motion to delay the trial. He said he would try to give the defense time to investigate the teddy as the trial progressed. The issue of whether the teddy would actually be admitted into evidence — whether the jury would be allowed to hear of its existence — would be tackled later.

There was one more thing. The prosecutors had noticed a witness — Glenda Lewis, George's wife — inside the courtroom. They wanted to know: Was the defense planning to allow her to sit there during jury selection? In that case, some of Karen's friends who were witnesses would want to watch the selection as well.

"We'd ask that the rule be invoked at this time, judge," said Ciarciaglino.

"Fair enough," said Farnell.

That was that. Anyone who was listed as a potential witness would no longer be allowed in the courtroom while the trial was in session.

"Okay," said Farnell. "Let's go then."

From his seat high at the bench, Farnell looked out on Courtroom A. The court reporter who would take down every word sat forward in her chair beside the jury box, her fingers poised over the keys of a stenograph machine. The prosecutors — Andrews, Mensh and William Loughery — were at their table, with stacks of files and law books at their feet. Lewis sat at the defense table with Ciarciaglino and Paver.

In the audience, meanwhile, were about 50 prospective jurors, all looking expectantly toward the judge.

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen," said Farnell. "How's everybody today? Happy to be here?"

Some murmurings rose from the audience.

"I'm glad to hear that. We're here this morning on the case of The State of Florida vs. George A. Lewis. Do any of you know Mr. Lewis?"

More murmurings. No. "All right. We'll have him introduced further in a few moments. Do any of you know anything about the case? All right. Have any of you" That morning, the lawyers began selecting 12 jurors. They asked many of the same questions and twisted through many of the same maneuvers that had occupied them for four days when they'd tried to pick a jury in Pinellas County. Only this time, Ciarciaglino did not have a chance to dominate the courtroom. Farnell presided with a calm and steady hand. And Dick Mensh, Ciarciaglino's old mentor from the state attorney's office, was there to match his former student's every move. Out in the real world, they were friends who shared small talk and bummed cigarettes off each other. One night during the trial they would even go for a drink together. But here in court, they were adversaries.

As Mensh later put it: "I don't mind kicking and gouging my best friend when it comes to representing the people of the state of Florida."

Now the two of them went to work. Ciarciaglino showed, as he had before, an uncanny ability to memorize the names of the prospective jurors. So did Mensh. As a stream of men and women moved in and out of the jury box, Mensh chatted with them one by one, making it look as though it were the easiest thing in the world to mentally juggle the names of so many strangers. Ciarciaglino went to the bench and complained to the judge that the prosecutors were lecturing the jurors on the law instead of asking questions. Mensh went to the bench and complained that Ciarciaglino was sharing anecdotes with the jurors instead of asking questions. Ciarciaglino said he hoped the jurors wouldn't be prejudiced against him because he was "fat and ugly."

Mensh stood up and reminded the people in the box that it was irrelevant whether Ciarciaglino was "a little overweight."

"Because we're not on trial," said Mensh. "We're lawyers only."

That was how it went. Ciarciaglino would take one step; Mensh would take another. It was a kind of dance. Not a particularly graceful dance, but one that required skill and instinct and a peculiar willingness — you only see it in court — to argue about anything. They went at it all day, broke for the night, then came back the next morning and began again. That day, Wednesday, they found a panel of 12 jurors. There were five women and seven men, ranging from age 20 to 69.

One was a cook at McDonald's, another was a bookkeeper, another a chemical engineer, another served as athletic director for the local school system. All of them lived in Polk County. None of them had heard of Karen Gregory or George Lewis. None of them had read the stories that had been published eight months before in the St. Petersburg Times.

Up at the bench, the lawyers said these 12 would do fine.

"Do you want to excuse anybody?" Mensh said to Ciarciaglino. "I don't."

"He accepts the panel?" said Ciarciaglino. "We accept the panel."

"Quickly swear the panel," said Farnell.

"Before anybody changes their mind," said Mensh.

***

Karen Gregory's mother, Sophia, listened quietly in the audience.

She had chosen a seat at the back of the room because she did not want to be conspicuous. She wore sunglasses because if she cried she did not want anyone to see her. The prosecutors had told the members of Karen's family that they would not be allowed to shed tears or become visibly angry, no matter how upsetting they found the testimony. Otherwise, the state could be accused of trying to use the family to sway the jury's sympathies.

Sophia had come to the courthouse with her other daughter, Kim. One of the first people they saw was George Lewis. He was standing on the second floor, leaning against a railing, looking down in their direction. Sophia grabbed Kim's hand.

"It's him," she said.

Sophia had never seen Lewis in person. She knew that he had been released on bond, but she had expected that at the trial he would be handcuffed or accompanied by a bailiff. But there he was, wandering freely through the courthouse. Sophia looked up at him. She was afraid.

But she did not turn around and walk away.

"I know I can do it now," she said to Kim.

The two of them walked up the stairs and sat down in the courtroom.

They did not sit together for long, though, because Kim was soon informed that she would have to leave. The reason had to do with the white teddy. Sgt. Tosi had shown it to Kim a week before, trying to find out if it looked like the one Karen had bought. Kim had not been able to say; she had never seen Karen's teddy. But knowing that Tosi had questioned her, Ciarciaglino and Paver were listing Kim as a possible witness. Soon after the trial began, she was relegated to the halls with the others.

Kim was furious. She was sure Ciarciaglino and Paver had no intention of calling her as a witness, that they just wanted to keep her out of the courtroom. Her mother would have to sit in court alone.

Judge Farnell looked down toward the table where Lewis and his lawyers were sitting.

"Counsel for the defense?"

Ciarciaglino walked to a lectern in front of the jury box. He draped an arm across the lectern and leaned forward. He gazed into the 12 faces before him.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said. "Always wait to the end. Things are not always what they appear to be."

It was Thursday, the third day of the trial. The prosecution and defense were delivering their opening statements, giving the jury two radically opposing views of what they expected the evidence to show.

Bill Loughery had already described the state's case, taking the jurors through Lewis' changing accounts and his footprint in the bathroom and how the police ended up arresting him. Now Ciarciaglino was telling the other side of the story — George's side.

The jurors would not believe, the lawyer said, what had happened once the police investigation began. Evidence, he said, had been destroyed. Two friends of Karen Gregory's — throughout his statement he did not use Karen's name, referring to her instead as "the decedent" or "the deceased" — had been allowed to clean the house only several hours after the body was discovered. Afterward, detectives had been forced to go back to search for more clues. Meanwhile, he said, the jurors would hear nothing to prove that "the deceased" had been raped. The evidence merely showed that she'd had sex. It did not show, he said, that she'd had sex against her will. At the same time, he said, it would become clear that the Gulfport police had been pressured to solve the case. Someone — he did not say who, but it was obvious he was speaking of David Mackey, Karen's boyfriend — had complained about the handling of the investigation.

"The evidence will show," said Ciarciaglino, "that they needed to arrest someone."

He acknowledged that Lewis, whom he called "George," had given a number of statements to the police. But he did not say that these statements were conflicting. They were "progressive," he said. Later in the trial, he said, the jurors would need to hear from George himself about what had occurred.

"You are going to see that George Lewisis not some heinous criminal lurking in the neighborhood, waiting to commit this crime," said Ciarciaglino. "He was a young man, caring about his to-be wife, his home place, his family, his friends, his neighbors."

The lawyer did not say who he thought the real killer was. But by the end of the trial, it was suggested, the jurors might have some ideas of their own.

Ciarciaglino sat down. The judge looked back toward the prosecution table. "Call your first witness."

"The state," Loughery said, "calls Neverne Covington."

She had been waiting outside, in a side room off the hall. Just a few minutes before, she had looked at a friend's photo of Karen. It had been taken on Halloween 1983, seven months before the murder, when Karen had dressed as a frowsy, gum-smacking waitress with a beehive hairdo. Now, when Neverne saw the photo, she burst out laughing. She'd forgotten how funny Karen had looked that night. She'd forgotten that sensation of indestructible giddiness she felt when the two of them were together.

Neverne stared at the picture. Remember why we're here, she told herself. Remember that silly girl?

"Did you know Karen Gregory?" Loughery said.

"Yes."

"How did you know Karen Gregory?"

"She was my best friend."

Neverne sat in the witness box, listening carefully, hoping she didn't say anything wrong. She had worried about that for months. She wasn't a lawyer. She didn't know what was acceptable in court. She didn't want to cause a mistrial and force them to start all over again. "Now, do you know the defendant, George Lewis?"

"I have not been formally introduced to him."

"Okay. How is it that you know him, if you do, or know of him?"

Neverne fixed her eyes on Lewis. "I know of him," she said, her voice rising with barely concealed anger, "because he is the person that's been indicted by the grand jury for Karen Gregory's murder."

Ciarciaglino and Paver rose to their feet.

"May we approach the bench?" said Paver.

"Come forward," said Judge Farnell.

The lawyers hurried to the bench and huddled in front of the judge, speaking softly so that the jurors and spectators could not hear them.

The court reporter stood between them with her stenograph machine.

"At this time I move for a mistrial based on the witness' statement," said Ciarciaglino.

Farnell turned to Loughery. "You had better get your act together with the witness."

"I will try."

"I am not going to have that nonsense."

Neverne didn't know what she'd said wrong. Was someone suffering under the impression that Lewis had been charged with jaywalking?

"Judge," Paver said. "We press for the motion for mistrial."

It wasn't that Neverne had told the jurors anything new. Farnell had already informed them that Lewis had been charged with murder. But the indictment was not evidence. Neverne's remark, Paver told the judge, had made it sound as though it were. Paver's complaint, in other words, was that Neverne had made it sound as though the indictment could be considered proof that Lewis was guilty. Farnell said he understood. He said he was denying the motion for mistrial but that he would try to fix the problem.

The lawyers left the bench.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury," said Farnell. "You are to disregard the witness' last answer. That is not evidence to be considered in the case. Take the jury out, please, Mr. Bailiff."

A bailiff took the jurors into the jury room, which was at the back of the courtroom. Farnell told Neverne he understood that this was not the most preferable way to spend an afternoon. But they did not want to be forced to take the case to trial again, he said. He asked her to pay close attention to the questions.

Neverne was still confused. She thought she had paid close attention to Loughery's question. Didn't he ask her how she knew who Lewis was?

"I don't understand. How else would I have answered that?" she said. "I thought I was stating a factual, objective statement, and I was trying to answer it as honestly and innocently as I possibly could."

"Fair enough," said Farnell. "But it involves a matter that the lawyers are concerned about, technically."

The jury was brought back into the room. Neverne began answering Loughery's questions again. She told how Karen came to her house for dinner the night of the murder. They celebrated the fact that Karen had just moved into David's house. They talked and ate and drank wine.

Loughery asked how much wine Karen had. Neverne said she wasn't sure exactly, maybe three or four glasses. Karen left, Neverne said, sometime between midnight and 1 a.m. "Did Karen tell you she was going anyplace else besides Mr. Mackey's house when she left?"

"No. She said she was going straight home and going to bed."

"Cross-examination?" said the judge.

Paver stood up and walked toward the lectern. "Ms. Covington," he began. "You recall" Neverne had braced herself for this moment. She thought maybe the defense attorneys would ask her questions designed to make it look as though Karen were somehow responsible for her own murder. If they did, Neverne had rehearsed an imaginary answer.

Excuse me. I'm confused. I thought George Lewis was on trial. Not Karen Gregory.

Now, sitting in the witness chair, Neverne tried to remain calm.

Paver wanted to talk about the wine Neverne and Karen had drunk that night. Did they drink some before dinner? Neverne said yes. Some more during dinner? Yes. After dinner, too? Yes. Did Neverne think Karen had enough to have been impaired?

"What specifically do you mean by 'impaired?"' said Neverne.

Paver did not want to play this game. "Did you feel," he said, "that she was affected by the alcohol, Ms. Covington?"

"In what way?"

"In any way."

"Perhaps she was relaxed. If you could be more specific, I could answer that more appropriately perhaps."

Paver moved on. "And can you tell us, did you have an occasion to engage in any activity, particularly in the front yard of Mr. Mackey's house?"

The question was vague. But Neverne understood what Paver meant. He was referring to the times when she and David had practiced Tai Ji Quan, a Chinese form of exercise that's also sometimes considered a martial art. David used it to relax and meditate.

"Yes," said Neverne.

"And can you describe for the jury, please, what that activity was?"

"I took a couple of classes with another woman from David Mackey on Tai Ji Quan."

Loughery objected. These questions were irrelevant, he said. He asked to approach the bench. Once more the lawyers gathered briefly in front of the judge and argued in low voices. Once more the judge sent the jurors out of the room. It was a pattern that would be repeated many times in the next two weeks.

Farnell asked Paver to explain what Tai Ji Quan had to do with this case. Paver said he was trying to show that Neverne was practicing martial arts. He said such behavior from one of Karen Gregory's friends fit generally into Karen's "lifestyle." Karen's lifestyle, Paver added, also included her listening to reggae music — a style of popular music that originated in Jamaica — and smoking marijuana.

"Judge," said Loughery. "That is an absolute character assassination."

Paver stood his ground. Karen's taste for reggae music, he continued, was important because two local reggae musicians had been considered at one time as possible suspects. Part of the defense's case, Paver reminded the judge, was that the police had arrested the wrong man. Perhaps, Paver suggested, the police should have investigated further these two musicians.

Farnell said he understood. He said that if Paver wanted to build a case along those lines, he'd have to do it later with his own witnesses. The judge, however, was willing to let the defense take a "proffer" from Neverne — to go ahead and ask her questions related to these matters now, while the jury was out of the courtroom. That way, the judge could hear the testimony, then decide later if the jury should hear it, too.

So Paver asked Neverne if she knew whether Karen had smoked marijuana.

"She told me she had used marijuana in the past. I was not aware of her using marijuana throughout the course of my contact with her."

Paver asked Neverne if Karen had liked reggae music. Yes, said Neverne. And did Karen, he asked, frequent a bar that featured reggae music?

"How do you describe 'frequent'?" said Neverne.

"Ma'am, she went there, and they played reggae music, didn't they?"

"She went there on occasion."

***

David Mackey was the state's next witness.

"Mr. Mackey," said Loughery. "How old are you?"

"Thirty-two years old."

He looked older. His hair was graying at the sides. The muscles in his face were taut, as though he had forgotten how to relax.

David said he was a counselor who worked with Vietnam veterans. He told how he and Karen had started dating and how she was just moving in with him in May 1984 when he went out of town for a conference in Rhode Island. Karen had driven him to the airport.

"After that time did you ever see Karen again?"

"Not alive, no." He could have told the jurors about the next time he did see her, at the wake. He could have described her in the casket, wearing the purple burial dress her family had picked out. But he was sure that if he mentioned such emotional details, the defense would move for a mistrial. So he stuck to the barest of the facts. He explained that he was still in Rhode Island when he learned that Karen had been killed in their home.

"Did you ever spend the night in that house again?"

"I never — no, I couldn't do that."

Moments later, Ciarciaglino stood up. He wanted to approach the bench again. Standing in front of the judge, he quietly complained about David saying he had not been able to spend another night in the house. Ciarciaglino said the comment was improper. It was designed, he said, to inflame the jury.

"Judge," said Paver. "We need a mistrial."

Farnell denied the motion. Before they left the bench, though, Loughery raised another issue. He was ready to ask David about the teddy Tonja Dishong had given the police. Did the judge think they should take a proffer of this testimony? Did he want to hear what David had to say, outside the jury's presence, before deciding whether it was admissible? Farnell said yes.

"Mr. Bailiff, take the jury out."

It was still unclear where the teddy had come from. But both sides were trying to find solid proof that answered the question.

Sgt. Tosi had started the search himself before the trial. But now he was busy in Bartow, so he asked one of his detectives, William Brinkworth, to take over the investigation. Brinkworth was calling the teddy's manufacturer, the manufacturer's distributors, retail outlets.

He was working overtime to find the store where the item had been sold.

If he could find the store, there might be a receipt. If he could find a receipt, it might say whether the teddy had been bought by a Ms. Gregory or a Mr. Lewis. A private investigator working for the defense was calling the same places, trying to learn the same thing.

So far, neither side seemed to have made much progress. But they were still pushing forward.

"I want positive results," Tosi told Brinkworth. "I don't care if it takes you 23 hours a day. I want to find out where it came from."

With the jury out of the room, David talked about Karen's teddy. She had bought it in March 1984, several days before her birthday. David didn't recall seeing her wear it again. He said that after the murder, when he searched through her belongings, it was gone.

Loughery handed David a manila envelope. "Let me show you what's been marked as state's exhibit number 24 for identification purposes.

Could you open this, take it out and tell me if you recognize it?"

David pulled out the exhibit. It was the white teddy from Tonja. It was a size small. David said it looked exactly like the teddy Karen had bought.

When Ciarciaglino went to the lectern, David's face tightened even further. Ciarciaglino asked David if he was saying that the teddy in front of him was the one he'd seen Karen wear. Again, Ciarciaglino did not refer to Karen by name. He called her "your girlfriend."

David stared back coldly. "I am not telling the court that, Mr. Ciarciaglino. I am saying that this looked exactly like the one I recall seeing."

Was there anything about this teddy, Ciarciaglino said, that made it different from others of the same design? David said he'd never seen other such teddies. He said he wasn't sure he could answer the question.

"Well," said Ciarciaglino, sarcasm edging into his voice. "Let's see if we can't help you."

He told David to examine the teddy closely. Did David see any distinguishing tears or marks that allowed him to say this teddy was Karen's? David said no. When Ciarciaglino finished, Loughery stepped forward again. Was there anything particular about this teddy, he said, that David remembered as being unique to Karen's? David said yes. He said this one had thin shoulder straps, lacy material in the front and a button in the front — all just like Karen's.

"Are you aware of what size Karen wore?"

"Yes. She would have worn a size small."

Then it was Ciarciaglino's turn again. About that button on the teddy, he said. What made it different? David was confused. Different from what, he asked.

"Any other button in the world. I don't know, maybe your girlfriend made buttons, and those are her handmade buttons."

David looked at the button on the teddy in front of him. "It doesn't appear to be handmade by Karen, no."

"Anything about the lace that is unique from other lace?" said Ciarciaglino. "Perhaps your girlfriend was a maker of lace, or you were ... "

Loughery tried to object. "Judge -— "

Ciarciaglino cut him off. "I want to hear what he can tell us that says that's the one the lady was wearing."

"Go ahead with your questions," said Farnell.

Was there anything about this teddy, Ciarciaglino asked again, to prove it was Karen's? Could David say this was the one?

"I imagine I can't."

"You imagine?" Ciarciaglino made it sound like a dirty word. "Can you tell us that's the undergarment you saw for certain? Yes or no?"

"No, I can't, Mr. Ciarciaglino."

When the sparring was over, Ciarciaglino told the judge that the teddy was clearly inadmissible. There was no positive proof that this piece of clothing before them had belonged to Karen Gregory. There wasn't even any proof, he said, that Karen's teddy had been stolen.

David had seen her wear it only once, two months before the murder. She could have returned it, given it away, thrown it away.

Andrews said the prosecution didn't need to prove beyond a doubt that the two teddies were one and the same. There was enough evidence to show they might well be the same, she said, and that was enough to make it admissible.

The judge called a 10-minute recess while he thought it over.

George Lewis walked down the hall to the men's room. There, he ran into the reporter who had written the Times' four-part series on the case.

Lewis smiled and said hello. "I don't know what you heard," he said. "But I want you to know that I don't hold no grudges against you for what you done."

The reporter had never heard the voice before. He had sat a few feet away from Lewis in several court appearances in the past few months. But he'd never heard Lewis speak. All requests for interviews had been politely declined by Lewis' lawyers. Now, standing in the men's room, the reporter and Lewis spoke for a few moments. The reporter said he hoped they could sit down later and talk. Lewis said he was sure they would. He stepped to the sink, washed and dried his hands, glanced quickly into the mirror.

"I'll be lucky if I've got any brains left after this whole thing is over," he said.

***

Back in the courtroom, the judge had decided: The teddy was admissible.

The jurors were brought back in. Again, David went through his recollections of Karen's teddy. Again, Loughery handed him the manila envelope. Again, David said this teddy looked exactly like the one he'd noticed was missing from Karen's belongings.

Then it was Ciarciaglino's turn.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Mackey."

"Good afternoon, Mr. Ciarciaglino."

The defense attorney carried his note pad over to the lectern. He reminded David that they had met at a deposition the past August.

Ciarciaglino had asked questions. David had answered. Did David remember? Yes.

Ciarciaglino had a transcript of the deposition with him at the lectern. He told David he was turning to page 92, line 13. A few feet away, Loughery pulled a copy of the same transcript out of the prosecution's files. He flipped through it, searching for the page.

Ciarciaglino read from the transcript.

Question: "So you found — at no time have you ever found anything missing from that house that you thought should be there?" Answer: "No." Question: "And from that house, I include her possessions."

Answer: "No." Ciarciaglino asked David whether he remembered those questions.

Yes. He asked whether David had been given a chance to read over the transcript and make corrections. Yes.

David shifted in the chair. "May I clarify one thing, Mr. Ciarciaglino?"

"Sure."

When those questions had come up during the deposition, David said, they'd been talking about items that could have been taken as valuables or weapons. When he'd said nothing was missing, he said, he meant no items of that nature.

"Frankly," David said, "I didn't think about the teddy at that time. I had already told the police about it. I mean, that was not new information."

By this point Ciarciaglino was more gentle with his questions. The sarcastic edge was gone from his voice. Gone, too, were the caustic references to "your girlfriend." Now, with the jury back in the courtroom, Ciarciaglino spoke politely of "Ms. Gregory."

Soon it was Loughery's turn again. Quickly, he tried to remove any impression that David might have invented his story. Loughery asked David to repeat that he had told the police — specifically, Detective Tosi — about the missing teddy. Wasn't that true? Yes, David said.

"Is there anybody else you can recall you told about this missing garment?"

"I told several members of Karen's family, yes."

"Do you recall telling a lady named Doris Hajcak?"

"Yes, I do."

"Was this prior to the deposition?"

"Oh, absolutely. Yes, sir."

A few minutes later, David was done. He stepped out of the witness box and walked from the courtroom to join Neverne and Kim and the others out in the halls. The jurors, meanwhile, had been given a new name to think about. Loughery had asked David about someone named Doris Hajcak. She was a psychic David had consulted in the long months after the murder, when he and Karen's other friends were desperate for answers. The jurors didn't know any of this, of course. No one had told them. Loughery didn't think it was necessary. The prosecution, he felt, had already made it clear David was telling the truth.

Ciarciaglino knew who Hajcak was, though. She was on his list of witnesses. In fact, she'd already told the defense about her talks with David. She'd even handed over tape recordings of every session the two of them had had. On one tape, made on Nov. 6, 1984 — long before he would have had any reason to lie about such a thing — David can be heard talking about how he can't find a piece of Karen's clothing. He describes it as "white" and "like a night garment." He says he doesn't know if Karen might have misplaced it or somehow lost it when she was moving into his house.

"But that's just about the only thing that turned up missing," he says.

***

The lights in Courtroom A were turned out. The jurors sat in the dark, watching a videotape flicker on a TV screen. A witness for the prosecution stood a few feet away, telling the jurors what they were seeing.

"We are now entering the house. The wooden front door with the smears of blood. Entering the living room, we could not see any blood on the carpet. Now, turning left into the hall, it's the first view we have of the body." The witness was Dr. Joan Wood, Pinellas County's medical examiner.

She had been summoned to Karen's house after the police had found the body. One of Wood's assistants had walked through the house, videotaping the crime scene. Now the jurors were seeing that color tape. They were being led through the house, room by room, with Dr. Wood as their guide.

"Again, past her, into the bedroom, in which the blood was on the bed. On the floor there in front of the white tennis shoes is a curved footprint in blood. The bed itself, with blood in at least two areas." Karen's mother, Sophia, was staring down at her lap. She did not want to look at the TV screen and the image of her daughter's body. But she wanted to hear the testimony. Sophia wanted to know the truth of what had happened.

The videotape ended. Wood returned to the witness stand to answer questions from prosecutor Beverly Andrews. As the doctor began to speak, an investigator who worked with the state walked over to Sophia at her seat.

"Would you just step outside with me?" the investigator said quietly.

Sophia followed him out. She had been warned that she might be asked to leave when the testimony became graphic. But as she stepped into the hall, she was angry.

"I really don't want you to do that again," she told the investigator. "I know what I can take."

"We're only doing this for your own good," he said.

Sophia wasn't convinced. "I've been a grown-up now for 30-some years," she said. "I know what happened to Karen, and I don't think you people know what I'm capable of taking. I'm not going to walk out with you again."

Inside the courtroom, Wood went on talking. She explained that at first, when she saw Karen's body curled in the hall, she had not been able to tell the nature of the injuries. Her first impression was that Karen had been beaten to death. But when Wood placed the body flat on the floor and looked closely, she saw that Karen had been stabbed in the neck.

"Did you later observe other wounds other than the stab wounds on the neck?" Andrews asked.

"Yes, but not until the neck was cleaned at the autopsy."

"What wounds did you observe then?"

"Cutting wounds upon the neck."

"'Did you observe the cutting wounds on the victim at all at the scene?"

"No, not at all. I couldn't see them."

"And why couldn't you see them?"

"Because of the dried blood that was present all over the neck. I looked at it, along with several other people, and none of us saw them."

On cross-examination, Ciarciaglino asked Dr. Wood about a theory she'd discussed when she was questioned under oath in her deposition, almost a year before. Early in the case, long before the arrest, Wood had considered whether Karen might have been killed in some kind of ritualistic slaying. A couple of observations had caught the doctor's attention. For one thing, there was the positioning of Karen's wounds. In most stabbings, the attacker strikes the knife in a general direction, hitting different parts of the victim's body. But in this case, all of the stab wounds were made to one specific section of Karen's body — her neck. Then there were the cutting wounds on the neck. The killer had tried to cut Karen's throat.

In her deposition, Wood had pointed out that throat cutting is a method of killing sometimes found in murders committed by homosexuals.

Now that they were in front of a jury, Ciarciaglino led Wood through some of this territory again. He asked her about the ritual slaying theory and the neck wounds and the fact that in homosexual murders throats are sometimes cut.

"And in this case," Ciarciaglino said, "there was an attempted cutting of the throat?"

"Yes," said Dr. Wood.

Even though he never said it out loud, it was obvious what Ciarciaglino wanted the jurors to think: George Lewis has a wife. He's not homosexual. How could he have killed Karen?

Wood had already told the jurors that Karen's body had been found in a white T-shirt and a black teddy — a different teddy than the missing one — with the teddy bunched around Karen's waist. Now, Ciarciaglino asked Wood if she'd found anything strange about the combination of the T-shirt and the lingerie.

"A teddy, as the women on the jury probably know, serves as a form of slip," Wood explained. "And therefore, the way it was found, it had to be on over this undershirt, because the undershirt straps were in place. They were not removed to take the teddy down. So the teddy was over the top of the undershirt, and that's unusual, I believe."

Ciarciaglino asked Wood to talk about how much Karen had been drinking before the murder. A test of fluid from Karen's eye, the doctor said, had shown an alcohol level of .010 grams per deciliter — a relatively small amount, equivalent to about half a drink. But another test had been run on Karen's blood.

"And the results of that, please?" said Ciarciaglino.

"The result of the blood test," Wood said, "was .090 grams percent, or 90 milligrams percent."

That was high — just short of a .10, the blood-alcohol level at which it's illegal to drive in Florida.

Ciarciaglino made sure the jurors heard that. The jurors had already heard Neverne Covington testifying about the wine she and Karen had drunk on the night of the murder. Again, the unspoken message was clear.

Are you listening? Karen might have had too much to drink that night.

Once it was her turn to ask questions again, Beverly Andrews did her best to erase any doubts Ciarciaglino might have created. She asked Wood if throat cutting was also seen in cases that did not involve homosexuals. Yes. And were there other common characteristics of homosexual murders that were not found in this murder? Yes.

"So is it your opinion," Andrews said, "that a homosexual killing has anything to do with this case at all?"

"Not to me, it has nothing to do with it."

Andrews went on. Did Dr. Wood, she asked, know of cases in which an attacker forces a victim to put on a piece of clothing?

"Certainly."

The unspoken point: Remember the black teddy over the T-shirt. Even Dr. Wood thought the combination was strange. It would be like wearing a bathing suit over a T-shirt. Why do you think Karen would have done that? Why, unless ...

"Are you aware that a teddy was discovered to be missing by the victim's boyfriend?"

"Yes."

Are you following this? One teddy — the black one — was found on Karen. Another teddy — the white one — was missing from her belongings.

Has it occurred to you that the killer might have had some fixation with lingerie?

Ciarciaglino was standing up. "Judge," he said. "I object."

Farnell looked down from the bench. "The objection is denied."

Andrews wanted Wood to talk some more about alcohol levels. One test suggested Karen had been almost stone sober. The other suggested she'd been nearly drunk. Which was it?

Wood said the lower alcohol reading, taken from the eye fluid, was more accurate. Karen's body had been lying in the house for about 31 hours before the police arrived. When a body decomposes, Wood explained, bacteria and yeast can produce alcohol in the blood, raising the level found there. But the fluid in the eye is different. Compared to the bloodstream, which is subject to contamination, Wood said, the eye is a sealed chamber. So the eye test, she said, was the more reliable indicator of how much Karen had been drinking.

Andrews asked if they'd also tested Karen's body for the presence of drugs.

"Yes."

"And what was the result of that?"

"It was negative."

A Cry in the Night, Part 6: Trial 04/10/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 11, 2008 1:39pm]

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