Lamiero's Closing Argument 8-24-05 (CWD)
Reminding jurors several times that they were the final arbiters of the facts in this case and what role each defendant played in Gwen’s killing, the ADA wasn’t shy about telling them that he thought. Several times, Lamiero looked directly at Mike and referred to him as “the murderer.” Less often, but still consistently, he referred to Jason as Mike’s accomplice and as someone equally guilty of murder.
Instead of walking back through the exhaustive evidence presented since the trial began on June 1st, Lamiero spent time explaining the relevant difference between California law on murder and manslaughter. In an efficient and compelling way, he made clear that Mike knew what he was doing that night and that he formed the intent necessary to have committed murder instead of manslaughter. Jason, Lamiero argued, was Mike’s right-hand man throughout the night and his actions, including likely hitting Gwen with a shovel, made him equally guilty of murder. In the end, he asked the jury to find them both guilty of 1st degree murder. But in a nod to last year, he conceded that if the jury couldn’t agree on 1st degree, they should convict the two of 2nd degree.
When it came to Jose Merel, though, Lamiero took a different tact. Many of the people to whom I’ve spoken thought that Jose’s testimony weeks ago was likely the most compelling and the most heartfelt of any of the four men who were present that night (including Jaron Nabors). Lamiero seemed to think so as well. Differently from last year, Lamiero did not ask the jury to bring back a murder conviction for Jose. While not asking the jury to find him innocent, Lamiero made clear that he thought Jose was less culpable than the other two and seemed to open the door for Jose being convicted of felonious assault.
Wrapping up his statement, Lamiero offered passing comments on the hate crimes charges leveled in this case. Just like in the trial itself, Lamiero spent little time proving that any of the three defendants acted out of hate for Gwen because she was transgender. However, focusing mainly on Mike, Lamiero made the most salient argument on this issue: had Gwen not been transgender, she would still be alive today. That statement alone is a powerful argument for finding justification for a hate crimes enhancement.
Sitting through Lamiero’s statement, I was reminded of how incredibly difficult the last three years have been for Sylvia, her family, and her and Gwen’s friends. I speak a lot about the courage and commitment of this family, but it is rarely on display as clearly as it was during Lamiero’s comments. For much of his 45 minutes, Lamiero focused on Gwen’s final moments. He spoke about her strangulation in clear and blunt terms that must have chilled her family and friends to the core. Yet each of them bore that pain in quiet dignity.
Of course, their pain could not have been lessened by the antics of Tony Serra. I’m in no place to judge the effectiveness of Tony’s style. To me, he looks like a buffoon, but his style has obviously been successful in the past. And if looking and acting like a cartoon character helps his client, than it is Tony’s duty to do so. However, his oftentimes incoherent and almost always overblown rhetoric couldn’t have done anything to help Sylvia and her family and friends believe that this courtroom was a place where Gwen’s murder was being taken seriously and given the necessary consideration. As of noon on Thursday, Mr. Serra’s closing performance continued unabated.
Once Mr. Serra concludes, Mr. Dubois and Mr. Thorman will give closing statements. Lamiero will be able to provide a rebuttal statement after that if he chooses to do so.
Transgender Law Center
PS – a quick virtual “high-five” to Ms. Connie Champagne. Obviously, this blog would have been pretty empty without Connie’s commitment to this case. The last week has been particularly tough for her and all of us at TLC extend her the most sincere thanks for her dedication and example.