By Casey Young
The prosecutor was the first to call his witnesses, which took about three days. Every new person would start their testimony the same way by stating their name. If they were an investigator, forensic scientist, or medical examiner, that would be noted. Other witnesses for the prosecution included the nurse that Mr. Lake confessed to at the hospital, a family member, and a couple of others. After stating their relevance to the trail, they would be asked to identify the defendant. If they pointed or just said his name, they would be asked to describe his shirt or tie. The prosecutor would then note, “For the record, the witness has identified the defendant, Robert Lake.” Every time a question was answered, a new one would be asked. Even the most obvious answer had to be said out loud, as to not leave any questions lingering in the air.
As the trial went on, I found it hard to keep a straight face. The woman next to me, Juror 13, was an old gassy woman who had no shame in relieving herself. She was always fidgeting with a tissue, Tic Tac, or cough drop. There were some interactions between witnesses, lawyers, and judges that would make me bite my lip. Along with the lighter moments, there were also things I never thought I’d have to see, but had no choice.
Graphic crime scene, autopsy, and blood spatter were projected onto a screen about the size of a moving truck. If the picture was too gory or personal to be displayed in front of the entire court room, they would be approved (or disapproved) by the judge, who would them pass them to us, the jury, to look up close. Investigators testified to what happened and what they found at the scene, only based on fact. The most interesting interactions between what I refer to as the “hard-facts witnesses” came from the forensic analyst and the medical examiner.
The forensic analyst testified for what I assume was two or three hours. She mainly discussed the blood evidence found on the knives. In this case, there was one knife with a black handle and one with a brown handle. Both were swabbed for DNA and tested against Mr. Lake’s known DNA profile, and the victim, Latisha’s, profile. From her testimony, it became increasingly obvious that Latisha’s DNA was not on the handle of either knife, and that Mr. Lake’s was. The defense tried to claim the possibility of there being cross-contamination in the lab. While this was possible, the analyst told the jury it was highly improbable, not impossible. This was one of the first times I began to doubt the credibility of the “self-defense” theory.
The medical examiner was an older gentleman, who, in his career, had performed thousands of autopsies. He described the wounds to Latisha’s body, as well as the fatal one to her neck.
“Mr. (insert name), would you say that these injuries on Latisha are something you normally see?”
“Well, normally, I can’t stick my fingers through someone’s neck.” The medical examiner snickered, as did the judge.
While I was disgusted, I did see the humor and sass in his comment. The other piece of evidence that he presented was how there were keys found in Latisha’s hand, stuck from rigor mortis, in the exact position they were in when she passed away. This meant that she couldn’t have had a knife in her hand, according to the prosecutor.
Aside from this testimony, the prosecutor had a video analyst play back the security footage from block to block of Mr. Lake leaving his apartment, talking to a friend when he got off the elevator, and walking to the hospital following the murder. In all the footage we watched, he seemed relatively unphased, possibly in a state of shock, or not understanding the implications of his actions. We listened to a conversation of him on the phone, in prison, saying he wasn’t sorry it happened, but sorry she was dead. There was a character witness that claimed she wasn’t surprised that her neighbor had been found dead. She claimed that Lake was unstable and had threatened Latisha before. The defense tried to throw her testimony since the witness had been on a prescription that could have clouded her perception. While all this evidence did point to the verdict I had formed in my head, the defense still had to call their witnesses.
I was excited to hear an opposing story. I thought perhaps there was evidence that supported the self-defense theory, but I was disappointed. The defense called four witnesses and rested much sooner than I thought they should have. Two of the witnesses were Lake’s brothers, one his sister in law, and one came in the side door of the courtroom, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, in both ankle and hand cuffs.
Lake’s brothers and sister-in-law discussed their support for him, and all three told different versions of an incident that happened on Thanksgiving, just a month prior of Latisha’s death. While Latisha was cutting pie at Thanksgiving, Lake decided to try and steal a piece. Now, from the jumbled, blurry versions I collected, this is what I can speculate happened next: As Lake grabbed for some pie, Latisha waved a knife and said “don’t you even touch that pie, or I’ll kill you.” (Or something like that.)
“I hope they were eating tofurkey,” The judge muttered under his breath, proclaiming his vegetarianism. I laughed and was excited that he was a vegetarian, too. This one death threat, along with his family supporting the notion she had abusive tendencies were the only cause to support the self-defense. As for the convict? He was just a character witness, telling tales of how Lake would cry himself to sleep at night, regretting what happened.
Then came time for the craziest witness of all, Robert Lake himself. The prosecutor asked the general questions, then dug right in.
“Mr. Lake, would you say you were frustrated with Ms. Alzaid?”
“I wasn’t frustrated, I was disgusted.”
It was in that exact moment I decided that he was guilty.
“So, can you please tell the jurors about your attempted suicide following Latisha’s death?”
“Well, I tried cutting my throat and wrists, but it hurt too much. That’s when I decided to put a bag over my head. I just went to sleep, and I was pretty upset when I woke up. So, I decided to take a shower and walk to the VA to get help.”
“And why did you try to kill yourself?”
“I believe in an eye for an eye. If she was dead, I wanted to be dead, too. It was my fault she died, so I had to die.”
None of his testimony made him seem not-guilty and with each answer, he dug his grave a little bit deeper. At one point, the judge even rolled his eyes. How could this man have pleaded not-guilty? It made no sense, given what he was saying in court, under oath.
Closing statements were saved for the morning of the last day. The prosecutor re-spun the story of what happened and reminded us of all the evidence we had heard over the last two weeks. While some evidence was questionable, a key piece that was a deciding factor, for me, were the keys found in Latisha’s hand. If the defense was right about her charging him with two knifes, how could she carry a bundle of keys and stab Lake? There remained no reasonable doubt that he had done it, with intention and premeditation.
My opinion didn’t matter, though. I was just an alternate. During deliberation, myself and the other alternate were put into a separate room. We still weren’t allowed to talk about the trial, so we tried making small talk. Time drug on as I read a book, and got up and paced a few times. After about four hours, the jury had decided on a verdict. Alternate Juror 1 and myself were rushed into the court room before the twelve jurors. As the jury walked in, I noticed the other girl my age had puffy eyes and a red face. Panic set in as I thought for a moment that they could’ve come up not-guilty. I held my breath as the foreman of the jury stood up. She handed a sealed envelope to the bailiff, who handed it to the judge, and then back to the foreman.
“Ms. Foreman, did you, the jury, come to a decision in the case of Robert Lake versus The People in the charge of second degree murder?”
“Yes, your Honor, we did.”
“Would you please read the verdict.”
“In the case of Robert Lake versus The People, in the charge of second degree murder we find the defendant…” I sat at the edge of my seat, air not escaping me. “…Guilty.”
I sighed. Lake didn’t even flinch. His lawyer shook his hand as his fate was sealed. The judge thanked us for our service and excused us. Once we collected our things, we were taken in the elevator one last time. In the lobby of the state building, we were given the opportunity to speak to the lawyers. As they walked down the steps, I saw their personality for the first time.
“Oh yeah, Lake was actually accused of threatening his ex-girlfriend with two knives, but charges were dropped. We aren’t allowed to mention passed convictions in a trial, as it would introduce bias to the jury.”
My jaw dropped as the prosecutor let us in on a hidden fact. I wanted to be done with the trial, but I had one last question for the defense.
“So,” I asked the tall woman in heels, her curls framing her face, “do you think he’s guilty?”
The remaining jurors who had stayed looked at me wide-eyed. That was a taboo question I guess I wasn’t supposed to ask, but I wanted an answer. How could someone defend a man who was obviously guilty?
“Well, that’s my job as a lawyer. I must remain without bias and do everything I can to defend him. It is what I am paid for. My conscience, ethics, and opinion cannot taint what my job is. He’s actually a nice guy.”
“I see,” I said with obvious skepticism in my voice. I zipped up my coat and turned toward the door. I walked through the metal scanners one last time and walked to my car, three blocks away. I turned on my headset and called my dad.
“The trial is over now, so I can tell you. I couldn’t wait until I got home. Wait until you hear about my last two weeks.”
Casey is an Editor for The Apollos, you can read her bio here.