Research and Investigation – Part 2

Piles of Paper

During our early discussions (circa 2007-2008) Steve had given me a basic idea of what his accuser, Hanna Penderfield, claimed, but I found it impossible to believe. She said there had been 80 to 90 incidents of sexual assault, sometimes occurring in front of Steve’s wife and children, and sometimes in public places. But no one saw anything? I figured the only way I would be satisfied would be to read through the entire trial for myself, so I asked Steve how I could get a copy of the transcripts.

By the end of the second trial Steve and his family were broke, so Max Sommers (from Brewer Texas, a town about thirty miles away from Deep Springs) was appointed by the court to be Steve’s appeals attorney. He was also the attorney who filed Steve’s motion for a new trial in October 2006. See Legal Rules in Conflict for details. Following that unsuccessful motion, Max continued as Steve’s attorney for just one appeal, at the Nineteenth Court of Appeals in Keegan, Texas, which is the first appeals court above the district court Steve was tried in. I’ll covered that appeal in three other posts (see the first of them here), but I wanted a copy of the trial transcript because I was sure that something must have gone wrong with the trial procedurally. I didn’t see how they could have convicted Steve when there was no evidence. I was still fairly naïve about the law at that point.

Steve said that Max had been given the entire transcript of the second trial, so he had his son, Beau, drive to Max’s office in Brewer, borrow the transcript, make two sets of copies, and mail one to me and one to Steve. The copies, unfortunately, were missing about the first quarter of the trial (which included the first half of Hanna’s testimony, the jury selection voir dire, and the opening statements from the attorneys). The missing section also included the Master Index for the trial, so I wasn’t even aware how much was gone. We later decided that those pages didn’t get copied because Max was working on them when Beau borrowed them, and had them out on his desk. Once I realized (about six months later) how much was missing, I asked Cleveland Sanford, Steve’s attorney during his second trial, if he had a copy. He did, and he graciously copied and sent me more than 300 pages. I copied them and mailed them to Steve.

As I dug through the pages I began to notice anomalies, and I began to wonder if I could find other data to compare the transcripts to. One of my first thoughts was to compare the first trial to the second trial to see if anyone had changed their story in the three weeks between the trials. For a while I discounted that as a possibility, because I assumed that any major changes anyone made in their story would have been noticed by the lawyers and would have been challenged in Trial #2. In fact, I noticed that Sanford did challenge a number of Hanna’s comments from the first trial by comparing them to what she said in the second trial.

Whenever I looked at what I had, though, I kept returning to one particular point. No matter how good Sanford had been, no matter what arguments he made, none of it made any difference because the jury made a deal to trade votes. The entire time I explored the case, that fact kept nagging at me. I felt it was a gigantic mistake to create a system that wouldn’t allow a juror to testify about jury misconduct. It made no sense to me that the courts wouldn’t let this juror admit that they and the other jurors had engaged in illegal conduct. By trading votes they had directly contradicted the charge from the judge, and violated their duty by coming up with a verdict that wasn’t a “fair expression” of their opinions. This was the one thing that I thought must be unconstitutional (it isn’t). I still think the rules, especially 606(b), are unfair and should be invalidated, and that’s an argument I make several times in Aggravated (and in this blog), even though there’s no serious chance that the law will ever be changed.

At any rate, by 2010, I had a complete copy of the trial transcript for Steve’s second trial, and was able to read it. It was huge, though. I needed to find a way to search it more easily. That’s in the next post. How do you organize huge projects? Do you have any particular software or tracking mechanisms you’ve found useful?

Michael Sirois

Standard Disclaimer: Please post a comment below if you would like to. All comments are personally moderated by a grouchy old guy, though, so posts by self-promotional schemers, spammers, and lunatic ranters won’t make it through. Everyone else, whether your thoughts about this story are positive or negative, please feel free to speak your mind, but don’t ask me to reveal the identities of any of these individuals. Thanks.

Leave a Comment