Improbable story of a homeless deaf-mute man (Carl Anderson) charged with the murder of a judge's secretary (Elizabeth Quinn). He is defended by Cher who begins an affair with one of the jurors during trial. The real killer is actually the judge presiding at the trial who killed her to cover up his own corruption. Cher actually turns in a pretty good performance. The defendant is unable to understand signing and has been provided with a computer and real time transcription.
********* opening statements ************
Prosecutor: Elizabeth Rose Quinn. She was 24. A court typist at the Justice Department. She made $17,000 a year. She was single, she liked to play tennis, she was a member of the First Baptist Church in Arlington. She wasn't very important. Especially in a city that is full of so many important people. She was just a decent, hard working citizen. And on the night of December 18, a week before Christmas, Carl Wayne Anderson cut her throat. I have prosecuted 43 murder cases. It is always a horror, always senseless. But of the murder cases that I have prosecuted, this is the most horrible, the most senseless the most indefensible. For nine dollars, nine dollars. Nine dollars, that's all she had. Is this what we have become? Is the value of human life so cheap? Elizabeth worked late that night. It was cold, she was tired and anxious to get home. She took the bus to the parking lot on K Street where her car was. That's as far as she got. We will show that Carl Wayne Anderson had been in that parking lot trying to break in to cars. He had been sleeping in Elizabeth's car, and a parking lot attendant had chased him away. But he had come back. And when he saw Elizabeth alone, and defenseless, he beat her, dragged her down to the river, slit her throat, and killed her. This isn't the 11:00 news, we can't just shake our heads, go to bed, and forget about it. We have a responsibility to Elizabeth Rose Quinn. She is, after all, too important.
Defense: Carl Wayne Anderson is not a decent hard-working citizen, he is not a shining example of the American Dream. Carl Anderson is the American nightmare. He is one of the nameless, faceless derelicts that wander aimlessly through the streets of our country every day by the thousands. We step over them in doorways, we cross the street in order to avoid actually coming into contact with one of them. We look at them with a mixture of pity and contempt and fear. We choose not to see that under their ragged blankets and their filthy clothes, is a frightened, lost human being. Just like you and me. Carl Wayne Anderson was a soldier in Vietnam, not a hero, just a dog soldier, who believed in and fought for his country. And when he tried to regain his identity and his self respect in a Veteran's Hospital, he contracted spinal meningitis, became deaf, and suffered a traumatic speech loss. We will show that Carl Anderson lived in a world where nine dollars could mean the difference between eating and starving to death.
************** direct of forensic expert ********
Prosecutor: Could you describe what you found?
A: She'd been attacked from behind, her throat cut laterally across the larynx and the carotid artery from left to right.
Q: And what kind of instrument caused this?
A: A very thin, straight blade, a razor, a knife.
Q: I'm showing you what has been marked as Government's exhibit one for identification. Have you seen this knife before?
A: Yes, I was asked to do a forensic examination of it.
Q: And what were your conclusions?
A: The width of the blade and its sharpness were consistent with the deceased's wound.
Prosecutor: I move government exhibit one in evidence.
Judge: Without objection.
Pros: Your witness.
Judge: Before Miss Riley cross-examines the witness, the Court will take a fifteen minute recess.
Juror: Excuse me, your Honor, may I have another look at that photograph?
Defense: Objection, your Honor, this has become ghoulish beyond purpose.
Judge: The juror is entitled to a thorough examination of the evidence, counselor. Overruled.
Juror: Thank you.
Judge: I will remind the jury, you are reminded that you are not to discuss this case with anyone.
******** cross ************
Defense: Dr. Kilina, you examined Carl Anderson's knife, didn't you.
Q: And what did you find?
A: Some rust, a partial hair follicle, and microscopic traces of human tissue.
Q: Did you compare the tissue taken off his knife with Elizabeth Quinn's?
Q: And would you tell the jury what your findings were?
Q: Excuse me, Dr. Kilina, could you please speak up?
A: They weren't conclusive.
Q: They weren't conclusive. So what you're saying is that you have no direct evidence that this knife, Carl Anderson's knife, was the weapon used to murder Elizabeth Rose Quinn? No bone fragments, no tissue samples, no traces of her blood?
A: I don't know what we would have found, the knife had recently been wiped clean.
Q: Excuse me didn't you just say a moment ago that you found rust and a hair follicle and some sort of tissue on this knife?
Q: So was it wiped clean or wasn't it wiped clean?
A: It's more complicated than that, there is wide...
Q: No, no, it's a simple yes or no, either it was wiped clean or it wasn't.
Prosecutor: Objection, forensic pathology is an exact science. Miss Riley is making it sound like a cooking class.
Defense: Excuse me.
Judge: Objection sustained. And dispense with you characterizations, Mr. Stellar.
Pros.: My apologies to Court, and to counsel.
Defense: Thank you your honor, but I don't want the jury left with the impression that Mr. Anderson cleaned off his knife to hide any incriminating evidence.
Judge: Objection sustained. Miss Riley, are you through with the witness?
Defense: Your honor, one more question.
Judge: Make up your mind, Miss Riley.
Q: You've said that the wound was left to right?
A: That's correct, the entry wound was left of median, and the exit wound right of median.
Q: Entrance here, exit here
A: That's correct
Q: Could you step down for a moment Dr. Kilina?
Defense: I need to make a clarification
Judge: I'll overrule the objection. Dr. Kilina would you please step down.
Q: Now, Doctor, I am right handed, so could I assume that it would be a natural motion for me to cut you this way?
Q: And if I were left-handed, that would be an unnatural motion?
A: Yes, you would cut right to left.
Defense: Thank you. I have no further questions, your honor.
Judge: You're excused, Doctor.
Defense: Carl...(Defense throws something to Defendant, who catches it with his left hand.)
Prosecution: Objection, your honor!
Judge: One more stunt like that, counselor, and I'll slap you with a contempt citation so fast you won't know what hit you.
*********** cross of detective **********
Defense: Detective Purcell, you've already stated in earlier testimony that homicides are usually committed by the most obvious suspect.
A: That's the way it usually falls
Q: And we will agree with your logical assumption that Mr. Anderson was the most obvious suspect?
A: With the evidence, and my experience, it was more than just an assumption, counselor.
Q: Your experience is impressive, indeed, Detective Purcell. But isn't it true, that in the American justice system, police do not determine the guilt or innocence of a man?
A: Yes that's true.
Q: And did you know, from the Justice Department's own research, at least 343 innocent people have been convicted of crimes--25 of them have been executed and later found to be innocent. I imagine that they were the most obvious suspects too.
Judge: Miss Riley, that's enough of that. This is a cross-examination of the witness, not an indictment of the criminal justice system
Defense: Your honor, I am trying to show that the police department is not infallible, none of us are.
Judge: Counsel, approach the bench. I will remind the jury to deal with the facts of this case and not with the defense's rhetoric. Ms. Riley, either you argue the merits of this case or I'll excuse the witness. Do you understand?
Q. Detective Purcell, would you say that we have an abnormally large population of homeless?
A. Yes, I would.
Q. I see them across the street from the white house and lafayette square.
A. Well, we've cleared most of them out of there, it just doesn't look good.
Q. Anywhere else?
A. Yes, Union Station, we've got a real problem down there.
Objection. This is all fascinating, but where is the defense going with this?
JUDGE. I'm going to allow it to continue, counselor, I'm interested to see where she's going with this myself.
Q. Now you said Union Station. I take the train from time to time and I've never seen any homeless people there.
A. You really have to look. Now, we've cleared most of them out of the station, so now they use the old Railway Express building.
******************* non-evidentiary disruption **********
Defendant learns that his friend and only witness has been found murdered, jumps up and overturns counsel table. The judge orders hum handcuffed.
*************** direct of the accused ************
Q. Please state your full name and address.
A. Carl Wayne Anderson.
Q. Your address?
Q. Mr. Anderson, have you ever killed anyone?
A. I'm not sure.
Q. You killed someone and you're not sure why?
A. I was in Vietnam, I was 19.
Q. So you were a soldier. It was your job to kill, you did your job, you didn't need a reason. Carl, do you think you needed a reason?
Q. The fact is, it upset you so much that you had a breakdown. You were discharged from the army for psychiatric reasons and you spent six years at a veteran's hospital, all because you were a good soldier who thought he needed a reason to kill. Carl, what were your dreams? Your dreams, you know, when you were young, what did you want to be?
A. A carpenter. And build my own house.
Q. And were you ever in love?
A. I loved Caroline.
Q. Who is Caroline?
A. My wife.
Q. And did you and Caroline plan to have children?
A. We talked about it.
Q. And what happened?
A. We were divorced.
A. After the sickness, I had nothing left to offer her.
Q. It's been rough. You've had your share of problems, you've been kicked around pretty good. Are we supposed to feel sorry for you? Plenty of people have problems. Plenty of people get kicked around. You know the difference between you and them? They still have their dignity. They don't sleep in he gutter, they don't eat out of garbage cans, they don't urinate in people's yards, they take showers, they change their clothes, they don't walk around feeling sorry for themselves, they get married, they have children, they take responsibility for their live, they don't sleep in other people's cars and they don't steal nine dollars from anyone. Did you kill Elizabeth Rose Quinn?
*************** cross **************
PROS. That was a wonderful performance. The man shouldn't be on trial, he should be given a medal. You were discharged from the army for psychiatric reasons, is that right?
Q. Did you beat your superior officer with a shovel because he asked you to dig a trench, was that one of the reasons?
Q. Violence seems to follow you wherever you go.
DEF atty: Objection, your Honor.
Q. Were you arrested in 1978 for assaulting a congressional aide on Constitution Avenue?
Q. And were you in the District of Columbia jail for 6 months for beating a man?
A. He stole my shoes.
Q. And did you punch your own attorney in the face when she. . .
DEF atty: Objection, your Honor, that's privileged.
Q. I'll withdraw the question. You were in the parking lot on K (?) Street the night of December 18th.
Q. And you did break into Elizabeth Quinn's car?
A. It was cold.
Q. Just yes or no, please, your counsel has given us enough explanation.
DEF atty: Objection, your Honor.
Q. Did the parking lot attendant throw you off the lot?
Q. But you came back just before midnight.
Q. And you attacked Elizabeth Quinn there and dragged her down to the river.
Q. You were at the Potomac River after midnight, weren't you?
A. I was looking for. . .
Q. Just yes or no, please.
Q. Elizabeth was there, you were there. Her purse was stolen, you had her purse. Her throat was cut, you had a knife. Those are the naked facts.
DEF atty: Objection, your Honor. Perhaps Mr. Stella would like to wait until the end of the proceedings to make his closing argument.
PROS: Miss Riley has the gift of speech, I'll let the facts speak for themselves. How did you expect us to believe you didn't kill her? No further questions at
this time, your Honor.
********** defense attempts to call and question the presiding judge *******
DEF: Your Honor, we call your Honor to the stand.
Judge. What's the meaning of this? I can't be called to the stand.
DEF: You have knowledge that is vital to our case.
Judge: Counselor, approach the bench.
DEF: If necessary, I will have a subpoena issued to compel you to testify.
Judge: Counselor, approach the bench or I'll find you in contempt of court, I cannot be compelled to testify.
DEF: You are not above the law, Mr. Helms.
Judge: If you persist in this behavior I'll be forced to call a mistrial.
Q: Mr. Helms, were you the Federal prosecutor on the United States versus Cook trial in 1968?
Judge: This trial is a mistrial!
Q: And did you conspire with the then-district court judge Charles F. Lowe to dismiss that case in exchange for his appointment to a higher court and for your appointment to the seat you are now in. . .
Judge: You're in contempt of court, Miss Riley!
Q: Did you wait 17 years while lesser men passed you by, 17 years watching lesser men get appointments to a higher court . . .
Judge: I'll have you disbarred!
Q: And then when your day finally came, an appointment to the Circuit Court, a heartbeat away from the Supreme Court, did your past rise up to haunt you and did you strike it down and kill it?
Judge: Remove Miss Riley from the court!
Q: Did you wilfully plan and murder Elizabeth Rose Quinn when she approached you with your past?
Judge: Remove Miss Riley from this court! Miss Riley, you are in contempt of court! I'll have you disbarred! Remove Miss Riley from this court!
Q: Was your car license number XXXXXX in the parking lot on K Street on the night of December the 18th, and did you wait and when Elizabeth Quinn
arrived at her car, did you beat her, drag her down to the river and savagely cut her throat? I have filed charges with the District of Columbia police department
for the arrest of Matthew Bishop Helms for murder in the first degree.