Getting Started, and Getting Over Hurdles
I arrived at the Dade County Courthouse early on the morning of May 13, 1996. The jury for the Castillo-DuPont trial had finally been selected, and it was game on.
I was pumped from my morning run, testosterone raging through my veins. I was full of positive energy and ready to take on the world. I loved the challenge of getting to this place, although there was certainly a bigger and greater mountain to conquer. I truly welcomed the tests that still lay ahead. Up until this point, all I did was eat, drink, and breathe this case. I felt programmed to win, like a Navy SEAL going into Desert Storm. I wasn’t thinking about anything on this day other than getting the job done.
One of the jurors was running late because of a terrible accident on I-395. She was about 10 blocks away, heading in the direction of the beach and keeping the court apprised of her location. This would mean a late start, which wasn’t helping the Castillos’ already-frayed nerves. I did my best to keep their anxieties in check while also maintaining my own focus. Donna was particularly nervous, because she was acutely aware of my intention to put her on the stand as our first witness.
Aside from the fact that I genuinely believed that starting the case with her story was the best thing to do, I knew that putting Donna on first would also get her past the part she dreaded the most—facing a bunch of brutally tough lawyers such as Gaebe and Glynn. She had never testified in a trial, let alone set foot in a courtroom, in her entire life. Under the best of circumstances, this sort of thing can be daunting, even for a professional witness—which, of course, Donna was not.
Another order of business we had to address before getting started that morning involved three pieces of evidence that I had submitted that Gaebe and Glynn suddenly found objectionable.
The first objection was to the day-in-the-life video I had prepared and intended to use during trial. It showed what daily life was like for little Johnny Castillo. I wanted the jury to understand how challenging it was for this young boy to live with no eyes and no hope of ever seeing. While I didn’t plan to use the video in my opening argument, I certainly intended to use it at some point in the trial. This piece of evidence could be assessed later.
The second objection was more pressing and concerned a 4-foot-tall close-up photo of a 2-month-old Johnny Castillo with his eyelids opened. DuPont and Pine Island Farms found this to be an imposing piece of evidence. They felt it gave undue emphasis and was extremely prejudicial.
While Johnny would be in the courtroom, he was now 5 years old. The photo depicted the boy at 2 months. I had no intention of putting him on the stand or allowing him to open his eyes in front of the jury. I didn’t think that would be proper in this case. While an ocuarlist (who creates artificial eyes) and an ophthalmologist would testify about certain treatments, there was no cause to demonstrate them in front of the jury—though the jury would need to get some idea of what would happen when Johnny underwent such treatments.
The jury would also hear about prosthetics—something we hoped Johnny would receive in the future, after he was done growing. These prosthetics would give the appearance of eyeballs, and would require metal clamps and screws to help keep them in place.
Glynn and Gaebe argued that the jury could understand all this without seeing the photograph—and certainly not a photo the size of the one I submitted into evidence.
They compared it to what one would find in criminal cases or accident cases in which there was no real dispute over injury.
The judge agreed with me that if the attorneys were going to analogize the evidence to those types of cases, they should note that in a criminal case, especially in a murder case, the victim is dead, and more often than not, photos of the individual are shown.
The issue to be decided was, what was too gruesome to show in a courtroom? While the photo of Johnny wasn’t pleasant, the judge didn’t find it grisly or prejudicial, and therefore denied the defense’s motion to exclude the exhibit.
This was a very good way to start the case.
The third piece of evidence Glynn and Gaebe had an issue with was a Pine Island exhibit that read, “Benlate is the only fungicide used before 11/10/89.”
They said there was simply no evidence to support that statement.
I explore this objection of theirs more in my next post. You can find a lot more about the story of this case in my book, Blindsided, from which this blog post is adapted.