The first rule of being a good trial attorney is never to ask a question to which you don’t already know the answer. Gerber does not know why I went to the prosecutor’s office, but John does. The day before, in final preparation, John had casually asked me why I had come to them, so I told him the story about going home to the farm, walking down the street in West Chester, and finding the Ten Commandments on a plaque by the courthouse door.
John is silent for a long time. I think he is shaken by my story; moved by it. He has seen so much cheap, petty sordid shit in this case, so much cowardice and fear, and here was his witness quietly saying, ‘God calls me to tell the truth.’ I think it was a reminder to John of why he was doing this job and who he was doing it for. He softly said, “If you are asked, you might want to tell that story.” Yeah, I just might.
So when Gerber asks why I went to the prosecutor’s office, I tell him about the Ten Commandments. Gerber is now totally screwed. What can he possibly use to follow that?
He uses my psychiatric history.
Reading from a card he is holding, he asks if I was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment on such-and-such dates. He makes it sound like I was a raving lunatic, probably drooling and in a straightjacket, being treated for some major psychotic breakdown.
I clearly reply, “When I was in my early twenties, I was depressed. I sought and received appropriate treatment and was hospitalized several times. I don’t remember the dates.”
Gerber then asks if I was in the psychiatric unit on such-and-such other days.
I repeat, “When I was in my early twenties, I was depressed. I sought and received appropriate treatment and was hospitalized several times. I don’t remember the dates.”
Gerber goes on to ask a third time, citing such-and-such other dates.
Hey, I watch crime dramas on television; I know the rules: the question has been asked and answered. I’m not going to let Gerber hammer into the jury that I was hospitalized several times. John hasn’t objected to anything, so I turn to Judge Lyman—John repeatedly told me that if there ever was anything I had a problem with then I could ask the judge—and I politely, softly, say, “Um, I’ve already answered that, twice.”
The judge orders Gerber to move on but Gerber’s got nothing to move on to. He’s fired his big guns and I still haven’t broken down and sobbed, “I confess! I confess! I made it all up! I’m crazy and I lied!” Gerber’s got nothing left.
He weakly repeats his standard, “Isn’t it possible that you’re confused and don’t remember correctly.”
“No,” I say firmly, “I remember exactly what happened and that’s what I’m telling you.”
The defense concludes its cross-examination; the prosecution has nothing more for the witness; I am excused and return to the waiting room, where my friends Grace and Bob are waiting for me. They tell me that the hallways are crowded and there are television cameras. Bob asks if I want him to shut down the cameras.
“How could you do that?” I ask.
“I’ll walk in front of you with my index finger raised,” he says.
I start laughing and assure him that’s not necessary; I’m fine. In fact, I’m more than fine—I’m ecstatic! IT’S DONE! I’M THROUGH! IT’S OVER!
I go to the Special Prosecutor’s Office where I find John and Willie in Peter’s office. They have been telling Mr. Andreoli how my testimony went. They are all enormously proud of me and offer many compliments. John is pacing around laughing. “It was exactly like Perry Mason!” he says. He also tells me that throughout the cross examination, Willie had been kicking him under the table and hissing “Object! Object!” But John had decided that as long as I was handling it all right, he would let me—and, boy, was I handling it! And as for that weird side-trip he had taken during the direct examination, John said that my testimony was so smooth that it sounded rehearsed. He brought in the stuff we’d never talked about to break up my testimony.
In the morning, the Post-Standard has a full-page, large bold headline: WOODLEN TESTIMONY MOST DAMAGING OF TRIAL. In the year since the indictments were first announced, despite the many stories written about me, not once has any reporter for The Syracuse Newspapers tried to interview me, the victim of a crime.
And then I go home and start to sleep. I will always remember this as the Year I Didn’t Sleep. Now, it is over; the stress is gone and I fall asleep on park benches, in my office, and anywhere else that I sit still for more than ten minutes.
When the case goes to the jury, I go down to the courthouse and help the prosecutor’s wait for the verdict. Peter Andreoli and I are walking down a hallway where random others are also waiting when he tells me to keep my head up and appear confident before them.
Ah, so we are not confident of winning.
All people share the right and the responsibility to make the decisions that affect their lives together.