The trial of accused mortgage fraudster Larry Maxwell is moving toward an end, but that conclusion won't be happy for Maxwell if Monday was any indication.
I attended Monday's proceedings--enduring the tedium so readers won't have to--and what I saw seemed a one-sided butt-kicking for the prosecution. The fact it was the prosecution's side of the case skews perspective, certainly, but at one point I was keeping score and it was something like SIXTEEN OBJECTIONS OVERRULED ON THE DEFENSE. Anything the defense managed to score as an objection quickly found its way back in by rewording.
...started out with a trial conference between the attorneys and Judge Regina Chu, with the jury not present. The attorneys were negotiating over jury instructions, with a lot of comparisons being made between the proposed instructions versus the guideline instructions. A local attorney who knows the style of Maxwell defense lawyer Larry Reed says Reed's style is old school criminal defense; he fights on every technicality, he just keeps grinding away.
(In an interesting side note: Reed is closely associated with Congressman Keith Ellison. Apparently, at one time, Ellison worked for Reed)
Monday, Reed didn't seem to be making much headway. At the conference, there was discussion about looking at "identity theft elements" and "theft by swindle" elements. Reed kept emphasizing his desire to have instructions that were "right out of the book" while the prosecution appeared to be leaning toward what it called "simplifying" matters.
Chu--who was wearing a conservative black and white woolen weave with understated shoulder pads, rather than a judicial robe--sat at the juncture of the defense and prosecution tables to sort out the complex jury instruction issues. Sometimes things were going so badly for the defense that Reed just sat and slowly shook his head. Often, Reed was forced to settle merely for getting things "on the record."
On the prosecution side sat Bradley R. Johnson and Liz Johnston. Brad's laptop screen saver featured a picture of a baby, wearing a blue cap, which provided a surprisingly tender and touching insight into a prosecutor who appeared hard-as-nails toward the (alleged) crimes of Larry Maxwell, who often sat just three feet away; constantly wearing an expression of wounded dignity.
To me, Brad Johnson looks a lot like one of the actors in The Princess Bride, click here for a video. While Johnson was making his arguments, I kept thinking, "Never go in against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line!" Brad's "partner in crime," Liz Johnston, has short brunette hair and dressed in a conservative dark blue pants suit, complimented by a lavender shirt. She is attractive but not flashy--possibly late 20s--and didn't appear to be wearing any makeup or jewelry.
At one point, there was talk about "JIGs" (Jury Instruction Guides) and Brad Johnson said, "JIGs are, by definition, guides." Reed snapped in response: "Don't be condescending to me!" Then he added, "You see what I mean, Judge?"
Reed kept raising the messy question of "who (exactly) are the lenders?" and said the jury instructions supported by the prosecution made incorrect factual assumptions. Reed wanted the phrase "the state alleges" placed in the instructions in regard to who the actual lenders were. Chu looked at Reed, blinked a couple times, and said, "I have NEVER seen that kind of terminology in jury instructions."
Johnson chimed in saying he hadn't seen it either. Soon Reed was back to slowly shaking his head, back and forth.
"Object?" Reed asked. "What's an object?" When Bradley Johnson tried to answer that it might include a fake drivers license or fake Social Security card, Reed said, "How's the JURY supposed to know that?"
These things are funny to non-lawyers. But the folks at the table weren't finding any of it amusing.
The name of the victim with the initials "J.F." surfaced during the proceeding. It was said many times in the public hearing. Since law enforcement has made such an effort not to reveal the name, I will refrain from publishing it, also.
At another point, Reed tried to argue "there's no allegation that Maxwell verified rent or deposits!" In response, Bradley Johnson brought up VickLar Corporation, an entity name apparently formed from LARRY Maxwell and VICKI Cox-Maxwell. Reed wasn't able to keep arguing THAT point very well, once VickLar was brought up. However, it would be unfair for any reader to conclude Reed is not a competent lawyer. In fact, the judge complimented Reed on his level of preparation on the specific issue of the jury instructions. But that didn't mean Reed was going to win many arguments.
The prosecution and defense weren't ALWAYS at odds, however. At one point, Reed said, "Anything with (J.F.'s) signature on it is a forgery" and Brad Johnson quickly said, "Agreed." At another point Reed said, "But we never argued good motive!" (by Maxwell) to which Johnson said, "We agree on something!"
Though the jury was not present in the room during these discussions, their presence was felt. Legal notebooks sat in the jury chairs, some turned to the current page of notes, it appeared. The jury chairs are high-backed, padded and comfortable, capable of swiveling, it seemed. The spectator seats, though not as nice as the jury chairs, were still quite comfortable. The courtroom is small, but attention has been lavished on woodwork details and a kind of layered, lighted ceiling, giving an illusion of greater height. The room might be a nice place to hang out if an aura of human vice and suffering didn't permeate the very fibers in the carpet.
Blakely. The name "Blakely" kept coming up, though Blakely was nowhere in the case, except in the law of the case. "Blakely factors" are a kind of post-guilt consideration, and involve "aggravating factors" which make a crime even worse, and therefore meriting a stiffer sentence. A local attorney told me, using DUI as a comparative crime, having a young child in the car could be an aggravating factor. Later in the day, one could see some possible prosecution play toward "Blakely factors" by soliciting an answer from investigator Glen Miller as to which area of the state was the hardest hit by mortgage fraud.
The answer--and it came in despite defense objections, overruled--was North Minneapolis.
So, outside the hearing of the jury, much Blakely discussion took place. The issue arose of whether the trial should be "bifurcated," with the jury returning a verdict and then, when the verdict was "guilty" (oops, I mean, ha ha, IF the verdict was "guilty") should the jury be sent out to deliberate AGAIN on the Blakely factors?
The prosecution said it didn't want to "bifurcate out" the Blakely issues. Better to just do all the deliberation at once. Reed tried objecting to this, but it was brought up that he didn't object earlier.
"Well," Reed said, "I'm objecting now to the extent everybody assumed I knew what was going on."
Reed's objection was noted. And overruled. The judge's law clerk, Brannon Stephany, was writing all this down.
The conference wrapped up, and it was time for the lawyers to have lunch before bringing in the jury. At one point, I heard Larry Maxwell speak to a woman in the court--who appeared to be Vicky Cox-Maxwell--that he didn't know if he could take this, anymore. She urged him to leave the courtroom and walk around.
In an upcoming post, I will discuss how the proceedings went on Monday in front of the jury, which is composed as follows: Six white women, all at least in their 40s, with one clearly a senior citizen. Three of the women were wearing variations of pink on Monday.
Eight men; all white except for one Asian. One of the men has slightly olive skin. One of the men was wearing a jacket that said "Edina." One had a business suit. Another of the men appears college-aged and is movie star handsome. Two of the male jurors appear to be having difficulty remaining awake.
Future posts will, hopefully, cover the continuing trial as well as the rest of Monday's proceedings. However, riding along to the grinding conclusion is hardly necessary to call this one:
Larry Maxwell is toast. He should start making long lists of the books he plans to read in prison.