Trials can be boring and most trials qualify. Murder trials, on the other hand, often reach an emotional state. The specter of four murdered crewmen, plus the skipper, his pregnant wife and two children, promised a brimful of emotion. Indeed, several years into this ordeal, tempers had still not chilled. Phil Weidner, consistently passionate about his client’s innocence, was himself a living, breathing emotion. So when the judge ruled against him — as was often — he cried foul. In the latest round of Larry Demmert, Jr., Weidner went farther. He declared that Judge Carpeneti had sandbagged him.
The cause of that outburst was what Weidner perceived — or chose to perceive — as a midstream change in the rules. He insisted he should be able to continue to impeach Demmert on the basis he had already laid, using synonyms for “addict” or “addiction.” Carpeneti responded that argument in the matter would wait until after the jury was excused for the day. That did not please Phillip Weidner. Hence, the accusation he’d been sandbagged.
“Well, will Your Honor instruct the jury that when I laid the foundation to impeach him with a prior inconsistent statement, you had ruled that I could do so, and you have now changed your ruling and you won’t let me confront him with that statement? You’ve got to do something, Judge,” Weidner insisted “You’ve got to declare a mistrial. You’ve got to try to cure the prejudice. You can’t just let this prejudice go.”
A quick transition, that one — from sandbagged one moment, to mistrial the next. It was par for the course.
When Bob Blasco finally addressed the judge, he found himself speaking during an interlude in Weidner’s ongoing tirade. “It is not clear at all that he was doing something that you told him was okay to do,” Blasco responded. “That’s how he always characterizes what he does, that you allowed him to do that.”
The “sandbagged” argument dragged on. Weidner asked the judge to suggest synonymous terms that were acceptable. He continued to insist that his strategy of deleting unacceptable terms from Larry Demmert’s past statements met the terms of the judge’s most recent ruling.
Judge Carpeneti had finally heard enough.
“Mr. Weidner, there’s a case that I came across, and I’ll get it for you later, and it talks in terms of a Court not having to talk in kindergarten terms when it issues orders in terms of compliance with those orders, and we’re reduced to arguing — when you make arguments like that, when you say, ‘All right, I guess what this means is I can ask Mr. Demmert this statement, but I’ll leave out the word addict and not put anything else in,’ we’re down to nonsense. I mean, that just can’t work, and I’m sorry if I didn’t make it clear by saying, ‘and this order means that you cannot read a sentence with the word ‘addict’ or ‘addiction’ in it but merely leave out the word and you will be complying with it.’ That just doesn’t make sense.”
Excerpts from the unpublished original manuscript, “Sailor Take Warning,” by Leland E. Hale. That manuscript, started in 1992 and based on court records from the Alaska State Archive, served as the basis for “What Happened in Craig.”
Copyright Leland E. Hale (2021). All rights reserved.