The jury resumed its consideration of contradictory testimony Friday morning in the trial of three men accused of killing two Navajo tribal police officers.
The case went to the jury late Thursday, but the jury was dismissed at 9:30 p.m. and sent home until Friday.Testimony was so contradictory in the nine days of the evidence stage that few observers expected the jury to quickly sort it out and arrive at a verdict.
Defense attorneys, in their closing arguments Thursday, said witnesses have corrupted the legal process.
Defendants Vinton Bedoni, Thomas Cly and Ben Atene Jr. - all of the Monument Valley area on the Utah portion of the huge Navajo Reservation - are charged with killing officers Roy Lee Stanley and Andy Begay the night of Dec. 4-5.
In his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Schwendiman referred to a place in Copper Canyon where tribal officers found evidence of urination - the same area where star prosecution witness Boyd Atene testified that he saw somebody relieve himself soon after the murders.
"There's no way short of complete corruption on the part of the investigating team . . . that Boyd Atene could have known there was a wet spot found there during the investigation," Schwendiman said.
Corruption was exactly what Ed Brass, lawyer for Cly, alleged during his own closing arguments later in the day.
"There is a corruption in this process, and not from these three men," he said, gesturing at the prosecution's table, where Schwendiman, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stewart Walz and FBI Special Agent James Downey sat.
"They're good people, but they've been had," he said. "By someone the process has indeed been corrupted."
He cited Boyd Atene's numerous changes of testimony, when the prosecution witness switched stories in appearances before the grand jury, lawyers, and in interviews with investigators.
According to Brass, purported eye witnesses' stories couldn't possibly jibe as far as timing is concerned.
Boyd Atene testified in the trial after he was charged with perjury, he said. "When Boyd says `I wasn't there' . . . they charge Boyd with perjury."
Prosecutors have said the perjury charge would be dropped after a year's probation if Boyd Atene testified truthfully.
Brass said Boyd Atene is no dummy.
A halfwit could figure out that if he said he didn't see anything that meant a perjury charge and possible jail time, he said, but that coming up with what investigators wanted to hear amounted to the truth as the government viewed it.
Robert VanSciver, representing Bedoni, said the prosecutors did not show sufficient motivation for the killings. Stanley tried to break up a beer party and send the partygoers home when he was shot, according to the testimony of prosecution witness.
"Their beer is confiscated and they're told to go home. Now that's not foundation for a murder," he said.
Ten people were named as possibly being present at the party in a wash near Goulding's Lodge, where there was a bonfire, he said. That makes 100 fingerprints, 20 different feet to leave boot impressions, and several vehicles.
Agents believe the officers were shot at this wash. Yet none of the castings made by the government matched feet, fingertips or truck tires of anyone named by witnesses as present, except for the officers themselves, he said.
To convict the three, the jury must find the defendants guilty of all elements of the crimes beyond a reasonable doubt.
"I believe you'll extend to these people a right to a fair trial," VanSciver said. "Not guilty means not proved."
"You shouldn't compound the horribleness of this crime by wrongfully convicting the defendants," said Loren E. Weiss, who represents Ben Atene Jr.
Speaking of five who testified they were at the bonfire that night, he said, "They all admitted to committing felonious lying. It is a crime to lie to a federal officer - they all admitted doing that."
He asked jurors to step back and look at "the magnitude and the quantity of their misstatements," as well as their ease in lying.
Twenty or 30 people have been mentioned as being at the bonfire, he said. "Where are they?" Weiss demanded.
"Ten thousand dollars (the reward) is an enormous amount of money down there, particularly for a 19-year-old kid who's not working."
In his rebuttal, Walz said physical evidence exists that the officers were in the wash, and that Stanley was disabled there. Somehow Stanley and Begay got to Copper Canyon, where they were burned to death that night, he said.
That leaves the testimony of witnesses to explain what happened, he said.
According to Walz, some witnesses had a great deal of trouble testifying before the jury and the defendants' families and the victims' families. They had to acknowledge "they did nothing to help the victims," he said.
He commented on the fact that eye-witnesses' testimonies weren't identical. "If they're going to come here and tell this big lie, don't you think they'd do a better job?" he said.