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State of California vs. Edwin Estrada

March 31, 2010 |  7:02 am
The case of Edwin Estrada never made the news. No one heard about him on the radio or TV and he wasn't even worth a few lines on City News Service, which feeds tips to all the L.A. news outlets like the drip IV of a hospital patient.

Estrada, a small, physically fit young man with a beard,  is the maintenance man at one of those two-story apartment houses they used to build in Hollywood in the 1920s, a down-at-the-heels place on Garfield just off Hollywood Boulevard with burglar bars on the windows and a little Spanish tile on the roof as a reminder that things used to be better.

We would never have crossed paths except that late one night last September he got into a fight with one his ex-girlfriends in the parking lot of the Burger King at Sunset and St. Andrews. Six months later, he was sitting at the defense table of Department 124 on the 13th floor of the Criminal Courts Building.

I figured I would be excused from the jury almost immediately because of my previous experience with domestic violence -- several years ago, I saved a woman who was being beaten by her ex-husband outside the Pasadena police station. But the attorneys had more pressing objections to other people in the jury pool. Nearly everyone's life had been touched by domestic violence and there were a surprising number of folks who couldn't accept a defendant's right not to testify. Then there were the people with limited English skills ... and the schizophrenic.

What played out was a true story, but an incomplete one, limited by rules of evidence and courtroom strategies. For example, we never found out what the victim did for a living, but one day she showed up in court with a T-shirt advertising "fight night" at a bar, so someone suggested she was a waitress--not that it mattered except for sending an odd message to the jury.

The short story we got was that Estrada rotated among girlfriends at the apartment house where he was the maintenance man. He and the victim had a volatile relationship, which was portrayed in a video of them made with a hidden camera in a friend's apartment (and yes, Estrada even wore a "wife-beater" shirt when he was roughing her up).

We heard the recording of the 911 call and testimony from the police and a couple of people who saw the incident -- including one surly, arrogant young man who left everybody wondering what his problem was.

Then we retreated to the jury room to review the judge’s instructions and hash over the precise definition of "great bodily injury."

I don't imagine Estrada was happy our two guilty verdicts, but he can be assured that we took his case seriously and discussed it thoroughly. He got a fair deal from us and has no one to blame but himself for the outcome. We were one speck on the court's calendar and one tiny group in the vast number of jurors passing through the courthouse. In the small case of the state of California vs. Edwin Estrada, the system was slow and sometimes tedious, but it worked.

And now that jury duty is over I can get back to the Daily Mirror.



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