As we reported from the courthouse Friday afternoon, the three-week trial of an Alki 18-year-old came to a dramatic conclusion with a King County Superior Court jury finding him not guilty on all counts stemming from the deadly shooting 10/13/07 inside a car at 59th/Admiral. Three hours after the verdict, records show, he was released from county jail — where he had spent more than one year and two weeks. Ahead, our wrapup of this case — what’s next — and video reaction from the lawyer who took the teenager’s case for free, and won:
“I was confident that when (my client’s) case was brought to the people, and when they had the opportunity to hear the facts, that they would bring him justice.” That’s what lawyer Robert Perez told us at the courthouse, just after he filed the paperwork to secure the teen’s release, and before we asked him what happens next:
That therapy would be for the years of abuse that he testified he had suffered at the hands of the man who was shot dead in a car at 59th/Admiral the afternoon of October 13, 2007 (WSB photo at left, with arrow pointing to the car), 33-year-old Francisco Bailey-Ortiz.
None of that was public knowledge when the shooting shocked West Seattle that sunny afternoon. It was the third and final West Seattle murder case of the year (all three cases involving people known to each other). Our coverage that afternoon and evening was full of worried comments from people wondering if they were safe — with no immediate arrest, the fear was natural.
The next day came word that a 17-year-old had surrendered to police at a lawyer’s office in Bellevue. Though other news organizations dropped the story after that point, we felt it was important to follow the case, to find out about the possible motive — despite the arrest, for example, we continued to hear from people wondering if some sort of gang violence might have been involved, if there might be another outbreak of deadly violence in their neighborhood.
Two weeks after the shooting, we reported on court documents detailing the defense that the teenager’s lawyer planned to use — and revealing the contention that he had been sexually abused by Bailey-Ortiz since age 12. (As it turned out, that was all hinted at in an e-mail Perez sent WSB just days after the shooting, which we published in this report; he asked for witnesses to come forward, and also asked about circumstances in which Bailey-Ortiz might have been seen around children.)
At that same time, Perez was arguing — as we reported here — that his client should be let out of jail because the circumstances of the case affirmed he would be no harm to the community. The boy’s bail was cut from $500,000 to $200,000, but that apparently was still too high for anyone to post on his behalf, as he never made bail, and stayed behind bars for the entire time between the shooting and the verdict. (His trial began 10/13/08, exactly one year to the day after the shooting.)
Our next update on the case came in late December, after various evaluations and delays (WSB report here). After that, we watched the court records available online, following a seemingly endless trail of delays, postponement, hearings, and filings. Then in mid-September, after reporting on plea bargains in the two other 2007 West Seattle murders, we checked with Perez to see where this case stood. There would be no plea bargaining, he told us then: “(The defendant) is not a felon and he has no intention of becoming one based on the victimization that led to this tragedy. He will seek justice from a jury of his peers.”
And so, within a month, the trial began. It is difficult to tell the story of any kind of trial without being in the courtroom gavel to gavel, and we were lucky to be able to hire freelance reporter Rachel Gabrielle to do that on behalf of WSB. Her reports are all linked at the bottom of this article; the evidence presented was what you would guess from the defense outlined months earlier, but some of it was too graphic for us to publish here, so unless you choose to seek out the court documents, you can’t and won’t know the extent of what Perez and his team said the now-18-year-old client went through.
When the case went to the jury at the end of the trial’s third week, they spent barely half a day deliberating — they took care of some business late Thursday afternoon, after testimony concluded, then began deliberating in earnest this morning. As is standard procedure once a jury begins deliberating, all interested parties are called when a verdict is in, so that they are not spending hours and maybe even days hanging around the courthouse just waiting.
The call came around 2 pm Friday. For WSB coverage, Rachel and I both went to the courthouse, she from her West Seattle home, I from a waterfront coffee-shop table where I had been working since the Water Taxi media briefing a few hours earlier, wanting to stay downtown in case of a verdict, which turned out to have been an appropriate gamble.
I walked quickly to the courthouse, maybe 7 blocks, in the rain, and Rachel breathlessly rushed in shortly afterward. Turned out neither one of us had needed to rush; it was still some time before everyone arrived for the verdict reading.
The defendant was brought in first. I had only glimpsed him once at an early court hearing in the case. Here, he was not in an orange jail jumpsuit — instead in a pullover sweater, shirt, slacks, normal street clothes — but he was handcuffed, and accompanied by armed officers, as is again standard in such cases.
Before long, his mother was in the front row, flanked by friends. More family, friends, and other interested parties filed in shortly. Judge Richard Eadie came in, and finally, so did the jurors.
Even for someone who had not been in the courtroom for the rest of the trial, it was an electric moment, just before the verdict was read. It is impossible not to feel the currents of nervousness and adrenaline from everyone in the room, all with different stakes in the case — from the defendant who is about to find out if he will have to spend years more in prison, to the family/friends hoping against hope he will not, to the defense lawyers who spent a year assembling and then arguing the case, to the prosecutors who will find out if their case succeeded or failed. (The prosecution was not represented by Don Raz, who had argued the case, but by a substitute, because of a conflict.)
The verdict-reading is almost a ceremony. The judge has a prescribed question — has the jury reached a verdict? The jury leader must say, yes we have. Then the verdict is read (and verified).
In descending order, from premeditated murder down through 2nd-degree manslaughter, each possible charge added another “not guilty” verdict to the stack. When the reading was over, there was no concluding declaration such as “that’s it,” so the 18-year-old’s mother seemed briefly unsure that this really meant her son’s exoneration — but after a moment, she cried out, “Oh my God,” and then tears freely flowed among those there to support her. In the gallery, we could not see the face of her son, who sat at one of the tables facing the judge’s bench, but it was clear to see that he was holding his hands to his face, almost as if in disbelief.
What ensued was anticlimactic — brief discussion of the final phase that Perez mentioned in the video clip above, making the case for compensation, for the time the 18-year-old has lost. Once the ceremonial departure of the jury was over, I went into the hall to wait for Rachel to find out when Perez would be ready to be interviewed – she would ask questions, I would roll the video camera,. Moments later, from the hallway, through the courtroom door, I heard a hearty round of applause.
The now-former defendant was brought out first — still in handcuffs; though he was to be released shortly, until the paperwork is done, the usual protocol must be followed. When Perez, his co-counsel and assistants emerged, we followed them down to the next floor so he could take care of paperwork for his client to be freed from jail. And that’s where we talked to him – outside the offices where he filed that paperwork. (By the way, you can read about his background on his comprehensive business website.)
About three hours later, the county jail register shows, the 18-year-old was released.
Rachel will be in court for WSB on Monday, to cover the final phase looking at whether he is entitled to compensation for what he’s been through, and if so, how much. — TR
10/13/07: Day-of coverage of the shooting
10/13/08: Trial begins
10/16/08: Jury selection continues
10/20/08: Jury seated
10/21/08: Testimony begins
10/22/08: Testimony continues
10/23/08: Prosecution rests its case
10/27/08: Defendant takes the stand
10/28/08: Defendant’s family testifies
10/29/08: Testimony concludes
10/30/08: Jury deliberations begin