Thin evidence hedges Ferrer jury

Chance has an empire which reduces choice to a fool’s illusion.

– George Eliot

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – The jury in the Juan Joseph Ferrer murder case is hemmed in by crucial pieces of missing evidence.

The four women and eight men who continue deliberating this week are destitute of a murder weapon, impartial eyewitnesses, surveillance videos of the fatal stabbing, usable blood evidence and DNA.

They are attempting to reconcile patently discordant state and defense narratives of what led to the death of Abruzzi chef and kitchen manager Douglas Anderson-Jordet, 50, between 1:30 and 2 a.m. on Nov. 25, 2013. He died on the sidewalk near Wildberries from a puncture wound to the heart, three days before Thanksgiving. Ferrer is charged with the second degree murder of a complete stranger.

As in the trial itself, as with the evidence collection at the crime scene on H Street north of Arcata Plaza, the jury is embarked on a fraught reconstruction of fragments, skeletal bits. Neither the prosecution, nor the defense nor the jury had direct personal access to the scene of an apparently chance encounter in which a drunken, three-on-one sidewalk scuffle occurred some 18 months ago.

Hence the predicate of Deputy District Attorney Roger C. Rees at the start of the trial in April: “I wasn’t there.”

Not surprisingly, soon after the jurors began to deliberate late last week they watched again the video of Ferrer’s first interview with detectives at Arcata Police headquarters on Dec. 4, 2013 and listened a second time to the subsequent audio-only interview at St. Joseph’s Hospital late in the afternoon the same day. Both recordings were aired in the courtroom early in the long-delayed trial.

As the jurors weigh the pros and cons, they do not even have a solid assurance of who started the fatal confrontation. All the parties were drunk, as Superior Court Judge John T. Feeney duly noted at the start of the trial, raising questions from the get-go about the accuracy and veracity of the survivors’ recollections and testimony. These uncertainties hedge the jury’s ability to deduce who intended what when the fight broke out and what each person actually did. The configuration of the evidence shifts and wavers as unanswered questions recur and as varying points of emphasis are brought to the forefront and set aside.   

In schematic terms, the knife-wielding Ferrer and his two companions and the lone, unarmed Anderson-Jordet confronted each other for an indeterminate number of minutes just north of the Vintage Avenger resale shop. The chance encounter is said to have had its genesis in a spontaneous outburst of invective by the victim, returned in kind by the alleged perpetrator. What precisely was said and what motivated it in the first instance are in sharp dispute

The defense claims the “stinking drunk” Anderson-Jordet (blood alcohol level 0.23) threw the first punch, striking Ferrer on the left side of his head, albeit “not that hard.” However, there is no independent witness to confirm that the victim launched the tussle.

The state says no, there is no proof that Anderson-Jordet ever punched, struck or hit Ferrer.

That claim was buttressed by Ferrer’s girlfriend, Sophie Rocheleau, one of the defendant’s two companions that night. She testified that she saw Ferrer, 36, throw the first punch, not the other way around. She also said she did not see either her boyfriend’s knife or the stabbing.

Was the punch she saw Ferrer’s thrust with the knife she didn’t see? There is no conclusive answer.

These are the kinds of doubts – reasonable doubts? – the 12 jurors are up against. With no recoverable organic unity to what occurred, they are left to interpret and evaluate an alleged criminal event – a series of ambiguous or unproven or unconfirmed actions – that by now is shrinking into the distance. For the jury, the complete picture of what happened is an irretrievable reality eclipsed by time.

Unremitting on offense, Rees used his closing argument last week to repeat that Ferrer had no right to use deadly force to repulse name-calling, even if what Anderson-Jordet allegedly yelled was scurrilous and homophobic. “You don’t bring a knife to a fist fight,” the prosecutor avowed.

Conflict Counsel Marek I. Reavis, Ferrer’s lawyer, sought to persuade the jury one last time that his client had every right to exercise self-defense, and to stand his ground under California law. By no means was he headed for a fist fight, as Rees claimed. Ferrer was headed home to a night’s sleep. He had no idea what was in store as he and his two companions strode north on the west side of H Street from Arcata’s tavern row, while Anderson-Jordet walked in the same direction on the east side of the street.

Rees also used his closing argument to invert the defense narrative. He declared that the Nov. 25, 2013 confrontation was “not a self-defense night, but a violent punk night” in which an insulted and fighting-mad Ferrer, dressed in studded Goth punk attire, pursued Anderson-Jordet up the H Street hill, where he stabbed – and his companions kicked and punched – a hapless, unarmed victim who had no intention, and no ability, to trade blows in a three-on-one that he was bound to lose.

Reavis professed to be incredulous at this portrayal, saying it so surprised him he wondered if he and Rees were at different trials. The defense attorney reiterated that Ferrer, Rocheleau and Nicholas Stoiber were totally surprised by a spontaneous outpouring of vitriol when Anderson-Jordet rounded on them verbally without provocation. He allegedly “screamed” homophobic slurs at the three in a continuing barrage, much of it indecipherable because incoherent, according to Ferrer and Rocheleau (Stoiber did not testify).

Startled and fearful, already half in shock from, in Reavis’s words, the “intemperate, drunken, hateful, angry” behavior of a complete stranger in the dark, the three stood their ground momentarily as the roistering Anderson-Jordet, who by now had crossed the street, allegedly maneuvered north of the trio, then U-turned and swung what Reavis called a “haymaker” blow at Ferrer’s head.

The two men either collided in the mêlée or Anderson-Jordet lunged like a football lineman at Ferrer, which caused “the knife to enter” the victim’s chest accidentally, the defense insists.

Ferrer stepped back and withdrew for a few seconds as Rocheleau and Stoiber piled on, then the three headed north again and turned west and homeward on 12th Street. According to the duo’s testimony, Anderson-Jordet was standing and cursing as vigorously as ever when they made their getaway. Evidently the chance encounter was over even more quickly than it began.

Ferrer and company said they had no reason to suspect their adversary had been mortally wounded, given that he was on his feet and swearing nonstop.

Yet Ferrer recalled saying to his companions as they headed home, “I think I may have stabbed him.” Both Rocheleau and Stoiber were skeptical of that in the immediate aftermath.   

As the trial ended, Rees hit hard on four points: evidence that Ferrer was conscious of his guilt; the defendant’s alleged propensity to lie and concoct multiple versions of what happened; the lack of hard evidence that Anderson-Jordet uttered homophobic smears; and Ferrer’s apparent lack of grief and remorse.

First, Rees underscored Jury Instruction 226 regarding consciousness of guilt: “If you decide that a witness lied about something significant in this case, you should consider not believing anything he says.”

Rees pointed to Ferrer’s categorical denials of any involvement in his first interview with police. Ferrer recanted his lies and apologized for them in the second interview, but Rees said the intervening hours enabled the suspect to come up with a more plausible story – he stabbed Anderson-Jordet, yes, but accidentally not intentionally.

The deputy district attorney also charged that Ferrer lied on the witness stand when he denied that he had told a sheriff’s officer, “I stuck him to get by him,” referring to Anderson-Jordet. The defendant had to deny his statement, Rees argued, because to affirm it would mean Ferrer had committed an intentional act – not contributed to an accidental death.

“No law says you can stick people to get by them,” Rees added.

Contemptuous of Ferrer’s claim that Anderson-Jordet fell on his knife, Rees cited Rocheleau’s testimony: “His own girlfriend proved Doug did not fall on the knife. That argument is downright unreasonable.”

In point of fact, Rocheleau testified she neither saw the knife nor the stabbing. She believed Ferrer threw a punch, but did not see Anderson-Jordet deliver a “haymaker blow.” It is open to question whether her testimony was dispositive, as Rees claimed.

On the other hand, the pathologist who performed Anderson-Jordet’s autopsy, Dr. Mark Super, thought it highly improbable that anyone could fall on a knife with fatal consequences, unless the assailant held the weapon absolutely steady, still and immobile. That seemed unlikely, Rees underlined, since the human hand and arm have a lot of mobility and torsion.

Rees’s avowal that Rocheleau’s statements constituted proof was illustrative of what led Reavis to protest in his closing argument that the prosecutor “distorted, stretched” and “made up stuff.”

It was in that vein, according to Reavis, that Rees asked jurors rhetorically, “Why get rid of the knife if he acted in self-defense? Why get rid of it if Doug fell on it? There is no reason to get rid of it if he’s telling the truth and being honest. He gets rid of it because he knows it’s the murder weapon. This is not a self-defense case.”

Reavis discountenanced this straight up, saying his client threw the weapon into some shrubbery on 12th Street in a fit of distraction, stunned in disbelief at what had happened.   

Ferrer himself noted on the witness stand that he did not attempt to hide or bury his knife, he just “tossed” it mindlessly in his confusion at what was a sudden and baffling turn of events.       

Reavis strove to impress on the jury that the deeper reality of the chance encounter on H Street was the fact Ferrer never met the “real” Douglas Anderson-Jordet. He clashed with “angry, drunk Doug,” another person altogether that night in his inebriated state.

What really happened, Reavis explained, is that an angry drunk killed Anderson-Jordet: not Ferrer, but “Drunk Doug” himself. His actions and demeanor effectively led to his own demise, albeit an accidental one.

Reavis repeated that the defendant had every right to stand his ground against what ear-witness Sarah Brody, listening from her apartment above H Street, called “an enraged male voice that went on and on and on.”

Reavis accused Rees of introducing “a red herring” with his charge that a “compassionate Buddhist pacifist” like Ferrer could have simply walked away, ignoring the insults. To the contrary, said Reavis, Anderson-Jordet actively confronted the threesome. In the immediacy of the moment and the physical proximity of the parties, self-defense was their only route to safety.             

Doubts about whether Anderson-Jordet used homophobic slurs came up again in the closing arguments when Rees fastened on the point that “nowhere did Brody hear the word faggot or even ‘fat girlfriend.’”

In the trial’s first week, ear-witness Brody was unable to confirm that Anderson-Jordet ridiculed his three adversaries as “you fucking faggots,” as Reavis had claimed in and out of court. Brody corroborated only, “Fuck you and your fat girlfriend,” devoid of homophobic content.

For his intended coup de grâce, Rees pivoted on Ferrer’s response when Reavis invited him to share his feelings about Anderson-Jordet’s death.

Reavis: “When you learned that indeed Mr. Anderson-Jordet had died at your hands; and after you processed the initial sort of shock and anxiety about your own situation, the fact that you’re locked up and you’re accused of murdering somebody; do you have any feelings or sense of regret for Mr. Anderson-Jordet?”

Ferrer began haltingly: “Well, you know, I got to say that one thing that kind of makes my remorse – I would say the thing that makes it — it’s very odd, but what would — what makes this seem — what makes me feel bad and bad about it, more every day, is the fact of how much support I’m getting from a lot of the jail staff and a lot of the inmates in here.”   

Rees seized on this for Ferrer’s apparent preoccupation with his own feelings in jail rather than with his feelings for his victim. The deputy district attorney noted pointedly that Ferrer’s initial answer was faltering enough that his lawyer had to question him a second time, to get him to focus on Anderson-Jordet instead of himself.

“What feelings did you have about Mr. Anderson-Jordet after you had time to reflect” on his death? Reavis repeated.

“Just that really deep sense of pity. I think he was at a really bad point in his life [at that time in 2013]. I think I would have been a good friend of his.”

Some minutes before, Ferrer had testified that his cousin in Alaska had been raped and murdered, an uncle had drowned and he had lost friends in other tragic circumstances.

He told the court, “I know how it is to lose someone at the hands of someone else. How much it tears people up.”

As the jury met last Friday, Anderson-Jordet’s family issued a prepared statement to reporters, saying in part “The defense's decision to blame Douglas for his own murder [is] shameful and disgusting.”

The defense could have had recourse to “easily obtainable proof” on Facebook, the family said, “that Douglas supported the rights of all people and specifically the LGBT community,” of which Ferrer is a self-professed member.

“Losing Douglas has left a hole in our hearts and lives that will never be filled,” the statement concluded, a sorrow that Reavis explicitly acknowledged in both his opening statement and his closing argument.

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