THURSDAY, APRIL 8, 2021
It could always turn out that she's right: Tuesday night, we were surprised by what Ali Velshi said.
Velshi was guest-hosting for Brian Williams on The 11th Hour. Teasing his upcoming segment, Velshi offered this:
VELSHI (4/6/21): Coming up, the defense has its best day yet at the Derek Chauvin trial. But is it enough to leave a reasonable doubt with the jury? A former federal prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney join us next.
Was the highlighted statement accurate? Had the defense "had its best day yet" at the Chauvin trial?
Indeed, had the defense even had a good day? Had the defense had anything like a good day to that point in the trial?
We don't know how to answer those questions, but we can tell you this. On Tuesday, the prosecution had been making its case as part of the normal sequence in a criminal trial
AS of Tuesday, every witness who had appeared had been a prosecution witness. Any points the defense might have made would have been done in cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.
In the American system we all love, the prosecution makes its case first. After the prosecution is done, the defense is entitled to present its case.
Cable news hosts and cable news pundits rarely state that basic fact in discussing the events of this high-profile murder / manslaughter trial. On the "cable news" channels most widely viewed here in Our Town, pundits will often say that the trial is going well for the prosecution without noting a basic fact:
So far, every witness has been a prosecution witness. So far, the defense hasn't been able to put anyone on the stand.
At this point in our failing society's headlong decline, the dumbness of our upper-end press corps is remarkably general. We'll address that point this afternoon as we review the New York Times' latest attempt to explain the recent ruling by the Senate parliamentarian regarding "reconciliation."
This latest attempt is amazingly hapless. And yet, this is us. This sad skill level routinely prevails here in the streets of Our Town.
Returning to the Chauvin trial, we'll ask a basic question:
Has the defense had anything like a good day to this point? Like Velshi, we have no idea.
That said, we were surprised by Velshi's statement that night. Obviously, sentiment on the "cable news" channels in Our Town runs very heavily—indeed, uniformly—in favor of conviction in this particular trial. And so it (somewhat comically) went when Velshi began the segment he had teased.
The defense had had "its best day yet," Velshi had surprisingly said. And not only that! Velshi had said that we'd be hearing from "a criminal defense attorney" as well as "a former federal prosecutor."
In cable news lingo, this seemed to mean that Velshi's next segment would be "fair and balanced." Given prevailing sentiment about this trial, that would have been a departure from form on the TV shows in Our Town.
That's where the unintentional humor starts! Velshi's criminal defense attorney turned out to be Yodit Tewolde, "a former prosecutor turned criminal defense attorney" who is currently "host of Making the Case on The Black News Channel."
Would this cable host from The Black News Channel see this trial through a defense attorney's lens? Perhaps somewhat comically, when Velshi threw to Tewolde, this is the first thing she said:
VELSI: Yodit, let me start with you. The defense has, on a daily basis, either made some case of the fact that there were bystanders, onlookers, who you can hear in some of these videotapes, you can see in the video, and the fact that they were very frustrated with the police as part of their case, that that affected the judgment of Derek Chauvin and the other police officers. What do you make of that that argument?
YODIT TEWOLDE, FMR. PROSECUTOR: I think that that argument is falling flat. It's ridiculous. And I think that it's going to hurt them with the jurors...
Perhaps somewhat comically, the official MSNBC transcript identifies Tewolde as a "FMR. PROSECUTOR," not as a defense attorney. At any rate, her instant reaction was extremely friendly to prevailing views in Our Town:
The defense attorney's argument was "falling flat," Tewolde said. Indeed, it was "ridiculous." We recalled the first thing Laura Coates said to John King on the very first day of the trial. It was the first bit of expert reaction CNN viewers would hear:
KING (3/30/21): Just as a veteran attorney, your sense so far of the opening statements.
COATES: I give no weight to the defense's opening statement whatsoever...
As we noted yesterday, King hadn't even explained what the defense attorney had said in his opening statement. Instantly, up jumped Coates to say, perhaps a bit heatedly, that she gave his statement no weight.
Briefly, let's be clear! The statements by Tewolde and Coates are perhaps lacking in nuance. But that doesn't mean that their assessments may not be basically right.
It may be that the defense attorney won't be able to support the claims he seemed to make in his opening statement. (We remember, of course, that the defense doesn't have to prove any claims within our American legal system—the system we all deeply love.)
It may also be that Tewolde was right in her somewhat heated assessment. It may be that jurors will reject the idea that Chauvin was distracted, in some legally relevant way, by the behavior of the crowd which formed during the events in question.
To our eye and ear, that allegedly "angry crowd" didn't seem to be posing much of a threat that day. Indeed, to our eye and ear, the group of onlookers was so small that it barely qualified as a "crowd" at all.
For such reasons, it may turn out that the jurors don't accept this defense claim at all. In that sense, Tewolde's assessment may be correct—but we were struck by the heated way the "defense attorney" threw down against the defendant's case.
It reminded us of the heated way the expert Coates had quickly thrown down on Day One of the trial—even before she and King bothered explaining what the defense attorney had said.
Admiringly, let's be fair! As Tuesday evening's segment continued, the segment turned out to be much more "fair and balanced" than most such segments have been in Our Town.
Incredibly, Tewolde went on to identify a claim being made by the defense which might have some actual merit. After that, "former federal corruption prosecutor" Paul Butler did in fact provide the source for Velshi's surprising tease.
"The defense had its best day since the trial started," Butler said, though he went on to offer this overall assessment:
"But make no mistake, the prosecution is presenting an exceptionally strong case."
Is that true? Is the prosecution "presenting an exceptionally strong case?" We can't really answer that question—and like everyone who loves our American legal system, we're even going to wait to hear what the defense has to say when it gets to make its case.
Having said that, we'll also say this, and this has been a surprise:
We would have found it hard to believe that a (legal) case could possibly be made in defense of Chauvin's conduct on the day in question.
Some of Tuesday's events at the trial made us start to doubt that prior certainty. Tomorrow, we'll review a bit of videotape which surfaced on Tuesday, March 31—and we'll show you the way one CNN anchor blew right past the role it might play in this trial.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we just aren't super-sharp in Our Town. Our cable stars are corporate hires, and we love the stories they tell us.
Tomorrow: Tragically, an accurate statement, uttered early on