Robert F. Jakubowicz: Anatomy of a real trial
The trial of Adam Lee Hall is a good example of my pet peeve over the use of the plea of "not guilty" by criminal defendants. This plea is generally misunderstood by the public as a denial by a defendant of having actually committed specific criminal acts, in this case, the three killings in the Hall trial. This plea is actually a legal challenge by defendants to the prosecutor to prove the charges against them.
The "not guilty" plea for the sake of accuracy and public understanding should be "prove it." And that, in cases such as Hall’s, is what that trial was all about. A legal contest in which the prosecutor had to prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt without being able to establish who actually did what in aiding and abetting the crime.
I was not present at the trial. But based on the news stories there were no eyeball witnesses to the commission by Hall of the acts charged. Nor was there any forensic evidence presented at the trial by way of fingerprints, DNA, bloodstained items, etc. linking him to the triple killings. Also no murder weapon was found. This was not a strong case of murder against Hall. But Berkshire County DA David F. Capeless likely had enough information initially to personally conclude who did it, but he had to build a legal case for a prosecution.
Capeless then did what prosecutor’s do in such cases. He was able to turn some of Hall’s friends and acquaintances into witnesses against Hall. Their testimony was crucial because the big gap in this case was linking Hall to the criminal acts. They were not the best witnesses in terms of credibility. Some of them are under a threat to be charged with crimes associated with the triple homicide. One, David Casey, is currently being held in jail as an accessory to these killings with an uncertain future as to how he will be dealt with by the prosecutor. These threats of prosecution were pointed out by Hall’s attorney, as factors that likely influenced witnesses in changing their stories at the trial from what they told the investigators initially.
Casey was the key to making this prosecution possible. He led the investigators to the buried remains of the victims. One of Hall’s long-time woman friends testified that she reportedly heard Hall say that Casey’s backhoe was needed to finish the job. Hall’s defense lawyer reportedly got her to admit that she was drinking heavily and smoking marijuana on the day she heard this statement. Casey reportedly testified that Hall frightened him into disposing of the bodies by burying them with his backhoe.
Hall, according to Casey, said one of the victims, David Glasser, begged for his life, but Hall said that he told him this would happen if he, Glasser, testified against Hall in a prior criminal case. Casey also testified that Hall told him about picking up Glasser’s severed head.
Capeless’ point with these witnesses was to link Hall with the killing of the victims by placing him at the scene of the killings or at the disposal of the body parts. This testimony also was used to corroborate Hall’s motive for the killings, namely, to stop Glasser from pressing his criminal complaint against Hall. Hall’s defense attorney asked Casey if any deal had been made for his testimony. Casey’s reported answer was no, but that he hoped it would help him.
To fill the gap of the lack of a murder weapon, Capeless used the testimony of three of Hall’s acquaintances. The victims had been shot. One of these witnesses reportedly testified she saw Hall remove three handguns from a bag of dog food. The other said she saw Hall cleaning a gun. One of these witnesses testified she did not initially tell the police about the guns because she was scared. The other testified that she did not recall seeing any guns until she was reminded by this other witness.
Another friend of Hall’s testified that the latter brought three guns to his house and he saw Hall put them into a dog food bag. He also reportedly testified that he initially did not tell the police because he was frightened of Hall.
The legal role of Hall’s defense attorney was not so much to establish Hall’s innocence as it was to poke holes in Capeless’ evidence at the trial He played this role by pointing to the lack of direct evidence linking Hall to these homicides, and by attacking the credibility of the witnesses who were used to fill in the important gaps in the prosecution’s case
Despite the guilty verdict of murder against Hall, we still do not know exactly what he did in the act of killing the victims. This trial was reality criminal justice and not the fictional kind in movies, television and novels in which the prosecutor, in a neat and orderly fashion, establishes all of the actual details of the crime.
Robert "Frank" Jakubowicz, a Pittsfield attorney, is a regular Eagle contributor.