Yesterday, a commenter asked:
Is there something meaningful and important to take away from the details of this trial? Or is this just gawking and voyeurism?
Other commenters answered the question pretty well, I think. But today gives me a good opportunity to add my two cents. First, though—and hopefully this will help you understand where I'm coming from—a recap of what happened this morning in court.
As the trial headed further into its fourth and perhaps final week, King County Superior Court Judge Michael Hayden pressed ahead with plans for Isaiah Kalebu to testify in his own defense tomorrow, despite objections raised by prosecutors and Kalebu's own lawyers.
After a meeting with Kalebu's defense team in his private chambers to discuss certain concerns that couldn't be aired in court, Judge Hayden declared that Kalebu will indeed be brought to court tomorrow to testify, in restraints that will be hidden from the jurors.
The planned restraints: Leather wrist and ankle straps that will hold Kalebu to a courtroom chair that is to be set behind a courtroom table draped in fabric, so as to hide the fact that Kalebu is being held down. In addition: A remote-control, Taser-like device will be strapped to Kalebu's body beneath his clothes. This device is only to be used, the judge said, in the event of actual physical violence or an otherwise unstoppable escape attempt by Kalebu—not in the event that Kalebu returns to his previous harangues or other kinds of verbal disruption.
If Kalebu does become verbally disruptive or engage in inappropriate testimony, the judge will immediately send the jury out, end Kalebu's testimony, and send Kalebu back upstairs to watch the proceedings from a separate courtroom.
The reason for all of this elaborate accommodation, which will take at least a dozen people, and probably more, many hours to prepare: Kalebu has a right to testify in his own defense.
He has a right to testify in his own defense, Judge Hayden said, even if his own lawyers—as is the case here—have already declined to question him on the stand.
To deal with the fact that Kalebu's attorneys have a duty to not knowingly elicit false evidence, and to accommodate Kalebu attorney Michael Schwartz's contention that questioning Kalebu is not likely to produce anything "material or relevant," Judge Hayden has a plan. The plan is for Kalebu to write out the questions he wants to be asked. Then Schwartz will ask them, and the prosecution, the judge—and who knows, maybe even the defense too—will object, as usual, if they hear any inappropriate questions or answers.
Given all of this, and Kalebu's history in court, his testimony tomorrow may not last very long. But it will certainly be interesting and important, and this gets me to my answer to the question from yesterday's commenter.
I'm not writing all of this so that I myself—or Slog readers—can gawk at a disturbed individual accused of a heinous crime.
I'm trying to show you how the system your tax dollars pay for works (and, sometimes, doesn't).
I'm trying to convey some sense of the riddle of dealing with extremely unstable accused criminals. (Kalebu has repeatedly been ruled competent to stand trial. He's also been banned from most of his own trial because of his uncontrollable outbursts. Kalebu has repeatedly been deemed mentally ill. He's also, according to his attorneys, not being given needed psychotropic medication by the King County Jail. Kalebu is bi-polar according to some psychiatrists who have evaluated him, schizophrenic according to his mother, and suicidal according to his jailers. He's also, according to prosecutors and witnesses, a shrewd, calculating, manipulative rapist and murderer.)
I'm trying to show how far we sometimes go to honor the rule of law, and the weird contortions and exertions that sometimes involves, and how there are also limits to the advantage a person can take of his or her fundamental rights. (As Judge Hayden told Kalebu today, if he plans to show up tomorrow, after all this effort to let him speak in his own defense, and then stage a huge outburst in front of the jury in the hopes that it will result in a mistrial—well, as Judge Hayden put it, "Do not expect that you can simply walk into court, act up, and thereby get a new trial.”)
I'm trying to convey a sense of what has already been lost because of Kalebu's alleged crimes, what cannot be repaired, and what tremendously difficult and courageous things have been done in response.
Finally, I'm trying to perform a basic function of the press: covering court proceedings.
I'm comfortable with those motives. Whether anything meaningful or important comes from them is for others to judge.