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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Aaron Vargas - Truth and Justice?

Truth and Justice?
By Mindy Galliani

On February 5th there was a hearing in the Aaron Vargas murder trial out of Mendocino County. Aaron is accused of killing the man who he claims sexually and psychologically abused him for many years. The purpose of the hearing was to address the motion that ADA Beth Norman filed last month which asked Judge Ron Brown to order Aaron to undergo a psychiatric examination by their expert, Dr. Emily Keram. The motion was prompted by Assembly Bill 1516, which went into effect on the first of this year. The bill requires the court to order (when the prosecution requests it) the defendant to submit to an examination by a prosecution-retained mental health expert whenever the defendant places his or her mental state in issue. Could this new bill be the reason that the prosecution asked for that fishy continuance last Fall, causing the trial to be postponed until after the new year and the new bill took effect?

Defense attorney, Tom Hudson, objected to the motion and argued on the grounds that it violates Aaron’s Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Dr. Keram took the stand to testify as to why she believes it is important that she examine Aaron. While making an effort to not even so much as glance in the direction of the sexual abuse victim accused of murder, she argued that she couldn’t thoroughly rebut the psychiatric expert’s testimony for the defense if she hasn’t examined Aaron herself. Being that she hasn’t yet examined Aaron, she sounds very confident that she is going to form an opinion that will contradict the opinion of the defense’s expert – that opinion being that Aaron has PTSD caused by the years of sexual and psychological abuse that was inflicted upon him by Darrell McNeill. ADA Beth Norman stated that she has retained Dr. Keram to rebut the defense’s psychiatric expert, and Dr. Keram reiterated the point more than once, so why would she even need to examine Aaron if her opinion has already been formed? Because that is how our dysfunctional justice system works.

Mr. Hudson wanted to find out exactly what psychological tests his client would be given by Dr. Keram. He named the long list of tests that the defense’s expert has given Aaron. These tests, and maybe more, will be given to Aaron a second time by a second expert that the defense has retained. Dr. Keram continued to argue for her need to give Aaron these tests, to which Mr. Hudson replied, “why, is three better than two?” Dr. Keram stammered, then she came up with the argument that the reports from two defense retained experts won't be sufficient because she would either need to examine Aaron herself or have a colleague who she knows will "call it like he sees it" examine Aaron. Is it that the defense's experts aren't calling it like they see it or that they just aren't calling it like she's being paid to see it? It became increasingly obvious that she is nothing more than a mouthpiece for the prosecutions arguments and she will give whatever opinion that she is paid to give.

Listening to the prosecution’s hired mouthpiece dance around the defense’s questions, for what felt like an eternity, gave me a headache and caused the bailiff to nod off. In all fairness, it may have been ADA Beth Norman’s child-like temper tantrums, in response to the Judge’s reluctance to trample over Aaron’s Fifth Amendment rights, which gave me the headache. In between tantrums she appeared to be texting on her blackberry, and I wondered who was on the other end of those texts – maybe DA Meredith Lintott was texting from her Ivory Tower, or maybe it was her cold-hearted colleague, and former prosecutor on the Vargas case, DDA Jill ‘abuse is irrelevant’ Ravitch.

The Judge finally put a stop to the song and dance when he came up with a way to get around the pesky Fifth Amendment issue – let Dr. Keram and her “call it like he’s sees it” colleague examine Aaron after he waves his Fifth Amendment rights during the trial (which begins March 22nd) in order to testify. So the prosecution will get their psychiatric examination. Dr. Keram will put Aaron through at least an entire day of tests and questions, all to arrive at the already-formed opinion that she has been paid to give. So much for truth and justice.

You can go to to read more about Aaron’s story.

...and a previous posting on the gazette for background and linked articles:

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