U.S. District Court, Albuquerque, New Mexico
August 15th 2014
Jode Walker took his seat at the table. Though it didn’t show, he was worried. While he was convinced that Ricky Taylor was guilty of looting, the evidence was circumstantial. So the last thing he needed was for his case to slip away. But evidence that had come to him from the defense counsel could compromise the credibility of his star witness. He looked over at his adversary, Rollie Sanger, who had just been called by Judge Roy Davis to give his opening statement. Davis had the reputation of a strong libertarian streak, especially when it came to government overreach.
Jode was on Sanger’s home turf, and knew this wily defense attorney would play to the anti-government sentiment that permeated much of New Mexico. Sanger would portray the prosecution as government bullies who wanted to crush the likes of helpless people like Ricky Taylor under the weight of unreasonable federal laws. Sanger would say that the Government’s evidence was circumstantial, and he would attack the credibility of one of his prime witnesses as harboring a personal vendetta against his client. It was Jode’s hope that the evidence Sanger had against his witness would not convince the jury in light of all the facts of the case.
Rollie, a short, stocky man with thin blonde hair and a jocular face, nodded to Judge Davis. Dressed in a blue shirt with a red tie, blue and white seersucker sports coat, blue slacks and cowboy boots, Sanger rose from his chair, ambled over to the jury box, and began his opening statement.
“Ladies and gentleman, pictures are worth a thousand words, isn’t that what they say? I direct your attention to the photograph projected up there on the screen.”
In unison twelve heads swiveled attention from Sanger to a video screen in the corner of the room. It was a photograph of a desert landscape; a mixture of yucca cactus, bunch grasses and saltbush. As landscapes go, it was a rather unspectacular photograph. But it wasn’t the scenery that interested Sanger. It was the three large holes, each three feet wide and six feet long, around which were heaps of dirt.
“Now,” Sanger continued as the jurors re-directed their attention to him as he paced by the jury box, “Counsel for the government, Mr. Walker, will try to convince you that my client, Ricky Taylor here, dug those holes on federal land and took Indian relics from this archaeological site. He’s going to tell you that the damage to this site, these holes, amounts to over one hundred thousand dollars.” Sanger let that figure hang in the air. He stopped, faced the jury and scratched his head.
“That’s right,” he nodded. “ Not only does the government want to deprive my client of his freedom, but it wants him to pay one hundred thousand dollars in damages, for those three holes. Does that seem fair to you? It doesn’t seem fair to me. No sir, seems more like it’s another case of big government coming down on the little guy, trying to control the people and take away their freedom. This case is no different than gun laws or other kinds of unreasonable government regulations.”
Sanger walked over to the defense counsel table and pointed at his client. Taylor, a handsome, mustached man in his mid-forties, was popular in the Albuquerque Old Town arts scene. Tall and lean, his shoulder length black hair was lightly sprinkled with gray. He was especially popular with women, and there were six of them on the jury. Looking contrite and proper in his navy suit and tie, Ricky knew their eyes were on him. He counted on it.
“My client is a decent, law abiding man. Never been in trouble with the law. Never even had a parking ticket. He pays his taxes, and supports his children. Yet, the government wants to send my client to jail, inflict a huge debt on him, and deprive his family of their major breadwinner. Does that seem fair to you? It just doesn’t to me. Remember, ladies and gentleman of the jury that my client is innocent until proven guilty, and the burden of proof is on the prosecution. If it cannot prove its case, beyond a reasonable doubt, then you are bound by the law and by all that is right to set my client free.
As Sanger turned to the spectators in the packed courtroom, he could see people nodding in agreement, and hear the whispers of several subdued conversations. He walked over and stood in front of Jode Walker, and then faced the jury again.
“Now, how did Mr. Walker here come with this unreasonable damage determination? Well, he has an expert, an archaeologist, paid by the government, who figured all this out. See, they use something in the law called archaeological value as the standard to determine damage to an archaeological site like the one involved in this case.” Sanger paused and walked over to the jury box.
“I’ll submit to you, ladies and gentleman of the jury, that the idea of archaeological value is a fiction. That’s right. The government’s expert archaeologist made it up out of thin air. Now, reasonable people like yourselves might ask, ‘Why would somebody make this up and put such a burden on my client?’ I’ll show you that the answer is clear and simple vengeance. I’ll prove to you, ladies and gentleman, that my client, Ricky Taylor, is the victim of a personal vendetta. I’ll show that aside from the circumstantial evidence that the government has against my client, their expert witness, the author of this fiction, is prejudiced against Ricky Taylor. And because of this, my client should be allowed to go free.” Sanger sighed and turned away from the jury toward Judge Davis. “Your honor, the defense has concluded it’s opening statement.”
Jode Walker eyed Sanger as the capable defense attorney took his seat. Well, he laid it all out there, Jode thought to himself as he tapped a pencil on the table, just as he predicted. Now it was showtime.
Judge Davis acknowledged Sanger, and then looked at Jode. “Is the prosecution ready to call its first witness?”
Jode nodded. “Your honor, the prosecution calls Payton Kidder as its first witness.”
As the doors in the back of the courtroom were opened, in walked a tall, slender man. He wore an open collared black shirt fit snuggly within a charcoal sports coat, blue Levis and cherry ropers. His long, thick brown hair was gathered into a ponytail. He strode quickly to the witness stand with an air of confidence. After being sworn in, Payton took the stand.
Jode hoisted his six foot five inch frame out of his chair, his blue eyes intense and focused. Dressed in a navy three-piece pinstripe suit, white shirt and navy tie, his stride over to the witness stand was quick. As his eyes narrowed, he began his questions
“Dr. Kidder, you’ve been a professional archaeologist for twenty years. Is that correct?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Would you tell the members of the jury a little bit about your background?”
“Certainly. I hold a master’s degree and a doctorate in anthropology from the University of New Mexico. I specialize in the prehistory of the Southwest, particularly the Pueblo cultures in southern and central New Mexico.”
“Now, Dr. Kidder, you’re presently an archaeologist with the National Park Service, isn’t that so?”
“How long have you been with the Park Service?”
“And what did you do before joining that agency?”
“I taught anthropology at the University of Oklahoma for six years.”
“Your field is competitive, is it not?”
“Yes, it is. There are a lot of good archaeologists out there and not enough jobs to go around.”
“You have published a number of papers on New Mexico archaeology, is that correct?”
“Yes. Mostly on the prehistoric Piro pueblo groups to the south of here.”
“I see. Now, for the benefit of the jury, would you explain what archaeology is all about? I mean, as opposed to how it’s portrayed in the public eye.”
Payton took a deep breath, and focused his brown eyes on the jury box.
“It’s not like Indiana Jones. And it’s more complicated than putting a shovel into the ground. Archaeology is a very meticulous method for re-constructing the life ways of past peoples.”
Payton paused. Like the experienced professor he’d been, he wanted to see how the jury assessed his opening statement. He wanted to know if he should adjust his language up, or down, to make it understandable. The faces of the jury, and an occasional nod told him he was on the mark. He continued.
“You must understand, that when an archaeologist comes across an archaeological site, he or she is only viewing a part of human culture. We rely on material remains, and it’s vital that those remains be found in as pristine a condition as possible. ” He saw some puzzled looks from the jury. He needed an analogy.
“It’s like a crime scene. If someone were to come and wipe fingerprints off a glass or remove a piece of evidence, it hampers the police in piecing together the history of the crime. Well, it’s the same in archaeology, except that we don’t have any eyewitnesses, and much of the cultural information has disappeared because it’s perishable. If someone comes along and removes the artifacts, or, in some cases even moves them about, it becomes difficult to re-construct what people did at the site. It takes hundreds, sometimes thousands of years for archaeological sites to form. They represent behaviors left behind and slowly covered by the earth. They are fragile, and non-renewable. Once they are destroyed, you can’t go back and fix it, they are forever gone. This is why our excavation methods are so meticulous and time consuming. This is why we have to be scientific about it.”
Payton paused, passing the dialogue back to Jode, who walked over to the defense table, eyed Taylor for a moment, then turned and walked slowly back to the witness box.
“Dr. Kidder, in his opening statement, Mr. Sanger drew the jury’s attention to the photograph displayed on the screen to your right. He told the jury that a picture is worth a thousand words, and he said that the picture represented three holes and the removal of a few Indian relics. Would you agree with that statement? Would you agree that a picture is worth a thousand words?”
Payton turned his head slowly toward the defense table and stared at Taylor. Then, he turned his attention to the jury. And thought for a moment. He knew that what he said next might be the most important part of his testimony. He had to get the jury on his side now, to set them up for the evidence to follow.
“No. A picture is not worth a thousand words. The adage is not accurate. I would rather say that there’s more to the picture than meets the eye. When you look at those three holes in the photograph, think of Alice in Wonderland.”
A few snickers punctuated the courtroom silence. Payton ignored them.
“You have to look deeper, through the looking glass. There’s a reality there, or more precisely, was there. Once you’re through the looking glass, you’ll find that those holes are wounds, inflicted on men and women of the past who could not defend themselves against the sharp ends of shovels or the thrusts of a pick ax. More than that, those holes are wounds to our collective national heritage. Part of what we might learn from this archaeological site is gone forever.”
The snickers faded into a protracted silence. Jode took advantage of the momentum generated by Payton’s testimony.
“Dr. Kidder. When you look through the looking glass, as you put it, what comes to mind?”
Payton stared over at Taylor again, his body filling with a rage as deep as it was silent.
“Desecration,” he replied coldly.