Friday, March 23, 2012

Goodman on Trial: Verdict Watch

Outside the courtroom moments before Wednesday morning's testimony began, one of the trial's ineffable scenes — Scott Wilson's mother Lili Wilson walks past the defendant polo mogul John Goodman, who a few hours later was on the witness stand explaining his version of the catastrophic crash that resulted in the drowning death of her son.
Goodman on Trial: Verdict Watch
By Augustus Mayhew

Late Thursday afternoon Assistant State Attorney Ellen Roberts began her closing argument by telling the jury, "John Goodman is not a bad man …" but someone who the night of the fatal crash made "incredibly, incredibly bad choices." Almost an hour later, she ended with "… He let that boy drown and then he ran away. He must be held accountable. He must be held accountable … I ask you to hold him accountable."

A few minutes later, with jury deliberations underway and court recessed, the first thing I saw Roberts do was walk over to Harriet Goodman, John Goodman's mother, seated in the second row every day for the past two weeks, where I heard the veteran prosecutor extend a sense of compassion to Mrs. Goodman for her plight having to endure this unbelievable tragedy. And, I suppose it really doesn't matter whether, or how much, Harriet Goodman appreciated Roberts' empathy for her and her family, considering her 48-year-old son faces up to 30 years in prison if Roberts gains a conviction on both counts. For me, the trial confirmed what I knew from the beginning: Scott Wilson's family, for whom this trial's outcome may matter most, may never know what really happened to their son. We may never know who/what/when/where John Goodman spoke with/did during the lifetime it took for him to call 911 as Scott Wilson drowned in a canal. Whatever the outcome, jury verdicts really are unpredictable, Palm Beach County residents should appreciate the prosecutor's efforts — Bravo Ellen Roberts!

Texas tycoon and International Polo Club Palm Beach founder John Goodman's DUI/Manslaughter trial has caused one of the equestrian and polo world's most prominent families to go from River Oaks receptions and Wellington champagne tents to facing a flood of media cameras every day as they come-and-go from Palm Beach County Courthouse. Despite publicized differences in the past, Goodman family members have attended every court session despite John Goodman's alleged derelict actions following the fatal collision that, other than within his polo crowd and social set, portrayed him as a persona non grata. As the jury resumes deliberations Friday morning, and before looking at the last week inside and outside the courtroom of a case puzzling enough that would have probably astonished the late Dominick Dunne, here are some excerpts from John Goodman's explanation of his "end of the world accident."
Before the courtroom opens each morning, the outside hallway splits into several groups: Wilson family and lawyers, Goodman family, Media, and the Public.
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Goodman talks, takes stand

At 11:30 a.m. Roy Black called John Goodman to the witness stand, thus the jury and the court would hear Goodman in his own words for the first time since the 911 tape more than two years ago. Black led him through a hurried timeline of before-and-after events fit tightly within the framework of defense-friendly White Horse Tavern and Player's Club witness testimony before allowing him to do an almost line-by-line analysis of his 911 call. "I'm in big trouble, huh? It was horrible. I just didn't see the car coming," were among Goodman's taped statements to the 911 operator.

It became apparent during the next several hours Goodman was severely self-conscious of his staccato speech pattern and the affectations of his East Texas drawl-and-twang, Speaking in rat-a-tat phrases and images, his narrative was without conjunctions, prepositions, and punctuation. His anguished juxtaposition of fragmented syllables and sounds could have registered a sympathetic ear among jurors, whether or not one buys into the defense's complex multi-dimensional chain of events. Goodman's linguistic knots and shattered grammar is much like the splintered slivers of glass on the Bentley's driver-side window. We will soon know whether Goodman's testimony gained juror votes.
Photo: Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post. Here are some clips from Goodman's truncated testimony:

"I don't know why … I'm not remembering. That's my guess. I don't know. I don't recall. I don't recall. I don't remember. I was in a major accident. I'd remember if I had an accident after an accident. I don't know why I said that. I'm not sure, keep forgetting, I guess. That there was deputies, something happened, you know, activity with deputies, I see all the deputies, Because I still don't know where I am at, I guess, I knew I hit something. I am starting to realize they are looking for me and this and that … Something has happened ... I hope ... no one hurt, I guess. I guess, I didn't see but I must have hit something. I hit something; I just didn't know what. What is it, say? I guess I was startin' to focus, what the big picture was than myself ... started seein' the lights, think it was horrible. Sorry, I'm not sure. I was scared, nervous, I wanted to know what happened. I felt stuck a little bit ... because now I am starting to put together, that something happened, something, somebody I'd hit. My memory is spotty."
John Goodman and his legal team usually arrive 10 or 15 minutes before each court session. Josh Dubin, John Goodman, and Guy Fronstin.
For the past several days, I've noticed Goodman has been carrying a legal pad. He appears to be an active participant in his defense.
Josh Dubin, John Goodman, and Guy Fronstin, arriving the morning after Goodman took the stand, making headline news.
The extraordinary Daphne Duret, reporter for The Palm Beach Post, has been tweeting the testimony to her readers daily along with the live-stream. Grace Wong, sr. field producer for In Session & HLN. In Session/truTV, did the pool live-stream of the State of Florida vs. John Goodman.
Kaitlyn Folmer, producer at ABC's Good Morning America.
Sphinxlike defense lawyer Roy Black walks down the courthouse hall.

Sometimes, I sense that in Black's virtual courtroom universe, Wellington-after-dark floats somewhere between Wonderland and Never-Never Land, a place where memory and imagination intersect and morph into an interphasic rift, an uncertain dimension where it makes sense for Texas tycoon John Goodman to drive a Bentley to Wendy's for a Frosty at 1 o'clock in the morning to satisfy his "sweet tooth."

And after the crash, thinking he was walking north towards his property, mistakenly walks south in a dazed condition, only to somehow land in a "palatial" man-cave he never knew existed that happened to be owned by Kris Kampsen, one of his own polo players, who happened to be a celebrity bartender who he had been with several hours earlier who said he didn't know Goodman was ever there until a month later when, invited to a Heat-Lakers game by Marc Ganzi, Goodman happened to join them for dinner when he asked Kampsen if he still kept alcohol in the "man cave."
Defense expert engineer Luka Serdar Jr., pictured above, testified the 2007 Bentley Continental GTC error/fault codes appeared to occur before the crash, causing Bentley Motors enough concern to send their own automotive engineering expert, Thomas Livernois, to testify that the error code was registered at the time of the crash when the Bank Two throttle mechanism was severely damaged in the collision, not before the crash. While it seemed Serdar took hours, Livernois appeared to take only minutes to clarify what happened to the Bentley.

Because Roy Black had characterized Goodman's Bentley as a potential out-of-control runaway "monster" during his opening statement, the VW Group, owners of Bentley Motors, is believed to have contacted their NYC lawyers Herzfeld & Rubin to retain Livernois and have him go to Palm Beach and testify in the case.

"This vehicle did not suddenly accelerate," said Livernois. Despite defense lawyer Mark Shapiro's crafty grilling, Livernois, having testified in several hundred civil cases, proved skillful in the clarity of his explanation, pointing out this was an unprecedented allegation about a Bentley Motors vehicle. Judge Colbath said he thought Livernois was there more to defend Bentley's reputation than aid the prosecution.
The 2007 Bentley Continental GTC owned by John Goodman was cast as a possible suspect in the crash that killed Scott Wilson.
Defense lawyer Mark Shapiro. Part of Team Goodman's entourage leaving the court room during Thursday's afternoon session.
21 March 2012
John Goodman reaches out and shakes hands with a supporter before the morning session began.
Three hours later, John Goodman was on the witness stand. " I didn't know where I was. I don't know. I don't remember saying that, can you ask the question again? I didn't see another car .... I don't know why I said that ...." The last thing John Goodman said he remembers about the accident is slowing down for the Stop sign and trying to put on the brakes.
Defense lawyer Guy Fronstin confers with Greg Goodman, the defendant's brother.
3:28 p.m., Wednesday. The afternoon break in Judge Jeffrey Colbath's Courtroom 11F where for the past two weeks most every seat has been filled for State of Florida vs. John Goodman.
Team Goodman huddles in the courtroom. Photo: Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post.
Wednesday, 3:30 p.m. From the 11th floor of the courthouse, the view east towards the Palm Beach Towers and The Breakers. To the right of The Breakers, Villa El Sarmiento, David and Julia Koch's house. In the foreground, the Palm Beach International Boat Show is taking place this weekend.
Defense lawyer and jury consultant Josh Dubin, in the midst of a delicate balancing act.
Wednesday, 4:45 p.m. Every day the television satellite trucks ring the Palm Beach County Courthouse prepping for the live remotes.
20 March 2012
7:45 a.m. View of a Palm Beach sunrise from the penthouse floor of the Palm Beach County Courthouse.
The 11th-floor south courthouse hall. The media is lined up to the right along the windows. Next to them, a limited number of seats are available to the public. To the left, in the background, Greg Goodman and the Goodman family gather and are usually seated first. On Tuesday afternoon, Team Goodman's largest contingent thus far took up two rows, not counting the additional lawyers and staff in the front row.
The victim Scott Wilson's father Bill Wilson and his wife Cyndie Wilson. Mr. Wilson and his former wife each sit with their separate lawyers in the fourth row during each court session.
During the past two years Wellington-Houston heavy hitter John Goodman has been between chukkers, probably not making a move without his lawyers, especially Roy Black, left front, whose reputation and next big fee could rest on delivering a Not Guilty verdict for the polo mogul.
At around 8:20 a.m., polo autocrat John Goodman and his courtroom advocates arrive with Roy Black and Mark Shapiro playing the Number One and Number Two positions. One of the day's highlights was the testimony of Stacey Shore. "We're a family … a very small community," said Stacey Shore, describing Wellington in her videotaped deposition. Shore was believed to be the last person who was at The Players Club with John Goodman. She testified Goodman did not appear to be drunk or act out of his normal character. She said they talked about yoga and "healthy lifestyle" things. In her sheriff's statement, she alluded that Goodman has asked her to go find some cocaine with her but she refused. Any mention of possible cocaine use by Goodman was deemed prejudicial and could not be introduced as evidence. Further, she said she didn't know if he was drinking an alcoholic drink.
Mark Urban, the defense's traffic reconstruction engineer, was on the stand for nearly five hours, perhaps justifying his estimated $25,000 fee. Hired within hours after the 12 February 2010 crash, Urban's testimony was contrary to the sheriff's investigator, believing the Bentley and Hyundai collided twice, directly and a side-slap on the driver's side, resulting in a lower estimated impact speed and possible head injury. Friction factors explored at length. The sheriff's deputy said Goodman "blew through the stop sign" at 63 mph and struck the Hyundai going slightly more than 40 mph. The defense expert calculated the Bentley in a 49-58 mph range and the Hyundai considerably faster, in the 47-54 mph. Throughout his testimony, Goodman would cross the courtroom, sitting at far end of jury panel box left to look at engineer's Bentley photos and accident drawings. Mark Urban waits to continue his testimony on friction. Sheriff's investigator Troy Snelgrove was in courtroom taking notes during the defense engineer's testimony. Urban said there are no crash test numbers available for a Bentley, as they are expensive vehicles. Urban utilized the conservation of linear momentum method to determine range of impact speeds. Low-side: Bentley=49 mph/Hyundai=46 mph; high-range at impact: Bentley=58mph/Hyundai=54mph. (Sheriff investigator had Bentley at 63 mph). Urban agreed that Goodman might have hit his head on driver's side window, resulting in spider-web glass fractures. On cross-examination, the defense expert testified that the Bentley did not stop at the Stop sign in order to achieve those speeds, contradicting statements Goodman made the night of the accident that the defense claims were made when Goodman was non compos mentis.
When not in conversation with John Goodman, defense lawyer Guy Fronstin often confers with Greg Goodman. Greg Goodman and John Goodman. The brothers grim or will the brothers win? Since hours, if not minutes, after his brother's "end of the world accident," Greg Goodman has appeared to play a key role in his brother's case.
19 March 2012
Lawyer Guy Fronstin with his client John Goodman during a morning break head into the defendant's conference room.
Greg Goodman, the defendant's brother, stays busy in the hallway during breaks in the testimony. Eric O'Keefe, a freelance writer from Texas, with polo player Jeff Blake, who has been sitting with the Goodman family during the past week.
The sheriff's lead investigator Troy Snelgrove was called back for another near three-hour interrogation on Monday morning. Defense lawyer Mark Shapiro continued his grilling, proclaiming at one point, (one of my favorite quotes of the trial) "Friction is friction." Among the topics, hydraulic brakes, friction measurements, speed calculations, tire temperatures, how-to calibrate the accelerometer, determining accuracy, vehicle weights, drag factor, conservation of linear momentum to establish speed of impact, lack of proper calibration of the accelerometer, and back to the "man cave." Snelgrove reiterated he does not believe Goodman's narrative about drinking away his pain at Kris Kampsen's second-story office-lounge.
After the state rested, defense lawyer Roy Black's motion for a judgment of acquittal was denied as was his request for the judge to drop either of the two charges against Goodman. During the afternoon, the defense presented Dr. Stephen Alex, the orthopedic surgeon who mended Goodman's fractured wrist. On the day after the accident, Dr. Alex wrote him a script for painkillers, unaware and uninformed by Goodman that he had filled a prescription for hydrocodone in January, and as soon as the night before, the ER had also given him a prescription for painkillers.

The defense also called a neurologist who during direct testified Goodman might have well suffered a concussion but in cross-examination admitted he was simply asked to give a hypothetical, since he never examined Goodman, never viewed any of the medical charts, and had only examined a photo of the Bentley's shattered driver's side window.
In yet another of the trial's more surreal vignettes, Goodman lawyer Mark Shapiro asked Judge Colbath if his next two witnesses, auto heiress Melissa Potamkin, granddaughter of the late billionaire Cadillac dealer Victor Potamkin, and her husband cell-phone tower titan and steakhouse scion Marc Ganzi, could keep their "privacy" during their testimony. The courtroom is a "public place," said the judge, who offered to explain the principle to them if Shapiro preferred. Following the celebrity bartending event at the White Horse Tavern, the polo-playing Ganzis hosted a dinner for 20 polonistas, including their longtime friend and neighbor John Goodman. Both testified Goodman was not impaired or drunk.

Melissa Ganzi recalled several minute details of the dinner but apparently could not remember a specific word of what she and John Goodman talked about during dinner when he was seated next to her. One month later, Marc Ganzi invited Kris Kampsen to join him, Greg Goodman and his sons, another polo player, and John Goodman, who was then ensconced at The Four Seasons in Miami, for dinner at a Ganzi-family owned restaurant on Bay Harbor Islands. Supposedly, this was when Kampsen learned his barn office-lounge might have served as Goodman's Area 51 after the fatal crash. Marc Ganzi, quick-to-smile, charmingly effusive, almost ebullient while testifying, looked refreshed and revitalized since I had last seen him several years ago.
"Drive Safely. In Memory of Scott Patrick Wilson." More than two years after the fatal crash, Scott Wilson's family and friends have not forgotten him.
Verdict Watch resumes at 8 a.m. Friday morning.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.
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