Monday, March 19, 2012

The Goodman Trial: Smash! Crash! Cash! Clash!

A Bentley Motors spokesperson has expressed unequivocal confidence in their vehicles, issuing a statement through various media sources that defense claims are without merit, following Roy Black’s unprecedented allegations that John Goodman’s 2007 Bentley Continental GTC, pictured above, went somehow out of control due to a malfunction causing the crash that killed Scott Wilson. A defense expert witness is scheduled to testify this week about what may be the only Bentley in the United States that has experienced a “throttle-brake-computer” failure. On Friday, after the jury inspected the vehicles and departed the courthouse loading dock, the judge permitted the defense team, family members, and the media the same once-over. At left, John Goodman; right, the Goodman defense team, including Josh Dubin, Mark Shapiro, Roy Black, and Guy Fronstin.
The Goodman Trial: Smash! Crash! Cash! Clash!
By Augustus Mayhew

The defense has said it should wrap its case by Wednesday, once the jury has heard their side of the Bentley, the concussion, the lower back pain, the wrist, the toxicology, and whatever else, making the closing arguments showdown only days away. I expect the prosecutor to make objections during Roy Black’s closing, as she did his opening, and have those objections also be sustained. Thus, setting the stage for a verdict watch on a trial described Sunday by The Palm Beach Post as “in a sense, the county’s version of the OJ Simpson Trial.” Whatever outrage the Wellington community has expressed over River Oaks scion John Goodman’s actions the night Scott Wilson was killed and the polo kingpin’s subsequent conduct when he adopted his girlfriend, I doubt any Swellingtonian was surprised to hear there was/is not one person who was at the Player’s Club the night of February 12 willing to testify that Goodman appeared/acted drunk/impaired.
The Goodman trial at the Palm Beach County Courthouse has been the center of media attention.
Despite veteran prosecutor Ellen Roberts judicious pursuit, I believe she is aware it is impossible to win Texas Hold ‘Em when crucial cards might be missing. And while Roberts may be focused on the Truth of the matter, winning is everything for the Goodman defense team. The live-stream camera has captured several reassuring back-pats at the defense table, head-nodding assents among Goodman family members in the second row when it sounds like the defense might have scored a point, as well as flurries of highly-suggestive invalid sustained questions from Mr. Black and Mr. Shapiro. And while Goodman may not have yet ordered his staff to fire-up the barbecue for a post-verdict Argentinian asado, some court watchers are speculating on a possible split verdict, Not Guilty of DUI/Manslaughter but Guilty of Vehicular homicide/Failure to render aid as a compromise to a hung jury on one or both counts.  
While on bail the past two years and when not in Courtroom 11-F, John Goodman has enjoyed the privacy of his gated well-secured Wellington hacienda, secluded on the parcel to the north of the International Polo Club Palm Beach. Both his Wellington and Houston properties are leased from a trust that benefits his two children from a previous marriage and his 42-year-old daughter-girlfriend whose trusts also own the adjacent polo club, according to media reports.
Harold Goodman, the defendant’s father. “Thank Goodness for Goodman,” was the tagline for Goodman’s Houston-based company that became a multi-national manufacturer and distributor of heating and air-conditioning equipment. When Mr. Goodman’s company sold for $1.4 billion, the proceeds were split among Goodman’s four children and grandchildren.
Harriet Goodman, John Goodman’s mother, has been seen arriving at the courthouse each day in a black Lincoln with a driver, taking her seat in the second row of the 11th-floor courtroom. She and her late husband Harold Goodman had four children: Greg, John, Betsy, and Meg.
Above, left: Carroll Reckling Goodman. John Goodman’s marriage to Isla Carroll Reckling ended in a publicized divorce where she indicated in court papers concern about her husband’s substance abuse. During the recent civil case, Goodman claimed most of his share of the family fortune, including the International Polo Club, was tied up in trusts for his two children, Harriett and John Jr., that he and his ex-wife had established. Each trust has $200 million, according to court documents. These trusts are reported to be the reason John Goodman adopted his girlfriend. Photo NYSD.

Above, right: Lead prosecutor Ellen Roberts, said to be retiring after the Goodman case, is no-nonsense and matter-of-fact, a welcome relief from Roy Black’s sometimes unctuous manner. She and Black previously opposed each other 20 years ago during the William Kennedy Smith trial. Photo Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post.
Defendant John Goodman, and his lawyers Mark Shapiro, Guy Fronstin, and Roy Black. Photo Lannis Waters/ Palm Beach Post.
Video images of John Goodman listening to various witnesses.
The witnesses
Heather Colby. Poised, expressionless, and without much to say about her several minute phone call with her boyfriend-father John Goodman the night of the accident before he called 911. During cross-examination, Goodman’s girlfriend-daughter, “ a stay-at-home Mom,” claimed they have never discussed any aspect of the events surrounding the crash. In her testimony, she said she met John Goodman in 2009 at a dinner when she came to Wellington to buy a dressage horse, becoming a couple sometime after the February 2010 tragedy and his daughter in Fall 2011.
Lisa Pembleton. John Goodman spent more than 20 minutes inside Pembleton’s camper; “He did not look injured ... he seemed out of it ...” Pembleton testified. During cross, Roy Black attempted to impeach her testimony because she accepted the free services of an attorney referred by the victim’s attorney, although her statements the night of crash, in deposition, and her slow soft-spoken testimony on the stand two years later were veritably the same. A California-based horse trainer, Pembleton was in Wellington living in a camper. In what I thought a particularly desperate move, Black thought it “critical to show her bias ...” thus the celebrated defense lawyer likened Pembleton’s inability to pay for a lawyer (because she did not want to speak to the media or the defendant’s lawyers) to accepting “... a free car or a plane.” On the stand for more than seven hours, Troy Snelgrove, the sheriff department’s lead crash investigator, arrived on the scene at 3:18 a.m. During cross-examination, Snelgrove described the “zig-zag” of boot prints leading down 120th Avenue to near where Pembleton’s camper was parked. Other sheriff’s deputies and EMT’s testified Goodman smelled of alcohol but was relatively clear-headed. Goodman sounded articulate during the 911 call. The toxicologist, who was actually quite sharp, found it difficult to believe Goodman could have been drinking enough after the accident, as the defense claims he happened to find in Kampsen’s man-cave, to cause him to test double the legal limit several hours after the accident.
Cecelia Betts, the emergency room nurse, “... he never complained of head pain ... no confusion.”
Video-pool images of Ignacio Figueras on the witness stand. Described by various media as the “David Beckham of polo” and a “superstar athlete,” Argentine player-model Nacho Figueras was called as one of the defense’s first witnesses. Figueras was a celebrity bartender at the White Horse Tavern the night of the crash. During cross-examination, the animated sportsman said Goodman paid him $120,000, the same amount Kris Kampsen was paid, for playing on Goodman’s team. He did not see Goodman impaired. Because “his wife was breast-feeding ...” he left the festivities early that evening.
Smash & Crash
The sheriff department’s reconstructed image of how the Bentley hit the Hyundai, wrapping it around the front hood, pushing it more than 100 feet, then flipping it up into the canal. John Goodman claims he did not know he hit another car. During one of his cross-examinations, Goodman’s lawyer Mark Shapiro alluded he might have hit a horse trailer.
While I had seen several grainy images of the victim’s Hyundai Sonata, seeing the actual car made unimaginable what Scott Wilson’s final moments must have been. With more than a dozen sheriff’s deputies scrutinizing the crowd to confiscate anyone’s camera who attempted to photograph any of the jurors, on Friday morning at 11:30 a.m. Judge Jeffrey Colbath brought the six-member jury and two alternates to the courthouse loading dock for their own personal inspection of what remained of the Hyundai’s light-weight mangled heap and the Bentley Continental GTC’s nearly 3-ton 650-hp custom-built dynamo. In what felt like an atmosphere eerily similar to the viewing of a body, Wilson and Goodman family members watched silently from afar.

In response to Roy Black’s assertion that the Bentley malfunctioned in opening statements, Bentley Motors has issued a statement, according to press reports. “The defendant's claims are without merit," said Bentley spokesperson Valentine O'Connor. "We have complete confidence in our vehicles, and are prepared to demonstrate such confidence when appropriate." Goodman’s open-top Continental is believed to be the only known Bentley that has experienced the throttle and brake problem as Black has described.
After the jury left the scene, Judge Jeffrey Colbath, foreground with arms folded, permitted the defense and prosecution, family members, and the media to inspect and photograph the vehicles.
Scott Wilson was driving this Hyundai the night he was killed. “I was at the stop sign and I didn’t see the car .. I just accidentally hit another car…I didn’t see the car … I am so sorry to have done this…” said John Goodman to the 911 operator nearly an hour after the accident, having first called Carlos, his “horse manager,” and his girlfriend-daughter Heather Colby in Atlanta. In the two years since the tragedy, defense lawyers now allege that Goodman was confused and he could not/did not stop because his Bentley was defective.
According to a sheriff’s testimony, because of the Hyundai’s light weight, the Bentley “… almost completely drove through the car,” rolling the car up on top of the Bentley’s hood before flipping it over into the canal.
The lawyers stare studiously at the broken glass patterns on the driver’s side window where they claim Goodman hit his head causing a concussion despite the fact investigators found no DNA or trace evidence that Goodman came into contact with the window.
The Bentley’s driver-side window. Investigators stated Goodman was injured by the air bag and probably received a half-inch laceration from the convertible’s metal bar. Amazingly, the interior of the Bentley was relatively spotless.
The 2007 Bentley Continental GTC that John Goodman was driving the night he hit Scott Wilson.
Defense lawyer and jury expert Josh Dubin takes another look. Mr. Dubin’s client in the Rutgers cyber-bully case had a setback this week when he was found guilty on the major counts.
Bill Wilson, his wife, and lawyers make their way to the courthouse loading dock. Appearing overwhelmed by seeing Scott Wilson’s car, they left quickly.
Scott Wilson’s mother Lili Wilson and sister Christi Wilson look on at the viewing of the crashed cars.
Becky Goodman, left, John Goodman’s sister-in-law, was with other Goodman family members who inspected the Bentley and the Hyundai. Rebecca Goodman and her husband Greg Goodman own Mt. Brilliant Farm in Lexington. The Greg Goodmans and some of their children have been in court every day. Goodman’s mother Harriet Goodman anchors one end of the second row and Greg Goodman sits at the far end, often huddling with defense lawyer Guy Fronstin.
Prosecutor Sherri Collins inspects the Bentley.
The Media
The Media, the Hyundai, and the Bentley. Every South Florida media outlet is covering the trial, along with representatives of In Session, Dateline, ABC’s Good Morning America, Town & Country, The Today Show, and Texas Monthly.
Harry Benson. Palm Beach Post photographer Lannis Waters, foreground, is the only pool still camera permitted in the courtroom.
Lawyer Michelle Suskauer, legal consultant for WPTV-TV, and Roxanne Stein, lead news reporter for WPTV-TV. WPTV does several live remotes from the courthouse every day.
With truTV’s In Session providing a live stream of the proceedings, WPTV and several other local media are tweeting testimony from the courthouse.
Wellington residents are no doubt looking forward to the end of the John Goodman trial and a return to the main reason they chose to live in the area.

Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.
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