“Have you ever seen him wearing glasses before?” Brittin asked.
“No,” testified Nathaniel Simms, 28, who had already pleaded guilty in the case. Then Brittin repeated the question for each of Carter’s co-defendants, who sat in a line among defense attorneys and U.S. Marshals. The answer was the same.
Non-prescription “hipster” or “personality” glasses are on one hand simply a fashion fad. But they’ve also become something of a sensation in the District’s courthouse scene: Attorneys say inmates trade them before hearings, while friends and family sometimes deliver them during jailhouse visits. Some lawyers even supply them themselves.
They often escape notice — as was the case with another murder defendant who wore glasses with thick, black frames during a summer murder trial. Convicted of first-degree murder in August, his glasses never came up in court.
But the eyewear sported during the trial of Carter and his friends, which began its fifth week in D.C. Superior Court on Tuesday, has attracted attention. Court observers say prosecutors seized an opportunity to suggest to jurors that the defendants were dishonest in misrepresenting their appearance.
“They’re masks. They’re designed to confuse the witness and influence the jury,” said one prosecutor who is following the trial. Another said the defendants were “putting on a schoolboy act.” The prosecutors spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.
Carter, 22, and the other District men on trial — Orlando’s brother Sanquan, 21; Jeffrey Best, 23; Robert Bost, 23; and Lamar Williams, 23 — face life in prison for their alleged roles in the March 2010 string of shootings that killed five.
During dozens of hearings leading up to the trial, only Williams wore glasses; all five wear them now.
Their defense attorneys insist there’s nothing to it; several have shown photographs of their clients wearing them. It’s just “part of the professional look,” said Best’s attorney, Michael O’Keefe.
The glasses can be purchased at boutiques at high prices or drugstores for about $20. Some area defense lawyers say they can help convey the idea that the person on trial couldn’t possibly have committed a violent crime. Defendants “come out looking like Clark Kent,” said Kevin McCants.
“Sometimes I want my clients to wear them to appear more studious,” said Brian K. McDaniel.
McDaniel — who, like McCants, does not represent Carter or any of his co-defendants — says he understands why the men wear them. “Often times it’s about perception, and glasses help with that perception.”