The murder trial of Paul Leon Jordan was adjourned temporarily yesterday as the prosecution appealed to a higher court for permission to use portions of Jordan's key statements to police that have been disallowed by the judge in the trial.
Prosecutors, in an unusual step, filed a midtrial appeal with the D.C. Court of Appeals arguing that if they are not allowed to use the excluded statements, it "may yield a serious distortion of the truth-seeking process and nothing short of a miscarriage of justice."
Jordan, a 48-year-old alcoholic who has pleaded not guilty, is on trial in D.C. Superior Court charged with fatally stabbing 3-year-old Crystin Fletcher and her baby sitter, Cora Barnes, 56, who for a time was his neighbor at 4321 Second St. NW.
Yesterday, before the trial was adjourned, defense attorney James H. McComas argued that the issue raised by the prosecution was a "frivolous . . . one that the government has no realistic hope of prevailing on."
He also raised concerns that media coverage of the appeal could "prejudice" jurors, who have been warned repeatedly by the presiding judge not to read or listen to coverage of the highly publicized case.
The appeals court has scheduled arguments on the issue Friday, and under D.C. law must act on the appeal by Monday, when the Jordan trial is set to resume.
The two Jordan statements at issue in the appeal, one oral and one on videotape, have been called "the heart" of the prosecution's case. Their admission as evidence was hotly disputed during protracted pretrial arguments.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Eugene Hamilton ordered that portions of the statements could not be used during the trial after finding that police had failed to warn Jordan of his constitutional rights quickly enough while obtaining the statements.
However, on Tuesday Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy S. Berman argued that the defense, in trial testimony it presented, had "opened the door" to using those portions. When Hamilton again ruled against her, Berman decided to appeal.
The defense contends that Jordan was severely debilitated by alcohol withdrawal when he confessed to crimes he did not commit.
On Tuesday, psychiatrist Neil Blumberg, a key defense witness, testified that Jordan was suffering from "alcohol withdrawal delirium," a severe form of withdrawal in which victims often invent stories. He based his findings, in part, on statements made by Jordan about the crime that are known to be untrue, such as where Barnes' body was found.
Berman argued in her appeal that the excluded portions of the statements contain "truthful assertions of fact" by Jordan about the crime, which "give the lie to Dr. Blumberg's conclusion that the defendant's confession" was false. She argued that the prosecution should be allowed to use those portions in questioning Blumberg.
On Tuesday, McComas argued that the defense had opened no new legal doors to allow in the excluded statements and the presiding judge agreed. McComas said that, "What the government is asking for now -- with nothing changed -- is what would end up being a windfall" for the prosecution.