Both closing arguments yesterday in the month-long murder trial of Paul Leon Jordan hit at the galvanizing heart of the case: a one-hour videotape in which Jordan either confesses to two murders, as prosecutors have said, or admits to a crime he did not commit, as the defense has asserted.
In her final plea to jurors, prosecutor Amy S. Berman asked them to "think about this . . . . " Then she flicked a switch, and the image of Jordan appeared on a large television screen in the D.C. Superior Court courtroom. It showed Jordan telling police how he "started cutting on" one victim, and then stabbed a 3-year-old child because "she saw what was what so I had to take care of it, too."
Berman let the dramatic videotape do her talking for a few seconds, then told jurors, "That is your moment of truth," and asked them to find Jordan, a 48-year-old alcoholic from Northwest Washington, guilty of murdering the child, Crystin Fletcher, and a 56-year-old baby sitter, Cora Barnes.
Minutes before, defense attorney James H. McComas had offered jurors his vastly contrasting version of the case involving the murders Jan. 24 in Barnes' home at 4321 Second St. NW.
"When you look at that screen here in the courtroom, Paul Jordan is not telling you he is guilty," McComas told the jury. "What you're seeing is what police got out of him after seven, eight hours of interrogation, lies, false promises, tricks and psychological coercion."
McComas said the defense presented psychiatrists, who testified that Jordan was suffering from a severe form of alcohol withdrawal when he confessed, to give jurors the tools "to understand how an innocent man could falsely confess to a horrible crime."
Both sides completed three hours of closing arguments yesterday, and Superior Court Judge Eugene Hamilton is scheduled to instruct the jurors today. Then they will begin deliberations in the case, which has been marked by conflicting testimony by prosecution and defense psychiatrists about Jordan's condition and by intense legal wrangling over the videotaped statements.
The prosecution has charged that the two victims were killed after the child's cries interrupted lovemaking between Jordan and Barnes, who at that time were neighbors.
As the testimony has unfolded, police and their tactics have been on trial in the courtroom, too.
Yesterday, McComas argued that homicide Detective Joseph Schwartz, to whom Jordan confessed, was the primary detective in a highly publicized case of great interest to police because Crystin was the daughter of two police officers.
Schwartz, he said, needed an arrest and found in Jordan an "emotional . . . vulnerable . . . alcoholic suspect," who ultimately "bought into" a confession that Schwartz had worked out in his own mind. "It doesn't mean that Detective Schwartz thought he got a false confession," McComas added. "He didn't think that then. He doesn't now."
McComas argued that many details in the confession are in conflict with known facts about the crime, and that the prosecution has presented no physical evidence.
Berman countered that Schwartz "didn't do anything but his job" on Feb. 14, the day he interrogated Jordan, and that Jordan also confessed to a number of other people, including his own wife.
Berman argued that the defense "has put Detective Schwartz on trial here" to turn the jury's attention from Jordan and the "brutal murder."
Finally, she asked jurors to look to the videotape. "On that videotape, in clear, coherent intelligible English," she told them, "Mr. Jordan says he's the one who did it."