Lies, said the prosecutor -- lies inspired by loyalty and self-interest. A "hastily put together, fabricated defense."
Desperation, said the defense attorney -- a grasping prosecution, desperate for one man's conviction. "Prosecutorial zeal unlike any I have ever seen... it is understandable, in the heat of advocacy, but it is not fair, and it is not right."
With those parting salvos, the two sides in the murder trial of Black Panther Party founder Huey P. Newton today gave closing arguments to the mostly white jury that for the last two weeks had watched this remarkable cause unfold.
Assailing inconsistencies and questioning witnesses' motives, defense attorney Michael Kennedy and prosecutor Tom Orloff took turns dissecting each other's versions of Newton's whereabouts in the early morning hours of Aug. 6, 1974, when a 17-year-old prostitute named Kathleen Smith was shot on the street corner as she waited for customers.
The jury retired at 6:50 p.m. (EST). Although Orloff had asked them to find Newton guilty of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of seven years to life, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Carl Anderson instructed them that they also must consider first-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life.
In a controlled but eloquent plea for acquittal, Kennedy told the jury that Newton could not possibly have murdered Kathleen Smith, that two witnesses had testified he was working with them at the time of the shooting -- and that the case against his client, shoddy to begin with, had proceeded to "disintegrate in front of your eyes, in front of mine, and to the amazement of us all."
Who were the eyewitnesses against Newton, Kennedy demanded. There was the former prositute Michelle Jenkins, 16 years old at the time of the shooting, who stunned the entire courtroom two days ago by declaring that she had been "tricked" into identifying Smith's shooter as Newton when in fact she was not sure who she had seen on the street corner that night. "I don't know when, if ever, she told us the truth," Kennedy said.
And there was Carles or Lee Buie, Kennedy said -- "a drug dealer, a gun dealer, a small-time pimp who procures men for women and takes money as a result." Buie's character had been decimated by a former neighbor and a former employer, Kennedy said. And Buie had fingered Newton as a murderer because Buie himself was the man who shot Smith, Kennedy said.
"It's like in the old western movies, when the posse comes running by and they're looking for the bank robber and the bank robber has taken off his mask, and he's standing behind a rock, and he says, 'They went that-a-way,'" the defense attorney said.
Newton fled to Cuba in 1974 after being charged with the shooting out of "fear for his own safety," Kennedy said. Newton lived during those years in a climate of intense animosity toward the police, Kennedy said. "Mr. Newton was at that point, I think we can say, paranoid," he said. "You cannot convict Mr. Newton because he was afraid."
Orloff, in his closing argument and a strong rebuttal to Kennedy's statement, acknowledged that his chief eye-witness, Buie, had at best a checkered past. "There's an old saying," he said. "When a play is cast in hell, you can't expect to have angles for actors."
Each of the defense witnesses had some motive for lying, Orloff said -- loyalty to Newton, or self-interest.
And why, Orloff asked finally, would Newton have committed such an act? "As Mr. Kennedy himself said, Mr. Newton at the time was kind of paranoid," he said.
"And when a little prostitute told him that she didn't care who he was, she was out there for her purpose, doing her purpose, she didn't care who he was, and called him a punk --"
Orloff stood squarely in front of the jury and slapped his hands together once. "That's all it took," he said, his voice very low. "That's all it took."