Sunday, June 25, 2017

Terror Off the Nature Trail - The Trial

(continued from: Witness for the State)

Why was I nervous?

Woke up normal time on the day of the trial.  Coffee.  Bagel.  Shower.  Shave.  But I was off, could feel it.  Why was I actually trying to figure out what to wear?  I never really try to figure out what to wear, I typically just grab anything that sort of matches, maybe.  I suppose just a general feeling of uneasiness totally consumed me.  I don’t know, it was just weird like no other day before.  But then again I never testified against anyone in court before.

Drove up to the county courthouse and true to form, was early.  Grabbed another coffee and just hung around the courthouse and observed everything that was going on.  Again, I had never been down this road before.  It was surreal.

I finally made my way to the ADA’s office and signed in.  The ADA was not at his desk so the receptionist told me to have a seat and he’d be back shortly.  Thoughts began racing through my mind of how this trial was going to unfold.  The truth, I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen.  Sure, just like virtually everyone else in America, I’d seen many courtroom trials on TV.  But in reality, none of that seemed to fit with what I was experiencing at that moment.

The ADA showed up, dressed sharp, maybe a better description would be, dressed slick.  Thoughts of used car salesman came to my mind, not sure why.  This was just another day for him, no big deal.   

He took me into his office and started to explain how things were going to happen.  Although I really did want to know all of this, my mind for some reason was not ready to receive it.  It was similar to when the teacher spoke on a Peanuts cartoon.  Wa-wa wa,wa,wa wa-wa-wa.  This was just strange.  He kept going on and eventually I did zone in to what he was saying.  The biggest thing that stood out was, I could not stay for the trial after I testify.  What?  Why not?  Well apparently it’s the law or at least how it works.   Once I was finished testifying, I would be dismissed from the court.  But I wanted to watch how all of this played out.  Oh well, that was not what was going to happen.

Next he started what seemed to be like “coaching”.  My brain quickly started wondering is this how it’s suppose to work?  Is this allowed?  What if the defense attorney asks me if I was coached?   What will I say?   Stop already!  Just stop, over thinking all of this.

After he was through “coaching” me I asked him about the defense attorney.  His answers led me to believe that these guys face each all the time in court and it is a competition, more or less, between them.  I sort of got the feeling that it was feasible that these guys would actually go out for beers from time to time and each brag about their wins.  

The trial started, a little time went by and I was called to the stand.

There I stood just like the movies, “do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…”.

Does anyone ever answer “no” to this question?

First up was the prosecuting attorney, that was a piece of cake.  Heck, I was his witness.  Kid glove questions, just the facts, he lead me through exactly what he wanted me to say.  And that part was over.

Next up, the defense attorney.  That was a totally different story.

With his first question, I was so confused.  This was nothing like I envisioned it.

“How old are you?”

His words were direct like a sharp shooting arrow.  My brain immediately went I’m not sure where, but it definitely was not what I expected.

So I answered “49”.

Next he asked “what do you do for a living?”

Okay, okay, he was just getting preliminary info out of the way, I thought.

I answered, “I’m a college instructor”.

“What do you teach?”

I replied “Business Information Systems”.

Next he goes into his first line of defense but starts it with “so old professor Scott, how long were running on that incredibly hot August morning at the park?”

“Old professor Scott”, what is that all about I thought?  And what was the question about how long I was running about?  I still could not wrap my brain around where he was going and what he was trying to do.  So I answered him honestly and said “I was only out for a 45 minute run, maybe about 30 minutes into it”.  

He said, “do you run much?”

My reply was “I’m training for a half marathon, so I run a fair amount”.

His facial expression changed.  In hindsight, especially because my hair was mostly gray (looked old) and I was running in the summertime Atlanta heat, after 30-45 minutes of running, how that heck could I process anything accurately, especially a shooting, was where he was going with this.  Old, exhausted, profusely sweating was the picture I think he was trying to paint for the jury to discredit my testimony.  But when I told him I was training for a half marathon, that was a surprise to him and it totally changed his game plan.  It was at that point where he dropped this and moved on to another angle.

Next he started asking questions about how I taught my classes at the college.  He did ask numerous questions.  

I was very confused at that point.  He was not asking anything about what I witnessed that day in the park.  Where was he going with this?  Why was he not asking about the park?  My brain was swimming.

The question that stood out the most was a leading question that went like this, “so old professor Scott, isn’t it true that before you give a test to your class, you have to cover all of the material that would be on that test”?

What is this guy doing?   That was a stupid question.  It’s like asking if water is wet.  So I answered the question “yes”.

I do not recall the exact amount of time his questioning took.  Time froze and time went on forever.  It was surreal.  Time did not exist.  

When he concluded, I was dismissed from the court.  The problem was, I was wired, wired like I’d never been before.  I wanted to stay and see how this whole process was going to play out.  But I was not allowed.

Wired.  What to do, what to do?  It was only about 10:00 AM, really could not go to bar and have them line up shots for me (not that I’ve ever done that, but the thought did cross my mind) so that wasn’t really an option.  Instead I went to a Starbucks and knocked down shots of espresso.

No other day of my life was like this one.

Back home hours later, late in the day, I called the ADA.  Actually I was hoping he’d call me, but he didn’t.  I said “what happened?”

The ADA simply said, “he was found guilty”.

This really was not a surprise given what had happened.  I asked the ADA what was up with the defense attorney’s questioning of me especially the question about teaching all the material before giving a test.  

He laughed and said “he quoted you in his summation”.  

What?  How?   But I was a witness for the prosecution.  

He basically said “just like old professor Scott told us, you have cover all the material before you give a test, just like in this case you have to have all the facts and ladies and gentlemen, we do not have all the facts”.

My brain went bonkers!   Now I did need to those shots!   On some level I actually felt violated.  How could this SOB use my words to support his case?  Wow!  

Then the ADA went on to say, "but that’s not all".  After he was found guilty, there was some stipulation that allowed sentencing to take place after a short recess.  Well during that recess, the accused, who had a heart condition and took nitroglycerin pills for it, decided to consume an entire bottle of nitroglycerin pills in an attempt to commit suicide.   

They rushed him to the hospital, they pumped his stomach, he did not die.  In the end, he did end up going to jail.

Justice was served.

As I said in the very beginning of this, I cannot go by this area without hearing that gunshot in my mind.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Terror off the Nature Trail - Witness for the State

On September 25, 1789, the Congress of the United States passed the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution granting a cluster of rights to the accused, one of which was the right to a speedy trial.  However, the accused in this case, probably at the advice of his lawyer, waived that right and that began a long, drawn out 15 month process.  A lot can happen in 15 months.

Just as the detective mentioned, I did get a follow up call on what I witnessed.  The call came from one of our Assistant District Attorneys (ADA) who filled me in on the details of the case.

As it turned out, the woman was married to the gunman but had a restraining order against him.  The man walking with her was a coworker.  Pieces of the puzzle were falling into place.

They ADA also mentioned that the woman had agreed to press charges and since he pleaded not guilty, there would be a trial at some point and I would be needed as a witness.  One other thing he mentioned, the accused had bonded out of jail.

An uneasy feeling came over me in regards to the accused bonding out.  However, I did not mention any of this to the ADA.  The ADA said he would stay in contact as the case progressed.

Months went by without any word on the trial, which was fine by me.  As the time progressed though, I found that I was feeling more and more uneasy about testifying.  Thoughts of retribution, if I testified against this guy in open court, lingered in my mind.  Fear.

About this time I had other thoughts on my mind totally unrelated to the trial.  The rumors of more layoffs at work were getting stronger and more frequent.  This was a punch in the gut to me as one of the main reasons I joined Hewlett-Packard was the fact that since Bill Hewlett and David Packard started the company in 1939, they never had a layoff.  Instead they would do an across the board 10% reduction in pay and employees would take a day off work every other week until things improved.  I sure liked that approach.

A few more months passed without any further word on the trial so I decided to call the ADA.  I asked if something happened and maybe I was off the hook for testifying.   I was hoping that was the case.  The ADA said there was a setback in the case.  The woman decided she no longer wanted to  press charges.  The ADA said this happens from time to time in domestic abuse cases where the accused promises a change, won’t do it again, is sorry, etc.  The ADA said that the state was going to bring charges against the guy specifically for, not only carrying a gun in a government owned park, but also for firing it at someone.  I was not off the hook.  He said he’d get back to me as plan “B” progressed.

About a month after that I was laid off from my job at Hewlett-Packard, one of the approximately 30,000 people who were laid off during Carly Fiorina’s reign as the first CEO to be hired from outside the company.  Just my luck.

In retrospect, I suppose I did have some luck.  Prior to the layoff, I was already a part time instructor at a nearby college, teaching two nights a week.  It was sort of like a hobby to me, I enjoyed it, and made a few bucks.  Well the luck was that one of the full-time professors in my discipline was retiring at the end of the semester and they needed to replace him quickly.  I was hired as a “term-to-term” Instructor.  That was the good news, the bad news, I took about a 50% cut in pay.  But I had a job and benefits.

This extended waiting period for the trial continued with very little communication from the ADA.  I suppose this is what can happen when a speedy trial is waived and the accused is not sitting in a jail cell.  Once again, the guy being out of jail was bothering more and more.  I started wondering if he was at the park when I went up there for a run.  My paranoia was increasing.   Since I saw him at a distance when the crime happened, I vaguely knew what he looked like.  Did he know I was going to testify against him?  Could he find out who I was?  Could he look me up, maybe find a picture of me?  From time to time I would see guys at the park that basically fit his description and wonder.  Paranoia is strange thing and I think I tended to think about the worst-case scenarios.  Fear.

The ADA called to let me know that the state’s case was moving along and it would not be too long before a trial date was set.  My paranoia had gotten the best of me by that point and I told him about it.  I started dancing around the idea of not testifying.  He did not like that and was armed with a comeback, “we’ll subpoena you”.  And he went through the whole civic duty thing too.  He also said if the guy does try anything with me, they’d do something about it.  Are you kidding me?  What?  How?  When?  What if I’m already dead from this guy shooting me at the park?  Hey, he’s already tried it once.  I did not like this at all.

The new job was going well except there was one glitch.  I was only a term-to-term hire which meant they would have to re-hire me each term.  Again, a bit more luck came my way.  The college did get the approval to post this job as a full-time, permanent, tenure-track instructor position.   It was a long process but I applied, interviewed, and was offered the tenure-track position.

So there I was, almost 50, way older than the typical new hire tenure-track instructor.  After working in corporate America for the prior 25 years, I had a lot to learn about academia.

One of the things I learned quickly, this tenure-track thing is a game where they make all the rules and if you want tenure, you will conform.  So besides teaching a full load and a few extra courses (for a little bit more money) I was coached, pushed, nudged to get my name “out there” anyway I could.  That meant getting on as many committees as I could and pretty much volunteering for anything that came along.

In the Fall semester each year the college had a Faculty Development Day.  There were no student classes on that day.  Part of that day was dedicated to presenting topics and faculty members would select which topics they wanted to attend.  Since someone had to present the topics, meaning they research something and develop a presentation, and the fact that I was now on that hey look at me, get your name known, tenure-track, I volunteered to present a topic.  I came up with a topic, did the research, created the presentation, everything was good to go for my first Faculty Development Day presentation.

Shortly after that the ADA called me and told me that the trial date had been set.  And, you may have guessed it, the trial date was the same day as the Faculty Development Day.  Wonderful, just wonderful.  So now this trial was causing me negative publicity for the tenure process as I had to back out of my presentation slot.  

How did I get myself into this?

---continued on---  The Trial

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Terror off the Nature Trail - The Crime

This is a true story.  It happened to me in a suburban park north of Atlanta in 2003.  I can't go by the area where it happened without hearing a gunshot - in my mind...

I was working from home for a Hewlett-Packard R&D lab out of the San Francisco Bay Area, so I had the flexibility of going to the park for a jog in the earlier part of the day.  This was a good thing as Atlanta summers can be brutally hot.

One week-day August morning, I headed to Bunten Road Park for a 45-minute run.  At the time, I was training for a half-marathon, so a 45-minute run was not that big of a deal - more on that later.  The park had a one mile blacktop path and a half mile trail section - the Nature Trail.

I always changed-up my route: sometimes on the blacktop path; other times on the trail in the woods; sometimes I switched directions; anything to make the run a bit more interesting.  Because it was a weekday morning, there were only a few others on the path, but I noticed one couple in particular, because I had passed by them a few times earlier.  They were simply walking and talking, quite normally, doing nothing out of the ordinary.  I was about 30 minutes into my run when I came off the nature trail and onto the blacktop and passed the couple again.  As I did so, I heard a third person calling out to get their attention, and I saw a guy in my peripheral vision.  It appeared as if the three knew each other and were exchanging a friendly greeting.  By the time I was about 30-40 feet past the couple, I heard it.  Someone fired a gun.

My brain immediately went into massive overdrive.

I remember stopping and turning around to look.

The woman was screaming; the man she was with had dropped to his knees.  I saw the other man moving towards the couple.  Right, wrong, or indifferent, my brain pieced together that the second guy was the one with the gun.

Fear had taken over.  What should I do?  Stay?  Go towards them - to help?  Run away?  Thoughts were racing through my head at lightning speed.  I was scared.

One thought came to the forefront - get to a phone and call for help.  I turned and sprinted away in search of a phone.  The thought of getting shot in the back was real.  The gunman had seen me.

I sprinted about 100 yards and noticed a police phone box on the restroom building.  Great!  I was out of the line of fire by then and all I needed to do was get to that phone and report the incident.  The police phone box was locked!  WHAT??  I sprinted away to look for help and came to a baseball field where I saw a guy on a riding lawnmower cutting the grass.  I was in luck - he had his cell phone and called 911.

At that point, my thought process got weird and more confused.  What do I do now?  There's a man in the park with a gun that he’s already fired.  I don’t know if anyone was hit, dead, in pain, or in need of help.

I jogged to the upper parking lot where I’d parked my car, and noticed two women who had just arrived for their morning run/walk.  I told them what had happened and advised them to delay their run.  In hindsight, it must have been surreal for them to be standing in that quiet county park, where nothing ever happens, listening to stranger tell them this story.  Shortly after that I saw multiple police cars flying into the park.  I was relieved.

I don’t recall checking my heartrate, (I always ran with a heartrate monitor strapped around my chest) but I’m sure it was probably through the roof.  The adrenaline rush was wild.  I headed around to the front of the park, out of the line of sight from where everything took place, looking for - I’m not sure what, but I needed to know what happened.  Eventually I saw a group of police officers and other people scattered around in the area where the shot was fired.  The situation appeared to be under control, so I made my way over to them.  I noticed the Parks & Recreation Director, whom I knew, so I asked her about the current situation.  The good news was that no one was injured or killed.  The gunman had actually missed, and the police had him in handcuffs.  When I told her what I’d seen and heard, she immediately took me to one of the detectives.

The questions began, and the detective wrote down everything I told him.  When he was through, he told me not to be surprised if I got a follow up call as a crime had been committed and I was a witness.

continued in Witness for the State

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Strong4Life Superhero Sprint 5K

Yesterday I hopped on Marta to the Midtown Station and then headed east to Piedmont Park for the Strong4Life Superhero Sprint 5K.  Joining 1,077 others for the 5th annual race/event hosted by CHOA (Children's Healthcare of Atlanta) supporting Atlanta's Strong4Life Program, which is designed to help eliminate childhood obesity.  A very good cause.

As I was walking past the Flying Biscuit on 10th Street, a woman, who looked like she was in need of directions said to me "do you know where Piedmont Park is".  She was dressed in race day garb so I said "are you doing the race", she said "yes".  So I said "me too, we'll find it together".  Her name was Marie and as we made our way to the park she told me that this was her first race in about 30-40 years.  Wow!  Co-workers convinced her to get out there and do this.  As we got closer, heard music in the distance and a feeling of comfort came over us as good, we're in the right place and almost there.  The music got louder and before long we saw the starting line, the balloons, tents, and hundreds of people getting ready for the race.  I wished her luck for this, her first 5K in 30-40 years and went off to find the race day registration line.

All signed up, four safety pins, race bib on, ready to go.  It did not take long to notice there were a lot of people in capes and/or dressed up as superheroes.  Man, I left my cape at home!  I actually have one from a race I did a year or two ago.  Oh well.  But this all made sense, after all "Superhero" was part of the name of this race :)

Themed races.  Fun, and kids really seemed to like it too.

9:00 AM rolled around and we were off.  Headed out of the park, took a right on 10th as the race course was actually on the roads around Piedmont Park.  The first mile kind of sucked as it was all uphill, not really steep, but none the less, uphill.  I hate hills when doing these races!  I only like the downhill parts.

As we headed north on Piedmont couldn't help but hear some kids from a balcony in one of the buildings we passed.

"Hey Superman, you suck!"

"Hey Flash, is that all you got?  Come on, you can go faster than that!"

Kids...  However, it's probably something I would have done as kid.

Just after mile one, downhill!  Yay!  So although this blog is about "Walking" I have been doing a bit more running, especially in shorter races, more specifically on the downhill parts.  It sort of feels like I'm cheating on my blog!  Anyway, my left knee is holding up, it feels pretty good, no pain.  Not sure how much running I'll do moving forward.  Time will tell.

Finished the race with a time of 37:14.  Once again, for me, pretty happy with that time.  In my head, my goal more or less has been to finish under 40 minutes.  So this is good.

It was really hot during the race so they were handing out ice cold bottles of water.  It was really good!  Refreshing!  Made my way over to the post race goodies tables and immediately zeroed in on the watermelon.  That was even better than the water.  Looking around the spread noticed bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, blueberries, watermelon, and carrot sticks.  Typically post race spreads include all kinds of not-so-healthy choices, of course justified by just burning off a bunch of calories.  But then I remembered the theme of this race - eliminating childhood obesity.  So it made sense and I am glad they did not include all of those high sugar, high fat, high calorie choices.  It was the right thing to do.

The race was over for me, although they still had the Fun Run for the kids coming up, the race awards, and the best costume contest, decided to head back to the Midtown Marta Station.

Crossing over Peachtree Street came across a fun sight, the Margaret Mitchell House.  She referred to it as "The Dump".  Of course this is where she wrote Gone With the Wind from the bottom floor.

Margaret Mitchell House
Wonder if she ever came out on that back porch to think about what she was going to write?



Back home, showered, checked results for official time only to discover that I placed 3rd in the male 60-64 category.  Darn, I should have stayed for the race awards!