Last Wednesday, a Hampden Superior Court jury returned with a verdict in a case of alleged unarmed robbery of a person 60 years old or older.
The cast of this particular drama included two defendants. They were Aretha Hallums, 40, and Donald Alford, 55. Cast in the role of victim was the elder Edward Foster, formerly of Springfield. The scene of the facts at issue was outside the Bay Street Social Club at Bay and Catherine streets, apparently an unlicensed bar.
Particularly helpful for the jury, I would imagine, was that both defendants testified in their own behalf…each contradicting the other.
Defense counsel set the stage during her opening statement, explaining that the jury would hear a case of “sex for money for drugs that went awry”
Mr. Foster testified that he went to the Bay Street Social Club, which he called a place to dance, socialize and drink, in on one particular November afternoon. “It wasn’t a fancy place”, he explained. “It’s kind of run down. It turns out, by the way, that it was also unlicensed.
Mr. Foster went on to describe how the club let him purchase drinks on a tab and “when your check comes you pay what you owe for the month.” However, this simple happy scene changed. An afternoon of drinking and socializing turned to a beating when he was beaten and robbed when he went outside at Ms. Hallums’ request. He identified Ms. Hallums and Mr. Alford as the robbers to police.
Ms. Hallums testified that she knew Foster and he had paid her for sex on a number of previous occasions. “Mr. Foster used to be my trick. … I used the money to get high,” she said. She further told the jury that Foster himself wanted crack and that he and Alford pooled their money, totaling $20, and the three of them went onto Catherine Street where they bought crack. She testified that after they smoked the crack, Alford demanded money from Foster, and then punched Foster repeatedly. On cross examination, she also admitted that she had been convicted previously of distribution of cocaine.
When it became his turn at bat, Mr. Alford testified that Foster asked him what he needed to do to get sex from Hallums and he told him to get crack. He said that after he divided the crack between himself, Foster and Hallums they separated. He said Foster and Hallums went to a back hallway and he thought they went to have sex.
He said he went back and saw Foster grabbing Hallums shirt, so, being the gentleman that he is, he grabbed Foster. He claimed that Foster then hit him. He simply hit Foster back and left.
The jury did not go for either defense scenario, however. After several hours of deliberation, they found Ms. Hallums and Mr. Alford guilty of assaulting Mr. Foster. They did, however, acquit Ms. Hallums on a second charge, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon… her cane.
Sentencing for the two is set for this Friday
This is not the typical age group for such money-sex-crack triangles. However, if you are looking for…let’s call it “love”…an unlicensed drinking establishment where you do not even have to pay for your drinks until the end of the month is probably not the best of places…especially if you are going to “step outside” with strange women who have a drug history, to buy crack. Many people come to that realization by the time they obtain the age of 60 years. Perhaps the unlikely descriptions are what brought the jury to its decision that Mr. Foster’s version was the more believable.
That is not what today’s blog is about, however. I was not there. I do not know. I do, however, know jury trials and how they work…or don’t work. So, that is what today’s missive is about – specifically your right to testify at your trial.
Many criminal defendants insist on testifying on their own behalf at trial. It is, of course, their right to choose to either testify or not to testify. Sometimes, it is simply the need to express their “side of the story”. Other times it is a fear that the jury will hold it against them if they do not testify.
The decision, however, needs to be made soberly and with an experienced trial attorney. There have been many cases in which defeat is clutched out of the jaws of victory by a defendant’s testimony. If the jury does not like you when you testify, or they decide you are not being entirely truthful with them, it will hurt you. I have seen this occur even in cases in which the jurors were ready to acquit because they did not believe the defendant had been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt…until he/she testified.
True, a jury will be told by the judge that it is the Commonwealth’s burden to prove the defendant guilty and that the burden does not shift. However, a defendant who testifies puts his/her own credibility on the line. If the jury detects falsehood they tend to ask themselves why the need for that falsehood. As I have written previously, it is the perception of the evidence that sways juries. If their perception is that they do not like the defendant because the defendant has lied to them, that defendant is likely to feel the sting of that dislike by way of guilty verdict.
A jury is also told by the judge that the defendant has a Constitutional right not to testify and that they cannot hold it against him/her. While in some cases it does make a difference if the jury does not hear from the defendant, I find that jurors usually are able to follow the judge’s admonition not to consider a defendant’s lack of testimony.
If you decide to testify on your own behalf at your trial…you had better know what you are doing and the risks involved.
When I was a prosecutor in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1980’s, I would love it when defendants would testify and contradict each other. It made my job easier. When defendants point the finger of blame at each other, the jury is usually happy to agree with both of them…and put them both away.
The full article of this story can be found at