Compton court hears closing arguments in Arlon Watson Trial

On the final day of arguments in the trial of Arlon Watson, defense attorney Tracy Grayson asked a witness about the height of the man she saw running away from a fast food restaurant in Compton on the night of May 24, 2009.

“I know he wasn’t a midget,” Debra Lindsey testified from the witness stand. She couldn’t remember exactly how tall he was–only that he was taller than her own five-foot-two-inch frame.

In the trial of the accused murderer of Dannie Farber, a high school student fatally shot at a Louisiana Fried Chicken on the 1900 block of West Rosecrans Avenue, the prosecution believes the man

Lindsey saw that night to be Watson, a 22-year-old Compton resident and suspected gang member.

The discrepancy over heights reported by witnesses to Farber’s shooting played heavily into the closing arguments of Watson’s defense.

The prosecution argued that it wasn’t necessary to quibble over such details in reports by traumatized witnesses when there was such compelling evidence that pointed to Watson as the shooter.

Summing up the major points presented in the two-week-long trial, Deputy District Attorney Joe Porras brought up several phone calls made by Watson from jail once he was arrested last year in which he expressed a willingness to “strike a deal” about a possible prison term.

Porras also reminded the jury of testimony from people like Ashley Webb, who last week said that Watson had told her directly that he shot Farber. He emphasized the stigma of snitching in the gang community and how hard it was to get witnesses to come forward. Failing to show up in court after being subpoenaed, Webb was arrested at her college basketball practice and brought to testify.

“That message that you hear starting in kindergarten—‘Don’t tattletale’—has taken a bastardized turn in snitching. There’s the feeling of ‘you could be next,’” Porras said. “One would hope that people would be lining up to testify, but that’s not the reality. A college girl playing basketball should not have to be arrested to do the right thing.”

Liars, and felons and thieves, oh my.

Grayson began his final statement to the jury by saying, “Arlon Watson did not shoot Dannie Farber.”

He went on to call the case against Watson a “sloppy, incompetent mess, ” describing the prosecution’s case as one “built on sand that has now crumbled.”

Returning to the discrepancies in the reports of the height of the shooter, Grayson assured the jury that this was not a minor detail, pointing to Watson and saying, “Someone’s life is at stake, he’s looking at life.”

The statement evoked swift admonishment from Judge Eleanor Hunter, who said that Grayson should know better than to bring up potential sentencing of the defendant, since such talk could affect a jury’s decision.

Unshaken, Grayson went back to claiming a lack of evidence and describing the people brought by the prosecution to testify as a “band of liars, felons and thieves, oh my.” He insisted they were all being paid and offered rewards for their witness services.

Farber’s girlfriend was with him when he was shot, and Grayson brought up differences between the defendant and the description of the shooter she gave to detectives. Grayson said Watson had a tattoo on his neck and a goatee, but the girlfriend described a clean-shaven man with no tattoo.

Grayson continued to question the credibility of witnesses, making frequent references to a multi-page checklist he kept at a podium. He also claimed phrases from Watson’s calls from jail were taken out of context by people who didn’t know Compton slang. He also wondered aloud why the prosecution didn’t call more witnesses to corroborate Webb’s story and accused Webb of lying, saying she was “smart enough to keep her story simple.”

When addressing the fact that Watson tried to run away when arrested by police, Grayson said, “Call me crazy, but black men from the hood don’t often trust police.”

At the end of his hour-long final argument, Grayson said to the jury, “Mr. Porras failed miserably in convincing you Watson is guilty.” He raised his voice slightly and concluded, “There is tons of reasonable doubt in this case.”

Verdict expected soon

In the prosecution’s final statement to the jury, Porras responded to Grayson, shaking his head and musing, “Listening to that, I have to wonder, were we watching the same trial?”

Porras said witnesses were not paid off and that Grayson’s lengthy final argument was “just odd” and “delusional.” Again citing the difficulty of finding witnesses for fear of being labeled a snitch, Porras reminded the jury of Randy Wells, who had to be relocated outside of his Compton neighborhood, believing his safety to be at risk after testifying.

The neck tattoo Grayson mentioned is actually behind Watson’s ear, Porras said. He also said the slang phrase from the jail calls Grayson called into question, “off the hook,” did not actually appear in the transcripts of the calls.

He encouraged the jury to rise above excuses and issues of racism. “At some point, people will be accountable for what they do.”

He ended by reminding the court of Watson’s phone calls one more time. “Someone who says, ‘I’ll take a deal for anywhere in the neighborhood of 30 years’—really? That’s someone who didn’t do it?”

The jury will reconvene tomorrow morning to deliberate.

Outside the courtroom at the end of the day, Farber’s aunt, Roxane Winston, said she thought the jury would arrive quickly at a guilty verdict.

“The evidence speaks for itself,” Winston said.

Photo: Arlon Watson, at his arraignment in February 2010. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times

More stories on the Arlon Watson trial:

Arlon Watson given long sentence for murder of Compton teenager

Arlon Watson trial offers glimpse of gang life in Compton

Arlon Watson trial offers glimpse of gang life in Compton

Ashley Webb did not enter the courtroom through the main door. She came in through the cage on the side of the room—a distinguishing feature of the courtrooms on the 10th floor of the Compton Courthouse, one of the two levels in the building dubbed “high security.”

Deputy District Attorney Joseph Porras asked the petite 21-year-old to describe what she was wearing to the jury.

Looking down at her orange jumpsuit, Webb replied, “Jail clothes. And handcuffs.”

“And were you wearing jail clothes yesterday?” the Porras asked.

Webb responded that she was not. She was visibly shaking because she was here to testify for the prosecution.

Pop culture or gang culture?

imageWebb’s testimony was part of the continuing trial of Arlon Watson, a 22-year-old Compton resident charged with the 2009 shooting death of Dannie Farber, Jr., a Narbonne High School senior and star football player.

The Sunday night of Memorial Day Weekend two years ago, Farber was eating dinner at a Louisiana Fried Chicken on Rosecranz and Central avenues in Compton with his girlfriend. According to prosecutors, Watson walked in the restaurant and asked Farber where he was from. Farber stood up and responded that he “didn’t gangbang,” but moments later he was shot and killed. Farber’s family and friends say he was not involved in gang activities at all, but pictures on several online social networking websites show Farber throwing gang signs and wearing lots of red, a color commonly associated with the gang the Bloods. Prosecutors say Watson was involved with a rival gang, the Crips.

When Watson appeared in court in February 2010 for his arraignment, he sported a county-issued blue jumpsuit and bushy hair. At the trial on Thursday he wore more formal courtroom attire with his hair in braids and black, square-framed glasses. He spent much of the day hunched over, resting his elbows on his knees.

Before testimony began, Porras warned Farber’s family and friends that he would be showing graphic pictures of Farber from immediately after the shooting. Several family members chose to sit outside during the presentation.

The morning’s first testimony came from Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Kenneth Roller. Roller confirmed that he and another officer were the first on the scene at the fast food restaurant the night of May 24, 2009. He arrived within 45 seconds of receiving the call of a shooting, but Farber did not appear to be breathing when he reached him. Roller identified around eight photographs he had taken that night, several showing spent shell casings that would have come from a semi-automatic gun. As the pictures became more graphic—close-ups showing Farber lying in pool of blood with several gunshot wounds to the chest–more of Farber’s family stepped outside the courtroom.

Roller said there was nothing about Farber’s outfit that night that jumped out as gang-related.
“He was wearing faded jeans and a white T-shirt. Gang members do wear outfits like that, but it’s also a look that’s in popular culture. My sons wear that outfit sometimes.”

Guardian angels

Sitting outside the courtroom during a lunch break, Farber’s grandmother, Michelle Malveaux, looked exhausted. She managed to smile and laugh weakly as younger family members cracked jokes.

“We’re all here,” Malveaux said. “Grandmas, Aunt Myrtle, and friends that are like family. They’ve been my guardian angels.”

Malveaux has been in court every day since the trial began on Monday. She’s not sure how long it will last.

“Definitely into next week,” she said. “Joe [Porras] may have told me the schedule, but things tend to go in one ear and out the other these days.”

Raffi Djabourian, forensic pathologist with Los Angeles Department of Coroner performed the autopsy on Farber. He confirmed in his testimony this afternoon that Farber died of three gunshot words, including one that severed his aorta and would have caused Farber to be brain-dead almost instantly because of loss of blood. Pictures from autopsy accompanied his testimony.

Watching from the back row of the courtroom, Malveaux pulled her sweater up and over her eyes, as if hiding under a blanket.

On a good day

Webb had been asked to appear in court on Monday. When she did not show up again after being served a subpoena at a basketball practice at a local college, she was arrested last night and taken to the Compton Sheriff’s Department. Webb had never spent time in jail before.

When asked why she didn’t show up to testify, Webb said that she was scared and worried about the safety of her mom and brother.

Webb grew up in Compton in the territory of a gang known as the Tragniew Park Crips. She knows many Crips, including some of her friends, but said she has never been involved in gang activity. She knew Watson by his nickname, A-Whack, and knew he was associated with the Crips.

Several nights after the shooting, Webb was hanging out with friends, including Watson, in her front yard. While her friends were discussing the shooting, someone asked Watson if he had pulled the trigger. Webb said that Watson told her he did. 
She also said Watson had called Farber a “slob,” a term Crips use to disrespect members of their rival gang, the Bloods.

Webb never went to authorities with the information for fear of being labeled a snitch. She said she had heard stories since middle school about the bad things that happen to people who tell on others in her neighborhood.

Just over a year ago, in early January 2010, Webb said the knowledge of what Watson said he had done began to weigh heavily on her. After encouragement from a friend, she spoke to a detective in the Los Angeles Police Department.

In October 2009, Webb was arrested for breaking into a house, but the DA rejected the case and charges were dropped. Webb denied she had been offered any sort of bargain or promised the incident would never come to trial.

Before she left the stand, Porras touched again the seriousness of snitching in the gang community. He asked Webb how tall she was.

“Five one-and-half,” she said. “On a good day.”

Testimony will continue into next week. If Watson is convicted as charged, he faces a maximum prison term of 50 years to life, according to the DA’s office.

Photo courtesy of Scott Varley / Torrance Daily Breeze