Anatomy of a Trial: Griesa Jury Picked, Witnesses Called

Posted with permission from Notable Trials A jury of eight women and four men with an unusually large number of alternate jurors includ...

Posted with permission from Notable Trials

A jury of eight women and four men with an unusually large number of alternate jurors including four men and one woman was sworn in Thursday morning. Opening statements immediately followed.

If defendant Joseph Griesa’s chances of escaping the numerous sex and tax charges he faces were to be judged by the quality of the opening statements by prosecutor John Vacek and defense attorney Charles Smith then one would assume Griesa will walk.

Vacek was curiously vague and rambling. At times he was barely audible.

His loudest moment was not bringing home how he intended to prove Mitchell Towing Service executive Griesa’s guilt of molesting several under-aged girls, but directing the jury’s attention to the fact that attorney Jesse Santana, was sitting in the gallery.

Santana and attorney David Vasquez are accused in a separate but related case of conspiring to unlawfully wangle $100,000 from Griesa for one of the teenagers he is alleged to have sexually battered.

He did mention how he intended to show, among other things, how in a bizarre incident in January 2007 Griesa struck victim SA in the face and then held a knife to her throat, displayed a handgun and bragged about having friends in high place to discourage her from complaining to anyone.

This all took place in his office at Mitchell Towing in Marysville, Vacek said.

Vacek cited two other minors, JS and GL, who were allegedly sexually victimized by Griesa in 2006 and 2007.

The complaints about Griesa first emerged when SA went to Marysville Police Department Detective Randall Elliott in September 2007 with information about the molestation and a cell phone containing sexually suggestive text messages from Griesa.

The tax charges in Griesa’s grand jury indictment involved paying at least one employee, SA, off the books, sometimes in cash, sometimes by check under another employee names.

Defense Attorney’s opening statement on the other hand was forceful, clear and concise.

The 18-count indictment and the prosecution’s claims were “all bark and no bite,” Smith said.

Smith, too, sought to divert the jury’s attention away from Griesa and to Santana seated in the gallery.

Smith characterized Griesa as a victim of a “corrupt scheme” by lawyers seeking to extort money from him.

He also accused the prosecution of manufacturing false evidence and suppressing other evidence that would exonerate his client – strong words.

Smith’s opening statement was halted for the lunch break and was resumed in the afternoon.

He gave examples of how the prosecution had hyped up the charges against his client.

For example, a portion of the 14 sex-related charges brought against Griesa involve two 14-year-old “runaway” girls who spent the night at Griesa’s home.

The prosecution claims Griesa hid the girls from their parents. In fact, they were at the Griesa’s home with Griesa’s similarly-aged son and some other boys. They had cell phones with them and could have called home any time they wanted to, Smith noted.

Rather than a predator, Griesa – a former Sutter County probation officer – was instead a “mentor” for kids with a history of coaching youth football teams.

In the afternoon session hammered again at the lawyers – whom he referred to as “handlers” – who attempted negotiate a $100,000 deal with Griesa.

“Her handlers (were) presenting false evidence,” Smith said, adding that SA’s “story grew.” When questioned about certain claims she was making, she allegedly said, “My lawyer helped me remember it.”

This case was “not about truth and justice. It’s all about money,” Smith said.

The first witness called was 23-year veteran MPD Detective Randall “Randy” Elliott, who testified a California Highway Patrol officer who was passing word along from a Mitchell’s tow truck operator who was concerned about what was going on in the office.

Contact was made and Elliott described a one and a half-hour interview conducted with SA in November 2007. Her sister and mother were present.

He listened to a cell phone recording SA kept of a long conversation with Griesa and numerous text messages from Griesa. He read out to the jury a long list of the text messages made between August and November 2007.

Elliott said he wanted to follow up with a “pretext” call from SA to Griesa, apparently to draw out statements blameworthy statements from him. That call never came off.

Photos were of bruises on SA’s forearm and leg.

He tried to get an interview with Griesa, but Griesa’s attorney, David Vasquez asked that the meeting be delayed. He was going on a sea cruise, but would contact Elliott on his return.

Elliott said that in the meantime he got a call from Santana saying his client, SA, no longer wanted to prosecute. She wanted instead to move to the San Francisco bay area where was to attend school.

Santana had advised SA “not to talk to you,” Elliott alleged.

A thorny issue in the SA case is whether Elliott had at one point advised SA not to pursue her criminal allegations against Griesa, but pursue a civil complaint against him.

In his testimony Thursday, Elliott denied doing that.

When Vasquez did get later get back to Elliott, he informed the detective that “a civil compromise” had been reached.

“It seemed all on the up and up,” Elliott testified.

However, when the experienced detective reported his findings to Police Chief Wallace Fullerton, he was told he was wrong.

The chief told him “You can’t buy your way out of a sexual assault case.”

In cross-examination, Elliott was asked to describe SA’s demeanor during the initial interview.

“Carefree” was the term Elliott used.

Smith asked if Elliott if he realized when he was told of the civil settlement that “$100,000 “was changing hands.”

“No,” Elliott said.

Asked what he thought a civil settlement consisted of, after some thought Elliot replied, “Something opposite of criminal.”

When SA was called to testify, she was anything but “carefree.”

SA was trailed into the courtroom by a victims-witness program escort who sat near her when she entered the witness box. Throughout her testimony SA verged on tears.

Vacek was very sensitive in his questioning. It took considerable for him to get down to brass tacks about the allegations.

SA described her $9-an-hour off the books job as a dispatcher for the tow truck drivers and how her Griesa’s first romantic approach to her came at a Christmas party, but soon got more serious.

Later she was from time to time was called into Griesa’s office for personal meetings. In on incident she was fondled and made to view a pornographic movie entitled “Anal Destruction.

Vacek was still questioning SA when the trial of People v. Joseph Patrick Griesa, case number CDF-08-458 was recessed at 4:30 p.m.

She returns to the witness stand today.

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Anonymous said...

You can read the book, "Anatomy of a Trial" (published by University of Missouri Press). Available from, Borders, Barns & Noble, University of Missouri Press and via the website

Anonymous said...

Please continue to follow this story, We are getting almost nothing from the Appeal Democrat. What seems to be a factual non-censored story has been coming from you. We really want to know what is happening in Y/S county and how to get past the judicial GOB.

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