The public defender was good. The Asst. D.A. was better. The jury took just two hours to decide. Guilty of first degree murder. The sentence was automatic - life in prison for a former police officer.
Jeffrey Dennis. Photo from wnep.com
That's pretty much how it went down yesterday at the Luzerne County Courthouse as the two-week trial of Jeffrey Dennis came to a quick end. The final witnesses were called on Friday. For whatever reasons, the judge decided that closing arguments would be on Saturday with deliberations beginning immediately after. My station needed someone to cover the happenings, so I volunteered to sit in on the closing arguments and then hand things off to a reporter.
It's been several years since I had the opportunity to sit in on a trial. The best one was in 2000 when the former mayor of York and several other white men went on trial for the shooting death of a black woman during the city's race riots in 1968. I was there, working as a field producer, from jury selection to the verdict - the whole thing took about a month - and I loved every minute of it. I remember the verdict came down on a Saturday (I think the jury had already been deliberating for a day or two), we barely made our slot for the 6PM news, and then we celebrated by ordering pizza and eating it on the courthouse steps!
For me, the most memorable moment of that trial came shortly after the verdict. There were six or seven defendants, and they were all found guilty of something - except for the former mayor. He was found not guilty. Then, it was time to get reaction from all the players. The problem was that the York County Courthouse had two exits - the front and the back - and you didn't really know when or where someone was going to come out. So, our reporter and a photographer staked out the front, and I went to the back with another photographer. (The competition did the same, so there was quite a crowd.)
Well, who comes out the back but the former mayor and his high-profile lawyer. They came out the back door, turned left, and headed down the alley toward the main street. We all followed, taking pictures and asking questions. My thought was that it had been a year or so since the former mayor was first charged. That's a lot of stress for anyone, especially a guy who's 70 or so. I blurted out something like "Now that it's over, what are you going to do tomorrow?" His answer, "Go to church and play golf."
Anyway, back to our former cop in Luzerne County. The basic story is that his wife, Carli, was shot to death in their bed in February 2006. Prosecutors said Jeffrey Dennis killed Carli because she was having an affair, then tried to make it look like a suicide. Dennis claimed that it was a suicide - no murder, no cover-up.
I did not get to sit through this whole trial, just the closing arguments. I thought the public defender did very well, using words such as "absurd" and "ludicrous" to describe the prosecution's version of events, and trying to cast doubt on the evidence and the testimony of expert witnesses. But, in her closing, the Asst. D.A. addressed all of his points, doing her best to refute them. And, she ended by showing a sequence of pictures - the couple on their wedding day, then a picture of dead and bloody Carli at the crime scene, and then a picture of Dennis in a blood-smeared T-shirt. Very effective. And worth going to work for a few hours on a Saturday morning.