I passed through New Haven mid-day yesterday after a quick pre-trial in New London in a child sex case. My hope was to poke my head in on the trial of State v. Hayes to see whether the atmosphere in the room was as surreal as press accounts suggested.
It was just after noon, and there were television trucks lining the street in front of the courthouse. As I crossed the street to enter the building, I noticed more food vendors than usual. It seems everyone wants a piece of the action.
"Joe," I will call him, had his hot dog cart almost on the steps leading into 121 Elm Street. I had never seen his cart so close. He must have been violating some municipal ordinance or other.
"How's business?," I asked.
"It was fantastic two days ago," he beamed. "But the wind really blew yesterday," he complained. "Business was off." But he looked hopeful, even determined, to sell as many hot dogs as he could to those assembled for the greatest show in Connecticut this week, the show trial of Steven Hayes.
The ground floor of the courthouse was more quiet that I expected.
"Not the crush I expected," I told a weary marshal as I pranced through the metal detector.
"Oh, oh," he said. "Just wait until the lunch break. It's a mob scene."
On the elevator ride up I asked a courthouse regular what was new. He's a lawyer with many years at the bar.
"This place is a freak show," he said. "A complete waste of time. The state should take the guilty plea and knock off the charade."
Folks milled around the sixth floor of the court. A guard stood behind a separate metal detector at the entrance to the courtroom. There were no seats. There was a line.
"I'm from CBS in New York," a beefy man intoned. "Can I swap one of the CBS seats with a colleague?'
The answer was no. Once in you stay in. No valet service or seat swapping permitted. I wasn't going to wait on line to watch a case that had already driven one juror away in distracted despair.
That afternoon I spoke to a member of the very office prosecuting Hayes. This soul, whose identity I shall protect, seemed wearied by the charade as well. "We've got sixteen other murder cases to try here," he/she said. The Hayes case was creating a log jam. I could hear weariness in the voice of a person who'd seen too much sorrow. When I said the courthouse really didn't need a show trial and suggested that if the Petit family really wanted public validation of its sorrow it could sue civilly, as had Ron Goldman in the O.J. Simpson case, my colleague registered a silent assent.
Next week jurors reassemble for more evidence and more psychodrama. But there's little justice to be had in the courtroom. Trying to kill a man who wants to plead guilty but is compelled as a matter of law to fight the charges is a farce. Almost as absurd an act as trying to convince 12 jurors that if they kill a killer the world will somehow be a better place for the survivors.