Tense Moments in Today's Anand Jon Courtroom
For 100 intense minutes this morning the defense and prosecutors involved in the Anand Jon trial argued to persuade Judge David Wesley on the motion to set aside Jon's first trial and order a new one. The defense motion has kept the fashion designer, who was convicted of 16 sex-related charges last November, from being sentenced and has taken on a post-verdict life of its own, involving many twists. The issue's crux, however, has remained whether rogue juror Alvin Dymally's contacts with Jon's sister, Sanjana Alexander, had prevented Jon from receiving a fair verdict.
Jon, who has been wearing horn-rimmed glasses recently, arrived in court smiling. Lately he had seemed more confident as he sat with his brace of attorneys as they argued the new-trial motion. Also in court, with his lawyer, was Dymally, who briefly got on the witness stand but quickly took the Fifth Amendment when questioned by defense attorney Leonard Levine. Dymally was clearly a pinata for both the defense and prosecutors, as he was quoted many times declaring his affection for Sanjana Alexander. He had allowed romantic vanity to almost plunge the first trial into chaos and, now, he stood accused of helping to possibly undo all the work of both sides of that trial.
In a surreal moment, two versions of the same phone call placed by Sanjana to Dymally before last year's verdict were played in court. The recording, surreptitiously made through a pay phone by Sanjana with an MP3 player, was originally so muddy-sounding that both the FBI and the District Attorney's office had to have lab technicians separately clean up the audio. Even so, the pay phone conversation sounded like a shortwave broadcast beamed from outer space. Still, rapt listeners could detect Sanjana's soft voice expressing thanks to Dymally while the maverick juror's voice could be made out declaring something to Sanjana that was not the Fifth Amendment. No wonder Judge Wesley had insisted Dymally remain in court to hear himself on the recording.
Dymally had come up on the court's radar last November, when the jury foreman had sent a note to Wesley complaining that Dymally was refusing to deliberate with his colleagues on the panel. Then, prosecutors Frances Young and Mara McIlvain had asked that Dymally -- then known only as Juror No. 12 -- be removed and replaced with an alternate juror. The defense strenuously objected and eventually won the day. In fact, Wesley was in a corner at that point because if he had removed Dymally in November, and the verdicts went against Jon (as they did), the defense would use this removal of a supposedly principled holdout juror as ammunition in an appeal.
Today, however, Levine depicted Dymally as a courtroom wolf who, when his advances were spurned by Sanjana, got back at her by voting to send her brother to prison for the rest of his life.
"Okay, I want to think about this," Judge Wesley said abruptly after both sides had finished, and adjourned the court for a recess. It appeared to some that from the tone of his voice the judge was fighting against the idea of declaring a new trial. So much time, effort and money would have been for nothing -- yet the defense's case seemed compelling. Forty minutes later court resumed and Wesley sounded no less agitated as he recapped what the evidence and case law had to say about the defense's motion. The more he spoke, the thicker the tension became in court, and Jon's supporters, including Sanjana, sat frozen still right up until Wesley gave his decision.
"The verdict will not be disturbed," Wesley declared, and with that denied the motion. Sanjana rose and asked to address the court, but Wesley ordered her to sit down. He then declared both Sanjana and Dymally in contempt for violating his trial instructions against outside communications and ordered them to appear at a future hearing. Anand Jon himself was returned to jail, although an appeal of his original sentence, based Alvin Dymally's role in it, is surely on the horizon.