Larry Cirignano trial - four days of testimony, argument, and evidence.
Tuesday Oct 16 - Friday Oct 19.
Nearly 20 witnesses were called.
Links to background information:
Dec. 16, 2006 - Here's what happened that day: Homosexual activists disrupt rally (w/ videos).
Pre-trial background - Outrageous charges by police & DA against Larry Cirignano.
Notes as trial begins
Bizarre ruling by
Judge David Ricciardone at issue.
On July 13, 2007, Ricciardone upheld the "civil rights" charges against Larry by making the absurd assertion that the Dec. 16 rally on the Worcester City Hall steps was . . . a parade!!
"[T]he state may not require organizers of a rally to include opposing groups as marchers in its parade, but it just as certainty [sic] cannot prohibit the opposing groups from holding signs along the intended route. In holding her sign at the rally here, the complainant was simply expressing a view contrary to that being generally supported. This is speech which is clearly and unassailably protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and by the Massachusetts Bill of Rights."
Hmm. She broke through the crowd, stood in front of the podium, screamed at the participants and audience, and (illegally!) disrupted the event. That's protected speech?? Unfortunately, this is what sticks in everyone's minds going into this trial. It looks like the deck is stacked.
Notes from day 1 (Tuesday, Oct 16)
Immediate disagreement on constitutional law
(TUESDAY, OCT. 16) The first day was relatively short because the dedication of that newly built courthouse was scheduled for 1:30 pm. Judge David Destopolous is presiding over this case, Joseph Quinlan is the prosecutor for the Commonwealth, working for District Attorney Joseph Early, Jr., and Michael Gilleran is representing, Larry Cirignano.
Larry Cirignano (left) with his lawyer, Michael Gilleran getting ready to enter the courtroom on Tuesday.
For the first few hours the lawyers and the judge discussed some trial-ralated issues and questions to be used for selecting the jury. Then there was a brief recess, the jury was selected, and then the court recessed until the next day.
But it became clear pretty quickly that the District Attorney had a very strange concept of constitutional law.
Quinlan had made a motion not to allow the jury to be given the fact that Larry’s group had a permit for their rally. He apparently didn’t want the jury to be “confused” into thinking that a permit guaranteed that opposing groups couldn’t interfere with an opposing message.
Judge Destopolous was a bit incredulous at this assertion. That’s exactly what a permit does guarantee, the judge replied to Quinlan. But Quinlan insisted that a permit does not exclude other groups from being in the same “public property” at the same time with an opposing message. He said that the permit merely allows the group access to restrooms, electricity for their sound system, etc., and he pointed out that the actual language of the permit does not specifically state that other groups can’t be there also.
Michael Gilleran retorted that there’s enormous case law to demonstrate that a permit does give a group exclusive use of the property – and no case law whatsoever for the opposite. The judge agreed, adding that even from a common sense standpoint, that’s the reason for getting a permit.
Sitting in the courtroom watching this, it was incredibly eerie. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is claiming that a permit for a rally (or a parade) allows anyone to break in and speak at your event with an opposing message. And they’re prosecuting Larry Cirignano for assuming otherwise. This is madness. Is this the kind of District Attorney the people are electing? Something is very wrong with this picture.
The judge also went over the questions each side wanted to ask prospective jurors. Many were disallowed. The main one that remained was “Do you belong to any organization or group whose philosophy or beliefs oppose or support gay marriage?”
About two dozen prospective jurors were led into the room. They were introduced to most of the twenty or so witnesses to be called up, including about eight police and other city officials, and even a few reporters. They were asked the questions by the judge.
After a fairly short time, a 6-person jury plus two alternates was selected. five men and three women, mostly middle aged, one black and the others white. Three or four admitted to being practicing Catholics, which the prosecutor interestingly didn’t object to.
The judge predicted that the trial will take three additional days – the rest of the week. At about 12:30 pm the Government vs Larry Cirignano was adjourned until 9 am tomorrow.
Notes from day 2 (Wednesday Oct 17)
Case against Larry beginning to collapse as witnesses fumble
In the first full day in the trial proceedings of the Commonwealth vs Larry Cirignano, the lawyers gave their introductory arguments and several witnesses were called up, including Larry's accuser, Sarah Loy. At the end of the day, it was surprising how poorly the prosecution's case is standing up to serious scrutiny. And there are two more days to go.
Judge David Despotopulos started by giving the jury general instructions - mainly that Larry doesn't have to prove his innocence, but the prosecution has to prove enough guilt to convict him.
Assistant District Attorney Joseph Quinlan told the jury that he will show that Larry had grabbed, pushed, and knocked down the Loy, and then simply walked away.
View of the podium looking out to the crowd, before Loy came and stood in front.
Defense attorney Michael Gilleran told the jury that he will prove all the charges against Larry are untrue. In addition, he said, there will be no doubt that Loy's civil rights were not violated at all. Gilleran described Larry as an advocate for Catholic views who worked professionally as an "advance man" for events, and had been taught techniques to properly deal with demonstrators and rowdy persons.
A lot of photos were introduced as evidence. Some were from the MassResistance website, others were from various newspapers. All of the witnesses were asked to identify themselves in the pictures, and point out where they were standing when the incident took place.
The first witness was Kris Mineau, executive director of Massachusetts Family Institute, who was speaking at the podium when the incident occurred. (Generally, the witnesses for the prosecution go first but Mineay had to leave town.) Mineau said that the homosexual demonstrators caused him to feel intimidated, though not threatened. He said that while reading his speech that day, he looked up and there was Loy standing in front of him, facing the audience, with her sign held high so his view of the audience was blocked. He said that some audience members asked Loy to leave, she refused, then Larry escorted her away from the podium. Mindau said he didn't see anything else, and only learned about the accusations against Larry the following day. (Larry wasn't formally charged until Feb. 20.)
Next, Donna Gressit, a pro-homosexual protester, said she came to the rally early and held a sign. She said she believed that it was her "right as an American" to be anywhere she wanted, even though the police had established a buffer zone and told her to go to the opposite sidewalk. (NOTE: That's a refrain we'll hear a lot - these people actually believe they have the right to use any means necessary to stop their opponents from exercising free speech.)
However, in the end Gressit couldn't claim to be much of a witness to the incident. She was standing in back of the crowd and is only 5 feet 4 inches tall, obviously blocked by many people. She finally admitted she didn't actually see it.
Rev. Aaron Payson, a Unitarian minister was next. He said he came as an "observer." He said he saw Larry push Loy backward with both hands on her chest, and knock her down. (Interestingly, Loy's own testimony would later refute this. She said that Larry's hand was on her shoulder, not her chest.) When the incident happened, Payson said he came and helped Loy up from the ground.
Christopher Robarge was another pro-homosexual demonstrator who had held a sign. He said he saw Loy fall but didn't see her pushed. He just saw Larry walking away, he said. But he was 15 feet away ,in the outer part of the semi-circle of people, and the area was very crowded.
Richard Nangle, a reporter for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, had written a hostile first-person account of the incident which was published in a number of newspapers. He told the court he saw someone push Loy to the ground, saying that he was 6-8 feet from Loy at the time. But he wasn't able to identify himself in any of the several photos taken at the time, which covered the entire crowd and showed every person.
Then Sarah Loy, Larry's accuser took the stand. When asked about her affiliation with the ACLU, she at first said she was a "monthly chapter" member, but then admitted that she told the press she was a member of the ACLU's Board of Directors. She said she was there as a pro-homosexual marriage supporter.
During much of Loy's testimony she seemed to be in a state of confusion. Loy admitted walking through the crowd of spectators and standing in front of the podium, facing the crowd and holding her sign. (She claimed the sign was "chest high" but Kris Mineau had testified that it was high enough so he couldn't see the crowd in front of him.)
She admitted that people in the crowd immediately asked her to leave the podium area, saying "you can't stay there", and said she ignored them. She said she felt hands on her shoulders (or it could have been one hand, since it was pointed out that Larry was holding a clipboard in one of his hands) and she was led to the side.
But she didn't see Larry, since he was leading her from behind. She said she was pushed and fell backwards, landing on her head and her side. But she couldn't explain how a person standing in back of her could have pushed her backwards without physically turning her around first. This led to questions as to whether she had just fallen down on her own, or tripped on someone's foot and possibly even gotten up quickly and fallen down again.
She said she had immediately told the police she wanted to press charges. But she admitted she had no injuries (head or otherwise), she remained at the rally, admitted she did not seek any medical attention, and could not positively identify Larry to the police. Loy also didn't let go of her sign to try to break her fall, which was rather curious.
Some time later, Loy went to the police station and had photos taken of the bruises she had allegedly received from the fall. But it was difficult to make out actual bruise marks in the photos.
When asked why she did it, Loy testified that she thought she had a legal right to break through the crowd stand in front of the marriage rally's podium. (This from an ACLU Board member!) Apparently, she had been told that she had to obey the police buffer order and stay away, but the ignored that.
When the court finally adjourned for the day, one observer said that people were scratching their heads as to why they're wasting their time on this absurd trial. The bigger question, of course, is why the District Attorney Joseph Early, Jr., has been so aggressive in this obvious miscarriage of justice from the very beginning.
Notes from Day 3 (Thursday Oct 18):
* Judge drops civil rights charges!
* Assault & battery charges still remain, but state’s case crumbling.
* Police corruption in case?
Witnesses for the prosecution
The day started out with more witnesses for the prosecution. Sarah Loy, the alleged victim, testified that when she fell her right side, elbow, shoulder, and head hit the ground. (Other eyewitnesses would later disagree.) She acknowledged that the police officer told her that she couldn’t go back into the middle to hold the sign.
Loy, an ACLU Board member, said she believed she has a constitutional right to go in and hold her sign in the middle of the marriage rally.
The ACLU is also clearly working with the prosecution during this trial. Ronal Madnick, a prominent ACLU figure in Massachusetts, has been at the trial the whole time working with assistant District Attorney Joseph Quinlan.
Then the prosecution called up the policemen who were there and a detective who wrote the police report. It’s clear that the cops were working closely with the district attorney and shared his views that the pro-homosexuals had a right to converge into the pro-marriage rally.
Sgt. George Wells, the leader of the three officers on the scene that day, acknowledged on several occasions that they made no effort to separate the homosexuals there to disrupt the event from mingling into the rally area. They only separated people to make a passage on the sidewalk for passersby, Wells (and other police) told the court. “You did not request MassEquality to allow Mass Family Institute and the others to assemble peacefully in the area?” defense attorney Michael Gilleran asked Wells. “No,” Wells answered. The obvious question from the citizens of Massachusetts: Why not?
On the other hand, according to testimony from some witnesses, Wells and the other cops removed various individuals with opposing signs from the rally area when specifically asked.
Wells also testified that the first contact he had with Loy was when she was on the ground. However, another witness later testified that Wells had previously ordered Loy away from the area, at least ten minutes before the incident.
Detective Daniel Sullivan was responsible for preparing the police report about the incident. But strangely, the prosecution went to great lengths to keep the police report from being quoted to the jury. We were told later that the police now disagreed with certain parts of it, since it would contradict their testimony.
Stuart Floyd, a young software developer who came to the rally for the pro-homosexual cause, testified for the prosecution regarding the incident. But under pressure he admitted he really didn’t see much of what happened. And although he said he was in the crowd, he couldn’t point himself out in any of the photographs of the crowd. Floyd also said that Larry placed two hands on Loy’s shoulders. But Larry was holding a notebook in one hand, according to most other testimony. One wonders why the prosecution bothered with Floyd at all.
Dismissal of Civil Rights Charges
Then, just before lunch, defense attorney Michael Gilleran made a formal motion to drop the civil rights charges. Assistant DA Joseph Quinlan objected. Judge David Despotopulos asked Quinlan if the government’s position is that Loy’s constitutional rights of free speech were violated – her right to go into the middle of that crowd, in front of the podium, to get her own message out. “Yes,” answered Quinlan. Despotopulos asked Quinlan again, and Quinlan answered “yes” again.
Gilleran argued that if you have a permit, you have the ability to exclude people. Quinlan insisted that Loy could be in front of the podium and be well within her rights.
Judge Despotopulos seemed incredulous that Quinlan was sticking to such an absurd position, and announced that he was hereby dismissing the civil rights charges against Larry, which he then told the jury.
Defense witnesses open up the case
Everything seemed to change with the first witness for the defense. A thirteen-year-old girl was called to the stand. She testified in great detail how Loy had in fact tripped over the girl's foot well after Larry had begun walking the other way. The girl said she was standing three or four people deep in the crowd. As she described it, after Larry led Loy to the edge of the crowd, Loy started making her way through the crowd. When Loy tried to get around the girl, Loy had turned to face her and Loy’s foot got caught in the girl’s foot, and then Loy fell.
The girl said that Loy fell on her buttocks and broke her fall with her right hand. Loy was sitting up, then looked around and then quickly lay down again in the fetal position and began chanting “This is what hatred is.This is what hatred is.”
The girl’s mother, who was standing next to the girl, also testified. She reiterated her daughter’s testimony, which she also witnessed, and added that when Loy finally stood up, she then tried to go back to the podium, screaming “I have a right! I have a right!” but the police restrained her from going back.
The mother also testified that afterwards she tried to give her story of what happened to various police officers, but none of them were interested in listening, nor would they even take her name. “We’re all set,“ they simply told her. But there were several pictures taken of the police standing and discussing the incident with the pro-homosexual people.
Other witnesses also testified that they saw Larry walk away before Loy fell, and that Larry only used one hand – not two – to lead Loy from in front of the podium to the edge of the crowd. But the police apparently weren’t interested in any of their stories. One of the witnesses also testified that earlier she had asked Sgt. Wells to remove Loy from the area, which he did, but Loy soon returned.
A number of people testified that when Loy was standing in front of the podium, before Larry approached her, several audience members asked her to please move out, but Loy gave them a look of defiance and continued holding her sign and chanting.
Detective Daniel Sullivan’s police report (which the prosecution later wouldn’t allow to be read to the jury) was used by the government in deciding whether to charge Larry with the crime of assault and battery. But Gilliam brought up the fact that the report quotes one witness, James Gillette, as telling Sullivan that Gillette saw Larry push Loy to the ground. So Gilliam had Gillette come and testify. It turns out that Gillette is a pro-family supporter and testified, vehemently, that he never told Sullivan any such thing. Although he met with Sullivan on his own, as a witness, he said he told Sullivan that he definitely didn’t see Larry push Loy down!
Defense attorney Michael Gilleran showed the jury a video taken at the time of the incident. (Clips from that video are on the MassResistance website.) Besides showing the vicious screaming of the homosexual activists, it showed that several of the prosecution’s witnesses were not as close as they testified they were, but in fact relatively far away along the periphery of the event.
At the end of the day, every witness for the prosecution had in some way contradicted himself. Most also had their testimony contradicted by other witnesses. And none of them were able to claim to have seen Larry Cirignano push Loy down, as the prosecution was attempting to prove.
The video showed that several of the state’s witnesses weren’t where they said they were.
No one was able to disprove that Sarah Loy actually tripped over a young girl’s foot well after Larry had walked away, was not hurt in any way, and had clearly used the fall for her own theatrics.
Moreover, it was obvious that the police had never had any interest in either protecting the rally from disruption by the homosexual activists, or in including any information in their reports that contradicted the homosexuals’ side of the story. And even then, the police covered up their own report because it apparently contradicted their testimony.
Coming up Friday:
A few more witnesses, closing arguments, and then it goes to the jury.
Outside Worcester District Court in downtown Worcester.
Notes from Day 4 (Friday, Oct 19)
* Prosecution doesn't challenge testimony that Loy wasn't pushed.
* Defense points out apparent lies by government's witnesses.
* But Judge refused to include important facts in jury instructions.
* Jury to resume deliberations Monday morning
On Friday morning, three witnesses including Larry Cirignano testified, the lawyers gave their closing statements, the judge gave the jury its instructions, and at approximately 12:45 pm the jury began to deliberate. At 4:00 pm they hadn't finished, so they will resume deliberations Monday at 9:00 am.
But what a morning it was.
It started off with Shari Worthington back on the stand continuing from yesterday. Assistant District Attorney Joseph Quinlan became very aggressive with her regarding her recent criminal complaint against Loy. On Sept. 24, Worthington filed a complaint against Loy for disrupting the Dec. 16 rally, which will be the subject of a hearing later this month. But she held up well against Quinlan's badgering.
She also testified that although the police asked her to give them a copy of the video of the event her husband made, the cops never asked her for any information about what she personally saw or heard that day -- even though she was just a few feet away from the incident. (As we've seen from prior testimony, the police clearly avoided talking to anyone from the pro-marriage side about what happened.)
When Defense Attorney Michael Gilleran asked Worthington about what she experienced during the event, Judge David Despotopulos stopped her when she began to discuss the horrible profanities from the homosexuals. Apparently, the judge decided (pretty narrowly, in our opinion) that the abhorrent behavior of the homosexual activists that day is not pertinent to the case.
Worthington also said that she asked the police to move the protesters from the front of the rally twice before the rally even started. But the police just ignored her and never did it, as they have admitted in their own testimony.
Larry Cirignano then took the stand. He discussed his extensive experience in coordinating and handling political events over the last 25 or more years both in the United States and overseas. Larry has received training by various agencies, including the Secret Service, in specialized techniques for handling protesters who disrupt events. He discussed the technique of "Catch and Release" where a person who storms the stage area to disrupt an event is gently led off to the side (using a forearm, not the hand) and then let go. Catch and Release is apparently widely used by security people and event coordinators when immediate action is necessary, and it's what Larry said he used with Loy. (And at the time, Larry was carrying a valise in his other hand when he used his forearm to guide Loy to the side.)
However, when Larry was asked about the other pro-marriage rallies he had run during that period, the judge would not allow him to discuss how the homosexuals had disrupted them. Again, this seemed to be pertinent information, but the judge would not allow the jury to be told about it. "This is a trial about what happened on Dec. 16, 2006. It is not a trial about gay marriage in Massachusetts," the judge told Larry's attorney. Very strange.
Finally, Sgt. Wells was briefly called back to testify. He said that he had not previously asked Loy to move away from the area (as someone had said the day before). But Wells also reiterated that he didn't make any efforts to move any homosexual activist counter-demonstrators out of the marriage rally area. He said he only cleared the sidewalk, near the street, so passersby could walk through.
In his closing arguments, Defense Attorney Michael Gilleran masterfully pointed out that the video (and also testimony) undisputably showed that a number of the government's witnesses had not told the truth about where they were standing when the incident took place, and that their claims that Larry had used two hands to grab Loy, and that he pushed her down, were not credible in any way.
Gilleran also pointed out that when Loy stormed the podium area, no one could predict exactly what she would do next. She was clearly attempting to provoke the people near her, and a fight could possibly break out. But also, the people on stage could not see any police nearby. As the video showed, all the police were quite far away, on the other side of the crowd near the street at that time. Larry had no reasonable choice but to lead Loy away from the area immediately.
In his closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Joseph Quinlan all but conceded that Sarah Loy's fall to the ground was not caused by Larry, even though Quinlan had originally stated that Larry had pushed Loy to the ground as he "assaulted" her. But the overwhelming evidence had shown that Larry had been walking away when Loy, meandering through the crowd, tripped over a girl's feet and fell backwards onto her buttocks and was completely unhurt.
So Quinlan used his time to try to persuade the jury that they needed to convict Larry on the basis of his leading Loy to the side of the area with his forearm. But Quinlan was still as aggressive as ever to get Larry convicted, even on that completely insignificant act.
In the end, it came down to about ten seconds and five feet: When Sarah Loy was standing in front of the podium holding her gay-marriage sign and screaming at the marriage rally crowd, Larry used his forearm to (barely) lead her to the side. That's it. And the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is claiming that Larry should be convicted of assault and battery over that.
The judge's instructions to the jury
The biggest worry is about Judge Despotopulos' instructions to the jury. Gilleran had requested him to inform the jury that assault and battery must be proven by to be not just touching, but "unjustified" touching -- as supported by case law going back over a hundred fifty years states. Gilleran also requested that the concept of "justification" be explained to the jury. The judge refused both requests.
Gilleran requested the jury be informed that the Constitution gives citizens the right to hold an assembly free of intruders who have an opposing message, and that since they had a permit, the rally organizers had certain lawful control of the area during that time. The judge also refused both of those requests.
Judge Despotopulos also would not inform the jury that it's illegal under Massachusetts law to disrupt a public meeting.
So the jury would seem to thus be unduly focused on the issue of simply "undesired touching" of Sarah Loy by Larry. Is the deck stacked against Larry? We'll find out when the jury comes back.
Some other thoughts
There's something terribly wrong with the enormous energy and expense that our government has expended to convict Larry Cirignano for this incredibly insignificant act -- which happened while Larry was essentially under siege holding a peaceful rally. It's completely out of proportion. And given our overcrowded and overworked court system that way too often can't fit in legitimate cases, one must seriously question why this absurd trial was taking place at all.
One can't help having the blunt feeling that this a payback by District Attorney Joseph Early to a powerful lobby that has provided considerable funding and resources to the Democratic party. To the homosexual community this trial has enormous political importance. Larry Cirignano and the pro-marriage movement is their main demon, which they psychologically need to defeat soundly and silence.
At the courthouse this week, as one looked around it was clear that Assistant District Attorney Joseph Quinlan and the police were working very closely with the homosexual activists and the ACLU, and were even fraternizing with the weird homosexual bloggers that slithered in and out of the courtroom. At the same time, they would barely acknowledge any pro-family people, and the body language toward us was clearly hostile. It almost looked comical at some points.
How much money has completely absurd four-day trial cost the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the lawyers, and everyone else. Fifty thousand dollars? A hundred thousand? More? Is this how the taxpayers want their money spent?
The jury comes back on Monday. . .
No, this isn't a mall. It's the inside of Worcester District Court.