Witness

Not nearly as any books get recorded on CD these days as are recorded to Audiobooks that can be downloaded.  So every now and then, even though I have quite an impressive waiting list at the library, I find myself without a CD in the car (I know, horrors, right?) l When this happens I just peruse the CD shelves at my local library.  This is how I found Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie.

I’ve said here before that I read all of Agatha Christie’s books when I was in high school.  I need to amend that; I read all of Agatha Christie’s novels in high school.  And of course high school was a long time ago so when I first watched the movie version of Witness, I didn’t realize that it wasn’t one of her novels.  It’s one of her short stories. 

As I often enjoy books more than the movies made from them, when I pulled the CD off the shelf I was wondering how this dynamic would play out.  I adore the Witness for the Prosecution movie made in 1957 with Charles Laughton, Elsa Lancaster, Trevor Howard and Marlene Dietrich.  Great acting, good story, nice denouement and fabulous courtroom scenes.

If I’d had my wits about me I would have made the leap that a short story would need fleshing out to make a full movie.  But  I don’t always have my wits about me, so I was surprised to find that the movie had taken “fleshed out” to new levels.  The Charles Laughton and Else Lancaster characters and all their action and dialog were complete embellishments as was about half of the courtroom scenes.  And the short story ending was a little more open-ended than the movie.

So I’m sure you’re all saying “VS will never watch this movie again.  She’s outraged that Hollywood would take such liberties with one of her favorite authors.”  It’s what I thought I would be saying about now.  But I’m not.  The movie does not mess with the actual story – it’s completely intact – the additional characters, dialog and scenes actually support the story.  Apparently Agatha Christie did not mind the additions and, of course, the movie was released to international acclaim.

The rest of the stories are fascinating, very unlike her novels.  No suspicious deaths, no big long list of suspects with motives and opportunities.  But great stories that capture the imagination.  I’m about half way through the CDs and am manufacturing reasons to get in the car right now, so I can keep listening. 

Have you ever had to give testimony in court? Or been on a jury?

55 thoughts on “Witness”

  1. I testified once. The experience was curious and somewhat harrowing.

    And I served on a jury for a semi-famous trial, and that was even more interesting. That trial got written up in local papers. I’ll describe the trial later.

    My testimony was about a boating accident. Friends invited my erstwife and me to take an evening boating cruise on the St. Croix River below Stillwater. Just as it became fully dark, an erratically operated boat headed toward us at full speed in the darkness. His running lights (the red, green and white lights) were not on, so we couldn’t tell anything about the course he was running. He did have his spotlight on. At first it seemed the boat would pass us on the left, then it turned and bore right down on us. There was a sickening collision that resulted in injuries. The pilot of the other boat, we found out, was too drunk to even stand up.

    My job was to testify about the circumstances of the accident. When I described the boat bearing down on us in the night, I said I had seen a boat light approaching. The drunk’s attorney howled his objection. “He couldn’t see a BOAT LIGHT! It was just a light in the dark.” I replied, “But it was a boat light.” The judge then admonished me, saying, “Just stick to what you actually SAW, sir!”

    So I said, “Well, there was a light in the dark that acted like it was a boat spotlight. It wove left and right as it bore down on us, getting bigger as it got closer. Then it was right on us, and it turned out to be a BOAT SPOTLIGHT! And then we crashed.” They allowed that to stand.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I have never been on jury duty, and testified only in two small claims court cases. What a waste of time that was! I haven’t researched this, but I’d be willing to bet that it makes no difference how a small claims court case is decided, no one ever pays up. I’m two for two, i.e. 100%, cases decided in my favor, and have never collected a nickel.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I was once called for Federal Jury duty in Bismarck, but the case was against a prominent resident of my town, so I was excused. He was found guilty of tax evasion.

    I am in District Court quite often, mainly for mental health commitments or child abuse and neglect cases when I am the therapist for the children in question. I have worked with the same judges and States Attornies for many years.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Rise and Say It the Way You See It, Baboons,

    I have testified many, many times as part of the Child Protection System, and on a few occasions as an expert witness regarding mental health. This was all 25-40 years ago when the attorneys in a small town did not like CPS cases, but they had to take them if assigned by a judge. As a result they (all resentful male lawyers) put these cases at the bottom of the priority pile and did as little as possible to represent the parents they were assigned to. Then they tried to make up for their lack of attention by yelling at me. Despite all these, the policeman I worked with and I successfully intervened in several very complex cases and forced the families to get some treatment for various issues. I last heard from a member of one of these families about 10 years ago, and another about 2 years ago. I was startled to learn they remember me fondly.

    I was a very sassy witness who learned, after a disastrous initial unexpected appearance as a witness about a month after I started the job, to push back and make these guys look as negligent as they were. I once objected to a question when the County Attorney was not paying attention, and the judge involved sustained my objection. I had to inform another judge after a law changed (@1987), of the change in the law and that he was unaware of it. Therefore, he was obligated to support my position.

    The lesson in all this was that most attorneys were lazy and incompetent. The several who were devoted and hardworking made hamburger out of the rest of them.

    Liked by 4 people

        1. Some of the finest, most principled and hard-working people I know are attorneys. Unfortunately, it’s the lazy, incompetent and downright sleazy ones that tend to stick in people’s minds. Of course, it probably doesn’t help matters that so many politicians are attorneys.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Sorry VS and PJ. I wish I could say things were different, but it was simply the case with the small town attorneys. They did not represent either the county (County Attorney) well, nor these families. It was a shame. The few that were conscientious were really important in those communities.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. I’m not disputing anybody else’s stories. I’m just telling you — my mom doesn’t even like a lawyer jokes. Even the ones my dad thought were funny. She was my father’s staunchest defender.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. I have no doubt that Jacque’s experiences are factually accurate. Unfortunately, there are lots and lots of cases that fall through the cracks because the disputes are over the destiny of people and not huge sums of money. We don’t allocate the same resources to fight for justice for everyone. That’s one reason why I’m a long-time supporter of the ACLU.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. At the beginning of my nursing career I was included in a malpractice lawsuit – later thrown out after the prosecutor failed to make his case. I did have to testify and it was a very unnerving experience. I was required to demonstrate how I had positioned and held a 6 month old during a procedure. It was nothing like the real thing – a huge sheet instead of a small drape, an inflexible doll, and a table the wrong height. Additionally, I was called to the stand on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and we didn’t finish prior to adjournment so I had all of the holiday weekend to fret. It was a heck of a way to start my career. I have been summoned to jury duty once but was never selected – even got to stay home and just call in after the first two days.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I think I told this before, but my Great Uncle Okke was a bootlegger, and he was arrested and had a trial and was found guilty. This would have been in the early 1920’s. The Judge gave him a $50 fine, and Uncle Okke said “Why, I have that right here in my wallet” in kind af a smart aleck way, and the Judge proceeded to yell at him “AND 30 days! Do you have that in your wallet, Mr. Boomgaarden?”

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I acted as a witness in a divorce case. I’d somehow lost track of John and Angela, who I used to help with hay and silage as a matter of course. Don’t remember how that came about, we had been, and as far as I knew, still were, friends. As I said in my affidavit, I had no axe to grind. I was always welcome to drop in, but somehow I just hadn’t.
    Angela rang me out of the blue, and told me she lived with someone else now, things had broken down irrevocably with John, and would I speak for her in court? She had had a job at one time, while John farmed. After I’d known them for a year or two, she left her job, and worked on the farm. She was highly motivated, worked alongside John, then John would watch TV while Angela prepared a meal. In the evening, John would watch TV, etc., you get the picture. Angela was the worker. Like my dad, John didn’t lift a finger in the house.
    Now John was saying, she had her own job, and had nothing to do with the farm, so she had no share in it. I’ve never really understood why you would make such a case, in the absence of a pre-nuptial agreement. But still, it was going to court, and yes, I would help. I wasn’t having him behave like that.
    John’s lawyer was as hostile as could be. I mean, let’s discuss these things in a reasonable manner. Let’s not talk to each other the way I talk to Trump fans. Seems like, at the very sight of me, he was bursting to let out all his condescension and impatience. He’d make short work of this upstart. And he did. It really helped him that he’d seen my affidavit, and my memory of one particular occurence was faulty. The timeline, not the actual event. I forget why it mattered so much, but they hired a girl to milk the cows for a few years, and that had happened earlier than I remembered. It did matter, and when I was reminded of this, I was utterly flummoxed, and didn’t speak for quite a while. That was not a good day, I went home feeling how I’d failed Angela, and now John would have everything, that SHE had worked for harder than he had. I felt completely stupid and useless.
    Turned out the judge saw things Angela’s way, and she got almost whatever it was she asked for. But I’ve never felt that I helped.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Here’s a story I remember mentioning before. I went to court to testify as a character witness in a custody battle between the guy whose fly fishing shop I worked in and his wife. Both of them were pretty eccentric, if you want the truth. Each thought the other was not fit to raise their two boys. But the trial threatened to become such a huge embarrassment for both of them that it was halted after one question had been asked.

    My friend, the shop owner, somehow found normal looking clothes to wear. He sat down to answer questions, smiling and trying to look reasonable.

    The first question his wife’s attorney asked was, “Mr. R, did you once ride your motorcycle in the nude through the town of Brule?”

    John smiled and tried to remember. And tried. The silence became oppressive. John thought and thought, but couldn’t answer the question for several minutes of agonizing silence.

    He finally said, in a reasonable and friendly voice, “Well, I have ridden my motorcycle in the nude. But I think on none of those occasions did I go to Brule.”

    Even before John spoke, I knew the court case was doomed. Normal people don’t have trouble with questions like that. They would remember driving a motorcycle nude, had they done it. John wasn’t sure if he’d done that.

    The local attorneys and the judge learned with that first question how volatile this case was sure to become. In a panic, they called a recess and never got to the second question. Which meant I didn’t have to testify

    Liked by 2 people

        1. He was the more conventionally protective adult by quite a bit, but her attorney killed his chances with that single question that revealed how unconventional he was.

          Now me . . . when I ride motorcycles nude in town, I always remember it!

          Liked by 1 person

      1. It was rural Wisconsin in the 70s, and I was surprised at how traditional and conservative the local authorities were. So, to answer you, she got custody. I was glad the court case was stifled when it was. There were quite a few issues that could have been raised, things better left unexplored!

        Like

  9. Morning-
    Never had to testify. When Kelly and I did the formal guardianship for daughter we were supposed to appear in court, but we mixed up the times and missed it. Thankfully, the court clerk was very helpful and assured us in this type of case, it didn’t really matter if we were there or not.
    I was selected for jury duty in December of 2019 but just before Christmas. I called in three days and didn’t have to report and then everyone was excused for the holiday anyway.
    Kelly was selected this summer, and she didn’t have to report either.

    I know a judge in the 3rd district and talking with him this summer, he said the backlog is so great they expect it to take 3 years to catch up.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Husband and I are usually not considered for jury selection, because attorneys typically don’t want psychologists on juries. My nightmare case to hear would be one about mineral rights, or something equally dull.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. My mother was never selected for jury duty either because of my dad’s attorney status. This really frustrated her because she always wanted to serve on a jury. I think I’ve talked about this already but when she did grand jury duty two years ago she thought it was fascinating.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My wife was twice called for jury duty in the Cities, once in Minneapolis and then in St. Paul. She could have dodged the second round because she had served in jury duty so recently, but she thought what the heck. Both times it was in criminal court. She got called in a few times in her two weeks. Third or fourth question was Do you have any relatives who are policemen? Her answer was five of them. Done.

        Liked by 2 people

  11. I was set to be a witness only once. When I was 17 I got rear ended in a rainstorm and the Volkswagen I was driving was totaled. I don’t remember why it went to court except that someone was probably messing with my dad. Anyway I do remember him sitting me down and coaching me about how to answer questions in court, what to say, what not to say. I don’t remember any of the actual instructions I just remember the day. And of course then the other side agreed to settle the morning of the trial and I never had to take the witness stand.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I remember now I had gotten a ticket or something 30+ years ago and had to go to court. Having never been there and knowing nothing about it I had imagined all sorts of scenarios in my head. And in reality it was much more dull. I remember I pleaded guilty with an explanation. But I don’t recall any of that either. Seems like I paid court costs…

      couple years ago I was in an accident. That got a court date set for the other guy, and, as you said VS, they also settled out of court.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Like others here, I was set to be a witness in a custody trial, and the mom and I were actually there, ready to go into the courtroom. The dad (there are college students we knew from married student housing) rounded the corner, saw that Lisa had managed to find a character witness, and turned on his heel to go and find his attorney. They settled it out of court, and I never got to present my spiel…

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I was called to jury duty in Nicollet County, St. Peter the county seat. Their system on paper was good. You were in for a few weeks, maybe 5. Supposedly you call in Friday night and they give numbers on call. Supposedly Friday. Never appeared Friday usually Sunday afternoon to be called Monday. You could declare days you could not serve. I had out of town jobs twice. No issue.
    Did get called. Made a stupid mistake when I went to the court house. I went in the front door. You had to go around back, not through the building. So i got chewed out for being 3 minutes late by officious little runt of a woman. We waited around two hours. This was right after 9/11 I now remember because of what we talked about.
    Finally we all got called in. Judge droned on for 20 minutes about who knows what, but along the line he was taking swipes at lawyers. Finally he got up and left. We sat there. Finally a woman came in and said that both lawyers showed up without their briefs in order on a civil case. So he sent them home. My only experience with a jury. Later I joined a Bible study in St. Peter. There he was, a bigoted little dweeb who had the final answer to everything.
    I was three times drawn in a pool for federal court in Duluth. Second and third time when I lived in Mankato. You could appeal your selection but it was beneath their lofty federal asses to tell if you had been or not. I explained that I lived 4 hours away. Second time I said the same and added that I was the caretaker for my wife.
    Never heard a peep all three times.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. As mentioned, the case in which I was on the jury was mildly famous. A black kid named Theo walked into a musician’s home and stole his instrument, an electric bass. The cops came out and made a show of concern, but such cases are almost never solved because the police have more urgent issues to resolve, especially homicides.

    But in this case, somebody spotted a local television show that aired in the afternoon. To prove that pawn shops have “diamonds in the rough that could be great bargains,” Channel 5 sent a team out to the pawn shop nearest the theft. Theo entered the shop to pawn his “precious electric guitar” because he was low on cash. He cheerfully agreed to go before the cameras to do this. When the show aired, someone who knew that electric bass was watching, and he called the cops. The police were fed up with Theo, a professional crook who was always in and out of jail. They were delighted to cuff and charge him without doing any work.

    So a legal case that only happened because of the unlikely presence of the TV crew became a sort of joke. A prominent local attorney defended Theo, and the prosecutor was Susan Gaertner, a rather famous legal figure. It was a fascinating case.

    The middle-aged women on our jury initially were sure Theo was innocent. He had, after all, casually gone before the cameras to sell his precious “guitar” on live TV. Half of the jury could not comprehend a guilty person doing that. I represented the other half of the jury, the side that was convinced that many thugs are easily that arrogant, so I argued for conviction. My side finally won.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. We just witnessed a gorgeous day here—man what a beauty of a day. I sat on the deck and drank my afternoon cup of coffee for a 1/2 hour—it was hard to move from there.

    Liked by 4 people

        1. We are watering roses, hydrangeas, ferns, and other perennials like crazy. Usually, we are fighting frost and freezing temps this time of year.

          Liked by 1 person

  16. I was on a jury once. It was not a very exciting case regarding an insurance claim as the result of an accident and we the jury were supposed to determine whether and how much of the claim the insurance company would be required to pay.

    The shocking thing to me was that about half the jury were utterly incapable of reasoning through the evidence as it was given. During the deliberation they would argue points on the basis of something that had happened to their cousin or on the strength of something they thought the plaintiff should have done instead of limiting their decisions to the facts. The verdict we reached was ultimately a compromise between the evidence and the stubborn opinions of those irrational jurors.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s too bad, Linda. We need all the fair minded, clear thinking jurors we can get. People who are able to check their baggage at the door, and diligently try to make justice prevail.

      Liked by 2 people

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