Jose Macias, early 20s at most, takes the witness stand for his cross-examination dressed casually in a gray sweatshirt and sneakers. His leaning walk gives off a coolness about him, yet as he sits his eyes pierce through the prosecution with disdain. His chest is out and his voice firm when he speaks. Unfazed. Unintimidated. It’s as if there’s an unspoken beef between him and the prosecution — and in fact, there is. This is Jose’s second trial for domestic violence committed against his girlfriend. Since the first resulted in a mistrial, no love has been lost between the opposing sides.
Baby-faced Deputy District Attorney Bradley Pregerson doesn’t hide his frustration as he repeats the same question, unsatisfied with the answers he’s getting. “How did the window break?” According to Macias, he and his girlfriend got into an argument inside his truck. Macias made his way out of the vehicle so he could “talk to her face to face,” he says. When she locked her passenger door, Macias began to “slightly” bang on the window when suddenly it broke. The swollen wounds under his girlfriend’s right eye, he says, were due to the shattered glass. That was the version after his arrest. That’s the version he gives in court. Unexpectedly, perhaps, it is also the version given by the girlfriend. However, at the hospital the night of the incident, a detail of Macias’s story was altered: a rock, thrown by an unknown assailant, is what broke the window.
Pregerson persists, asking why his story has changed. Macias quickly responds, stating the version in court was the truth. He lied about the rock being thrown the first time in order to “get the cops off our back.” He mentions multiple times that police and hospital staff intentionally separated the couple while his girlfriend was receiving treatment. Macias isn’t shy about letting the courtroom know he feels he’s being targeted for a crime he insists did not happen. His lawyer echoes these sentiments.
As the questioning continues, his confidence slowly boils down. He begins to fidget, not from frayed nerves but from irritation. The questions rain down from the prosecutor. “Did you intend to break the window?” “Explain the wounds on your hand.” “Why did she lock her door?” “If you’re both sitting in the car, why take the argument outside of it?” And no matter the trail the questioning takes, it always leads back to one query: “How did the window break?”
To the prosecution, this case is simple. Macias either punched the glass or used a rock to break it in an attempt to harm his girlfriend. The method didn’t matter, because to them it was Macias’s intent to break the window because it was his intent to hurt her. And now with two conflicting stories, photographs of the victim’s swollen face, and the cuts on the defendant’s dominant hand, Pregerson asks the jury to use their common sense.
Deputy Public Defender Kimberly Repecka objects at least a dozen times during the people’s cross-examination. Judge Francis Bennett, a no-nonsense, paternal figure, overrules her nearly every time. With his stern gaze and occasional lecture on court etiquette, Bennett clearly doesn’t have much sympathy for Macias. Pregerson’s colleagues don’t bat an eye at what sounds to them like bogus testimony. The faces of the jury, however, show uncertainty. Their heads are pendulums, swaying to whichever voice is the loudest. Some lean in to listen closely. Others react with their faces and rub their chins as they take notes. The slightest bit of doubt, Repecka knows, is all she needs.
Cool and calculated, she paces the floor, deliberate in her footfalls. She speaks with precision, inflecting on just the right words to reel in her audience. More than her showmanship, however, Repecka leans on the facts of the case. One of her early witnesses, a physician, declared it impossible to punch a “properly installed” car window without breaking one’s hand. Macias’s dominant hand contained cuts, not broken bones. Fact. The initial police report had no details of domestic violence suspicions. Fact. And as for the rock that could potentially have been used, Repecka makes clear that cannot be argued because there was no rock collected into evidence. Fact. And she has even a bigger curveball up her sleeve.
Repecka ends her cross-examination with a side-by-side comparison of two photos of the victim. One is an original, the other is a copy that was presented by Pregerson, which she states the prosecution has photoshopped with “an added hue of blue” to make the damage to her face appear worse. Pregerson throws down his papers, livid at the accusation. He replies that the slight discoloration was an unintentional artifact of the way the picture was printed.
When it comes time for closing arguments, Pregerson offers a brief plea. He appeals to the sympathy of the jury, asking them not to turn their backs on the victim. However, he lacks flair and conviction. His performance is lackluster. Repecka, on the other hand, gives a closing statement easily twice as long. She clicks through a series of slides in a powerpoint presentation that turns the courtroom into a lecture hall. She summarizes the evidence collected. She presents the legal definition of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” She is relentless.
After over three days of deliberation, no verdict is reached, and the case is once again declared a mistrial. Neither side is ecstatic. Macias is ordered to appear in court on June 4, where both sides hope the third time’s a charm.