You couldn’t ask for two more different attorneys than Joseph Tully and Nolan Weber to argue opposite sides of the People vs. Carlos Zapata/ Elizabeth Bailey/Christopher Meagher case.
It’s the story of the tortoise and the hare.
Zapata’s criminal defense lawyer Tully is the hare; intense, high-energy and dramatic. Throughout this trial, now on Day 6, Tully has brought along a mixed bag of distractions to the race which he sprinkles liberally along the path: speed bumps, obstacles and detour signs galore.
Deputy District Attorney Weber is the tortoise; methodical, serious, low-key and repetitive, delivering some of the same key phases throughout his arguments:
Words don’t justify a battery.
Belief in future harm is never grounds for self- defense.
Words, no matter how offensive, and acts that are not threatening, are not enough to justify assault or battery.
With each day of the trial, Weber gained momentum. By the conclusion of his rebuttal Tuesday, he had utilized a figurative push broom to clear away Tully’s mountain of seemingly erratic debris so the jury might decipher and inspect two piles of information: irrelevant details on one side of the road, and legal facts on the other.
Tully, off to the races!
On Thursday during his closing arguments, Weber predicted that when the trial resumed on Tuesday Tully would smear the victim Nathanial Pinkney, the man who’d who’d been doused by Zapata’s drink, grabbed by Bailey until his shirt ripped, punched by Meagher, and threatened with a Co-2 canister by Meagher, all at Pinkney’s workplace.
Weber was right.
Tully eviscerated Pinkney’s credibility, and pointed out the contrast between “the well-mannered gentleman you saw on the witness stand” and the man Tully described as a lying, profane, attention-seeking social-media addict who played the part of the victim, with relish. Tully described Pinkney as an out-of-control “man with a mission” who smirked and made “mean mugging” facial expressions.
For several cringe-worthy moments, Tully played an expletive-filled social media video of Pinkney speaking directly to Zapata following the May 4 assault that was filled with F-bombs used as nouns, adjectives and verbs, punctuated with an extended middle finger.
Pinkney was also quoted calling Bailey the “c-word” and the “b-word”.
Not Pinkney’s finest moments.
While Tully often used glowing words to paint his client Zapata in a favorable light, such as when Tully referenced Zapata’s time in the Marine Corps, there were no such words spoken about Pinkney, who also served in the military.
As Weber clarified several times, he wasn’t Pinkney’s lawyer, which explained why Weber spent zero time as Pinkney’s apologist or character-voucher. To put it bluntly, Weber said he was under no obligation to make Pinkney look like a good guy.
What’s more, Weber admitted that he could understand why some people might be off-put by Pinkney. Weber reminded the jury that it would be different if they were assessing whether they wanted to hang out with Pinkney, or hire him for a job. But in this instance, their job was to apply the law to this case and decide if the three defendants were guilty of the charges.
Tully mentioned some details as fact that no evidence had been brought forth in the trial, such as an accusation that following the drink-dousing episode, that Pinkney yelled at Bailey while she was at the patio of the 1724 restaurant kitty corner from where the Zapata/Pinkney incident took place.
With or without evidence, Tully explained that was why Meagher got involved: He was protecting the honor of Bailey, his girlfriend.
At one point Tully pointed to yet another insufferable video surveillance clip, and said, “We see Mr. Meagher reacting to something Nathan said to Ms. Bailey.”
Hard as I tried, I could not see what Tully said he saw.
No wonder. Here on Day 6 of the trial, numbed by untold hours spent following jittery red laser points directed at multiple frames of grainy, soundless black-and-white surveillance videos ad nauseum, almost anyone could claim to see anything in a frame and the statement would go undisputed.
Look! It’s Elvis!
Sure. If you say so.
In Tully’s scatter-shot style, among the examples he used to illustrate his point was a story about a beat-up van and a creepy man trying to lure the woman into the vehicle. For effect, Tully even projected a photo of a rusty white paneled van upon the screen.
That story paled in comparison to the head-shakingly bizarre fictional story Tully recalled from his old bar-exam days that featured Person A and Person B – Bob or Jake or Tom – the details of which included explosive diarrhea, a Porta Potty, a gun, a knife, and a misunderstanding, all leading to the concept of “chain reaction of defense”.
The one-jury, triple-joinder Zapata, Bailey and Meagher trial is confusing enough without the addition of random, unrelated details about explosive diarrhea and creepy guys with white vans.
Even so, here’s how the chain reaction of defense would work in this case, according to Tully:
Bailey grabbed Pinkney’s shirt. Pinkney pulled away roughly. Pinkney called Bailey a c—. Meagher saw and heard Pinkney yelling outside near 1724. Meagher saw Pinkney pull away roughly from Bailey. Meagher heard Pinkney call his girlfriend a c—.
Ergo, what really happened, according to Tully, was Pinkney was actually luring Zapata, Bailey and Meagher inside the restaurant.
Tully said that what kicked off this chain reaction of events was Bailey sensed something wasn’t right about Pinkney, and she feared harm to herself and others if Nathan were allowed to return inside the restaurant. That’s why she grabbed him, Tully said.
Tully said that if it turned out that Bailey was justified when she initially grabbed Pinkney’s shirt, then the defendants’ other actions were justified, too.
This prompted a question blurted out of turn from the lawyers’ table from Deputy District Attorney Anthony Miller who asked, “I’m sorry. What law is that?”
That exchange resulted in a trip to the judge’s bench.
Luring. And self-defense. That’s what Tully claimed really happened behind the restaurant on May 4.
Tully characterized Zapata as the calm de-escalator. Furthermore, Tully said that when Zapata suggested to Pinkney that they “take it outside,” why, it was just for a conversation.
“In the real world,” Tully said, “ ‘Let’s settle this outside’ doesn’t mean anything.”
Tully rolled out the self-defense explanation for why Zapata, Bailey and Meagher converged upon Pinkney. Tully doubled down on his claim that Pinkney was attempting to lure the threesome into the back door of the restaurant. Why? Because that’s where Pinkney had a loaded handgun.
Pinkney’s handgun was mentioned many times. In fact, during Weber’s rebuttal he said he’d anticipated that the gun would play a prominent part in defense arguments, and sure enough, he counted 37 times Tuesday that Pinkney’s gun was mentioned by the three criminal defense attorneys.
Of course, what is this trial without reference to the glass of liquid that Zapata was to have spilled/splashed accidentally or intentionally upon Pinkney?
Tully stuck to his story that the drink episode was an accident, as four witnesses testified. This is where the prosecution might interject that three of the witnesses were employees of the Blade & Barrel restaurant, the Zapata couple’s favorite dining establishment, where they are regulars, and where they’re friendly with the owner. The fourth witness was Zapata’s wife, Rebecca.
What makes all four witnesses’ various water-glass testimonies problematic is the fact that Zapata himself admitted on a Red White and Blueprint episode that he knew where the drink was going.
What’s a jury to do when four witnesses – one of whom is Zapata’s wife – contradict the lead defendant’s first-person admission of guilt?
Meet Bailey and Meagher’s attorneys
After lunch, Bailey and Meagher’s criminal defense attorneys, Ryan H. Birss and Timothy Prentiss, respectively, delivered their closing arguments. Their statements offered the jury and courtroom audience a rare glimpse at the men who’ve been largely mute throughout the previous five days of the Zapata, Bailey and Meagher trial.
Birss made immediate positive points with the jury and got a laugh when he promised to not play any videos.
He said that this case was about truth that had been distorted by the DA. He described Pinkney as a liar, and his client Bailey as an innocent woman sipping an espresso martini with her boyfriend at the 1724 restaurant on Market Street.
Prentiss, Meagher’s criminal defense attorney, echoed Birss and Tully’s characterization of Pinkney as a person lacking in credibility.
Perhaps answering the question about why Prentiss and Birss had been so quiet during the previous five days of the trial, Prentiss said the spotlight was on the People to prove the defendants were guilty.
“The defense doesn’t have to prove anything,” Prentiss said. “We provide what we think happened.”
Prentiss said that Pinkney overreacted to the water incident.
“He instigated this,” Prentiss said. “Mr. Pinkney caused this situation.”
He said his client, Meagher, didn’t just run up and punch Pinkney, but rather, Meagher initially retreated (taking advantage of the video surveillance that showed Meagher taking a step back), before stepping up to lunge at Pinkney.
Prentiss said that Bailey felt she was protecting herself by grabbing Pinkney (to keep from going inside to where the gun about which she was unaware was located).
According to Prentiss, at that moment Meagher reacted after he saw Bailey being “violently pulled” inside.
“He only acted after what he saw as something threatening to his girlfriend,” Prentiss explained about Meagher.
Also, Prentiss said that all Meagher said to Pinkney was “What’s up?”
Prentiss failed to mention the second part of Meagher’s greeting, “Motherf——,” or that he used the word “n—-r” directed to one of Pinkney’s colleagues, who’s black.
Weber’s last word
Weber began his rebuttal with a small prop: a single red Sharpie, which he held up and showed the jury, as if it were something noteworthy. He walked to the large time-line chart and drew a vertical line in front of the last row of text.
“That’s where the crime ends,” he said, effectively removing everything off the table for consideration that happened after Pinkney was assaulted at the back door of the restaurant. No testimony about the gun, or yelling, or Pinkney’s mood, or anything else after the assault.
Weber acknowledged that four people had a very bad night on May 4.
Weber said that as interesting as the details about Pinkney’s gun may have been, the gun details were irrelevant to this case, as well as other details, like whether Pinkney did or didn’t have a knife.
Weber, who likes numbers, noted that Tully spoke for 29 minutes in front of the jurors before mentioning the law.
He said that Pinkney was on the witness stand for seven hours.
He poked holes in the defense team’s inconsistent descriptions of Pinkney as simultaneously “unfathomably irrational and angry”, but also a “premeditated, lying-in-wait murderer.”
What most likely happened, Weber said, was Zapata got upset after Pinkney called him a “tiny man”. In turn, Zapata called Pinkney a “faggot”.
“They don’t have anything,” Weber said of the defense. “Any time they try to establish a fact they’re blocked by legal principles.”
Weber said the true story was simple: The defendants harassed Pinkney because they were upset that Pinkney created parodies about Zapata and the Red, White and Blueprint movement.
“The answer to bad speech is better speech,” Weber said. “You don’t seize that as an opportunity to assault someone.”
Weber disregarded the defendants’ self-defense claim.
“He’s corralled by three people, all at least six feet tall, one of them is a black belt in jujitsu,” Weber said of Pinkney’s assault on May 4, adding that Pinkney didn’t want to fight any of the defendants.
Consciousness of guilt
As Weber wrapped up his rebuttal, he projected two images of Zapata’s words. One image quotes Zapata saying, “Let’s make a deal. You don’t say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say in person and I won’t whip your ass when I see you. Easy as pie.”
The second image quotes Zapata telling about the drink episode, and includes the obvious untrue statement that Zapata didn’t know the people involved in the Pinkney altercation.
The second image quotes Bailey, who told the 1724 bartender that she had to go “help a friend”.
Weber homed in on the fact that Zapata literally broadcast the story about the drink on his Red, White and Blueprint podcast.
“He admits, the crime,” Weber said of Zapata. “He acts out the crime.”
Weber said that the defense was just “throwing sand in the air” and “mudding the waters” to avoid the facts of the case, which boiled down to means, motive, opportunity and intent.
Finally, Weber left the jury with one more thought about the Red White and Blueprint podcast in which Zapata re-enacts the water-glass incident.
“He describes it as a confrontation,” Weber said of Zapata. “He didn’t describe it as an accident.”
At about 3:30 p.m. the attorneys were finished with their arguments. The next segment of the trial is in the jury’s hands. By a little past 4 p.m. the jury was dismissed for the day. They’ll resume their deliberations today under the guidance of the trial’s presiding Shasta County Superior Court Judge Jody Burgess.
The prevailing expectation is that the jury may return a verdict as soon as tomorrow, or perhaps Thursday.
Soon, we’ll know whether the Shasta County District prevailed, or if Zapata, as he wrote on social media, will “shove this case down their throats”.
As Tully, Zapata’s attorney is fond of saying, “Words matter.”
Yes, they do.
12:50 p.m. Sept. 23 2021 update:
Here’s information regarding the status of the jury deliberations from a source who was inside the courtroom this morning:
Six jurors were present inside the courtroom this morning, and the remaining jurors communicated via phone.
During deliberations yesterday, one juror became sick with COVID. Other jurors who said they had close contact with the afflicted juror were placed on home quarantine. The judge spoke (either in person or by phone) with each juror and arranged for trial deliberations to resume Oct. 5.
Joseph Tully, Zapata’s attorney, requested a mistrial, though didn’t provide an explanation for his request.
Tully and the Shasta County District Attorney’s office will file briefs with the Shasta County Court to either support or not support the case for mistrial.
The other attorneys did not request a mistrial.
No matter how long the deliberations take, until the verdict is reached, the jurors remain under the judge’s original rules that bans jurors from exposure to news, social media or any other information sources where the case might be mentioned. The jurors also remain under orders to not discuss the case with anyone.
If all goes well with regard to COVID-19 and juror quarantining, deliberations will resume Oct 5.
A Thursday-afternoon media release from the Shasta County Superior Court said this:
In the meantime, the mistrial-related briefs will be reviewed by Judge Burgess who will rule on the issue. The source offered his impression that Judge Burgess was skeptical of the mistrial motion.