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Attorneys prep for capital murder trial by testing Internet testimony technology

By Jessica Priest
July 19, 2013 at 2:19 a.m.


Sixth Amendment

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense."

It took about 30 minutes of plugging and unplugging USB cords, but Victoria County technicians did it.

They projected in a hushed downtown courtroom a live feed of two people sitting in a room more than 2,000 miles away.

"Can you hear me?" Criminal District Attorney Stephen Tyler said, tapping on a large, gold microphone.

"Yes," a woman with the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office said, smiling.

Tyler successfully set up, for the first time locally, a live, two-way audio/video feed. A witness may use the technology to testify in the Aug. 5 capital murder trial of Dedrick Roy Bonner, 19, and Donnell Deshaun Dilworth, 23, both of Victoria.

The men are charged in the April 24, 2012, shooting death of Jerry James III.

The witness, Allaceia Marie Stephney, cannot testify in person because her doctors have so far forbid her from flying. She is being treated in Multnomah County in Oregon for a gunshot wound to the leg she suffered during the same shooting.

After verifying the device worked, attorneys sparred briefly before 135th District Judge Kemper Stephen Williams over whether this violates the defendants' Sixth Amendment right to face their accuser.

Attorney Jerry Clark, who represents Bonner, stressed it is an important tenet of America's criminal justice system.

He wanted to double check that Stephney is still, in fact, incapacitated since Tyler filed the motion in March. If she is not incapacitated, this is a moot point and would not satisfy standards set by the appellate court in previous cases, he said.

Tyler agreed to produce newer doctors' notes. He added that two extra cameras - one pointed at the judge and one pointed at the attorneys - give the witness vantage points that far exceed what the appellate court has historically required.

"If she could travel, I would much rather bring her here," but she might get a blood clot on the plane, Tyler said after the 1:30 p.m. Friday hearing. "I can't ask Victoria taxpayers to foot the bill on that, and I don't want to be responsible for a woman losing her leg or her life."

Williams will allow both Clark and Victoria attorney Lee Lewis, who represents Dilworth, the opportunity to submit written objections by late next week. Then, he will rule on the issue.

Lewis, declining to specify what objections he had, said the two's objections would be similar.

The parties also grappled with reserving both the room and technology in Multnomah County. Tyler wanted access to it for a whole week, should defense attorneys need to call Stephney to the stand a second time.

He feared that not producing Stephney in a reasonable amount of time would allow a judge to strike her testimony.

"I've never known the court's patience to be that elastic," Tyler said.

"If they need me to mail them a camera and laptop, I will do that," he said.

Tyler contends this protects the defendants' right to a speedy trial. They've been held in the Victoria County jail for more than a year.

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