30 May “He Said, Earl Said…”
HE SAID…EARL SAID
The Story of the Trial of Charles Crenshaw
“Mr. Markland, I want to ask you about this statement you made to Deputy Taylor.”
“You said you were ‘gonna send Charlie to hell.’ Do you remember saying that?”
“I can’t send anybody to hell.”
“Well you claimed you were going to send Charlie there. As a matter of fact, you often say you’re going to send Charlie or his father, or even his mother, your sister, to hell. Don’t you?”
“He’s going to hell if he doesn’t change the way he’s living.”
“And, you’re going to send him there by killing him.”
“I never said that.”
“Well if you say you’re going to ‘send someone to hell’, Mr. Markland, then how are they getting there without dying first, and you being the person that facilitates the dying?”
“You’re trying to twist my words around.”
Every case has its one thing that makes it unique and sets it apart from everything you’ve ever done prior to that point. I have been a trial attorney for quite a number of years now and I know that the stupidest thing I could ever say would be, “I’ve seen it all”. The moment you think that has happened in your career is also the moment you quit actually practicing law and started pretending. This is the story of the trial a Charlie Crenshaw. The quotations in this story are accurate only to the memory of the writer. I did not obtain the transcript from this trial and rely on memory. I learned a great deal this trial, and I was deeply honored to have the opportunity to represent Charlie Crenshaw.
Earl Markland is the uncle of Charles Crenshaw, and Charles Crenshaw is my client. It’s November 16, 2017 and the Jury is being empaneled to decide if Charles Crenshaw is guilty of threatening to perform an act of violence against his Mother’s brother, Earl Markland. It is a misdemeanor, Charlie could be sentenced up to six months in jail if the jury believes that he threatened his uncle and made him fear for his life. The state is represented by Madison Holder, Assistant District Attorney for the Pittsburg District Attorney’s Office. She had offered Charlie a plea deal that would guarantee he would not spend any time in jail, but he would have to admit guilt. Charlie refused, and claimed his innocence. This resulted in having a jury trial, which he is entitled to According to both the Oklahoma and United States Constitution.
According to Deputy Taylor of the Pittsburg County Sherriff Office, he was dispatched to Key Road about a possible trespasser. While in route, the deputy received a call explaining that Charles Crenshaw, who claimed that his uncle, Earl Markland, had trespassed on his property, was no longer in need of assistance. The trespasser, Markland, had left. However, before Deputy Taylor could return he was notified by dispatch that now Earl Markland wanted his assistance, and the deputy traveled to his location.
The deputy met with Earl and Earl gave him this story. (I am going to attempt to tell the story as I imagined Earl did. I am creating this account based on the deputy’s report and the Earl that I come to know through the course of this case.) Earl explained to Taylor that Charlie was family and that the family had many problems with Charlie and unfortunately this included Earl. Charlie was such a disappointment, you know the drugs and all of that, and that’s why Earl has such trouble with him. (Charlie does not have any documented history with drug abuse and his immediate family that know him best, disputes this claim.) Earl has tried to help Charlie, but he’s just one of those lost causes, you know.
So, today Earl was just traveling down Key Road, minding his own business, when he saw standing water on the side of the roadway. Well this concerned him because he shares a waterline to his property with Charlie (I couldn’t find any evidence this was true, through county records.) So, Earl got out of his truck to investigate and possibly fix the leak. That’s when Charlie came out of his house and claimed that Earl was trespassing. Earl politely tried to explain to Charlie that he was in fact on an easement and why he was there. (I found no evidence of the existence of an easement near the location where Earl alleges he was.) But, Charlie was out of control, he wouldn’t listen, he just kept screaming at Earl. As Earl again tried to calmly plead his case to Charlie, Charlie turned, went back into the residence, then returned with a rifle or a shotgun. Charlie was now screaming that he was going to shoot and kill Earl. Earl was thinking in his mind that if Charlie actually fire the weapon then he would have to “send him to hell” (actual quote). Earl being the rational and calm one in this whole mess, slowly went back to his vehicle and left.
Taylor did contact Charlie Crenshaw by telephone to get his reaction to Earl’s recollection of events. Charlie responded that Markland was “full of shit”. Taylor submitted his report without any further investigation and District Attorney Chuck Sullivan actually brought charges against Charles Crenshaw. When Crenshaw refused to take their offer to essentially pay some money and take some probation, rather than re-evaluate their case they moved forward ready for trial.
I talked to Charles Crenshaw about Markland’s accusations, and as you can imagine he not only out right denied them, but he began to paint for me a very different picture of his uncle. Charlie Crenshaw is not a big man, maybe around 5’8 and no more than 150 lbs. Earl Markland is a much larger man, easily settling in at over 300 lbs., with a colorful history. For work Earl made a career as a guard at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, from which he had retired. According to those I interviewed, Earl was known to be a bit of a bruiser. He would not hesitate to strike an inmate that he felt had not followed the rules, and also used his voice to berate other inmates that he didn’t strike. He was even named individually in a lawsuit brought by an inmate seeking damages for abuse.
Earl is also a bit of a lady’s man, having been married a few times. The most interesting thing I found was a criminal filing from 1991. According to the District Attorney at the time, Earl’s recently divorced wife, Marquetta pulled up to the curb in front of Earl’s home to pick up their son. The child was visiting with his father per a recent divorce decree at the time. When the child did not immediately come from the home, Marquetta honked her horn once in case those in the house did not notice her pull up. The child come running out shortly after and said to his mother, “Mom, my dad almost shot you.” According to the filed affidavit the following then occurred:
“Earl Markland walked to the car, pointing his finger at Marquetta Markland, saying, ‘Let me tell you something. Don’t ever pull in my driveway or even to the side of the road by my house in that car.’ He had a small shiny object in his hand and began hitting the windshield with it. Marquetta Markland drove off as quick as she could and went to the McAlester Police Department.”
Earl was charged with misdemeanor assault and malicious injury to property. All charges would eventually be dismissed at the insistence of Marquetta, but the whole incident began to paint a picture that resembled the Earl Markland I was hearing about from family and neighbors that knew him. Earl is a bully and apparently one with a bad temper. This case was as a simple as one’s word against the other. Someone was definitely lying about what happened that day, and I knew that something like this old filing would be just the thing to get Earl angry on the stand and show the jury a side of him that he might wish to hide. A side of him that would lend credibility to Charlie’s story, but there was just one problem.
I would be prevented from questioning Earl about the details of this old filing. For one it was not even a conviction and it was well over ten years old, further if the state filed what’s called a “Motion in Limine” they could keep this evidence out for those very reasons and prevent me from even talking about it. It wasn’t hard to find after all it was public record, but to my shock as the trial approached and even began that morning Madison Holder never asked the court to exclude me from discussing this. Still the problem remained, how do you get it in? Well there was only one way and I would have to rely on my preparation into the type of person Earl really was, and hope that he would answer one particular question the way I needed him to. It was a longshot.
The trial started with jury selection, or voir dire. The judge asked the statutory questions necessary for determining whether we had the basis of an impartial panel. The state went next and did what I’ve come to expect every time. Ms. Holder read from a script that she kept in front of her at the podium and asked the jury to swear their allegiance to the law and make promises to be good. It resulted in absolutely nothing but a few doodles on my notepad.
The only interesting moment came when Judge Hogan was reading the names of potential witnesses and mentioned that of Earl Markland. Upon hearing the name, one juror claimed he could not be fair. When the court inquired as to why, the juror remarked that he once worked with Markland and could not fairly consider anything he had to say.
When I approached the jury, we talked about what it’s like to be accused. I used real examples from my own life in an effort to get the jurors to open up about themselves and disclose if they had ever found themselves in a position that might be like that of Charlie. The jury was lively and we discussed all kinds of situations from their own lives that did in fact line up with what Charlie was experiencing. We next talked about how to spot a liar. I allowed the jurors to teach me in the ways to determine if in fact someone was telling the truth or exhibited the character traits of a trust worthy person. By allowing the jurors to be the teacher and me the student, I was able to lead them to the mindset that I wanted them to be in to judge the facts of this case. Also, by doing this I was able to establish a togetherness between myself and the jury, we began to mold into on body and hold our own discussion as the government and the judge looked on. When I sat down I truly felt that whatever combination of jurors would remain after the attorneys paired down the panel would be good for us.
With jury selection complete, we now had six persons (only six jurors are required for a misdemeanor trial), and the court called for opening statements. Ms. Holder began the trial by reading an opening statement to the jurors. In it she parroted the officer’s report and concluded that based upon the facts as reported by Earl Markland the jury would have no choice but to find Charles Crenshaw guilty. At the conclusion it was clear she either had no idea who Earl Markland was or was trying to deceive the jury about him.
I used my opening statement to tell the story that Deputy Taylor had never actually written down, Charlie’s side. I told the jury who Earl really was, a bully. That he had harassed my client for years, and that it all went back to a family gathering a few years ago when Earl attempted to verbally bully Charlie and Charlie stood his ground. Ever since then Earl would show up on Charlie’s property, and curse and threaten him. Charlie would even file for protective orders against Earl in hopes that would persuade him to leave him alone, but you don’t stand up to Earl Markland. If you cross Earl Markland he will “send you to hell”.
I don’t even recall the point in this trial when Deputy Taylor actually testified. This trial was about one thing and one thing only, the testimony of Earl Markland, and when he walked into the courtroom to take the stand, I was not disappointed. Earl is in fact a big man, and it took a moment for him to adjust his girth inside the witness box. Once he was ready, he turned to Ms. Holder and began to answer the questions she read from her script on the podium.
What occurred over the next several minutes was a comedy of the most dangerous. I watched on with amusement as the prosecutor delivered one flat emotionless line after another read from a prepared script, Markland, the most passionate of the two. He would meet each scripted question with a narcissistic response about his chivalry as compared to his dastardly nephew. Every time Ms. Holder would mutter the name Charles Crenshaw, Earl would first physically react by shaking his head as if consumed by disappointment, before he began to testify as to the tragic lost soul his nephew was.
As you can imagine Charles was twisting in his seat as he looked on at what could only be described as a circus, but this was in fact the most dangerous part of the trial. Charles and I did know who Earl was, the jury did not. The jury did not have any control to compare the Earl Markland that was before them now too. Mine and Charlie’s reaction to what we were seeing would have been completely natural given what we knew, but to a jury that did not share our insight any reaction on our part would come across negatively. As hard as it was, both of us were able to contain ourselves and let this large man paint a picture of himself that he could never live up to, especially when Ms. Holder came to the conclusion of her script and sat down. Al that was left was the great test of the case – could I show the jury the truth through Earl.
I began my cross examination with just re solidifying Earl’s version of the facts. How he happened onto the property that day, the water break, the easement, and how he handled himself using a calm and clear voice. Once we established all of that bovine excrement, I moved on to slowly and politely invite the real Earl to come out. I pointed out that he claimed to be on an easement, but I could find no such easement. He disagreed even while I held a plot map I’d gotten from the County Clerk above my head so that the jury could see it clearly. I used this opportunity to point out that Earl had made frequent visits to Charlie’s property uninvited, and to the point that Charlie requested a protective order to keep Earl from coming over to his property. Earl began to shift his bulk from side to side in the witness seat. He wouldn’t answer my questions directly but would use it as an opportunity to say Charlie was a bad person, a violent person and a drug addict. “All the more reason to stay away from his property then?” I asked.
And what of this water leak. A water leak is a serious matter and could result in Earl not having any water at his home. That is if he could show me that there actually was a water main that fed Earl’s property that went across Charlie’s. Again, the maps I had obtained from the Clerk’s office were not helpful to Earl and when he couldn’t point out the location of this water main, he just claimed that the Clerk was wrong. I asked if the Clerk was a bad person, who did a lot of drugs and made up lies about Earl too. We were there! This infuriated Earl. He didn’t like being embarrassed and he began to answer my questions (well avoid answering my questions) with growls. When I next questioned the existence of a water leak at all, he went completely over the edge. I pointed out that he never testified how the line was fixed. Did he call the County? A private company? No, he never reported a water leak to anyone.
“So, how was it fixed, Mr. Markland?”
“I don’t know it just was.”
“You’re just trying to twist my words around, and you’re not goanna get away with it.”
“It wasn’t magic was it? There never was a water leak, you just made it up, and now you’re continuing to lie about it today?”
Markland launched into a diatribe about what a real liar was and talked about how Charlie was a disappointment to the whole family, including his sister, Charlie’s mother. I never stopped him. I let him ramble and say all the nasty things he wanted. Sitting in the audience, supporting her son, was Charlie’s mother. She was glaring at her brother as he spewed from the witness stand. When Earl was finished I pointed out the woman he was talking about and noted that she was there supporting her son, days after receiving a recent radiation treatment. Earl took this as an opportunity to speak badly about his sister who was battling cancer. There was only one thing left.
I asked Earl Markland if he had ever been charged with a crime of assault? The question didn’t hang in the air as I worried it might, Earl rose to the bait just as I had hoped he would and his answer could not have been more perfect. “No”, he said.
“Really”, I began and started to pull out the documents from his assault charge on Marquetta. When I asked him about the charge itself, the state objected. When we approached the bench, First Assistant Adam Scharn began to argue vehemently that I could not introduce this evidence for a number of reasons, all of which were correct, but Earl had said, “No”. Earl lied and opened the door for what is called impeachment. Because of his lie his credibility was at issue and I could use the old charges to question his credibility. Judge Hogan denied the state’s objection and I used the old case to paint the final touches on the type of person Earl actually was. As I would later describe him in closing, a bully, and a liar.
The jury was given the case only to return minutes later and find Charles Crenshaw, “NOT GUILTY”.
I would find out a few weeks later that my perception of Earl Markland was remarkably accurate when I received a letter from the Oklahoma Bar Association. Earl had written to the BAR and complained that I was among several things unprofessional and should be disbarred. He misused several words in an effort to describe me as a liar, which ironically is exactly what the jury ultimately judged him as.
There is nothing more difficult than a trial in which the only evidence is someone else’s word against another. The jury doesn’t get to pour over lab reports or DNA, or even photographs or illustrations. Instead they must make an on the spot decision as to who is telling the truth. In a situation like this the defendant is always at an extreme disadvantage. The mere fact that the defendant is defendant clearly indicates to the jury who the government believes, and who wants to think their government is wrong? Imagine how much more difficult that situation might be if the person on the other side is a police officer, as was the case in the trial of Ruben Gutierrez, which you can find here:https://seoklaw.com/…/five-minute-verdict-the-story-of-the…/. Or the accuser is a disabled and vulnerable woman, as was the situation in the case against Michael Tadlock, which you can find here:https://seoklaw.com/…/sex-lies-and-a-search-for-the-truth-…/ . Cases of one person’s word against another are not uncommon in our criminal justice system, and to the defendant that swears to everyone he knows that he is telling the truth, the prospect of pleading guilty has to be terrible. However, a true trial lawyer does not fear to take on a case like this and uses certain tools to discover the story so that a jury can hear it and be able to find the truth. It’s what we do.