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Eric Boyd Murder Trial

Trial Attorney Page Pate joins Court TV to discuss trial strategy in the Eric Boyd murder case in Knoxville, Tennessee. Boyd is charged with murder and other serious crimes for his involvement in the brutal death of a local couple in 2007.

TRANSCRIPT:

Yodit: What are your thoughts about the state bringing this case 12 years later and the only difference, the only evidence new linking Eric Boyd to the crimes, is their key witness, a co-defendant, George Thomas?

Page: It’s a mistake. But I understand why they are doing it. Knoxville is a very small community. It’s a city, has a big college in it but, basically, it’s a small, tight-knit community. There is a lot of pressure on the district attorney’s office from the family, other people in the community, saying, “Look, this guy may have been convicted of his involvement way back when, in a federal case, but he’s about to get out of prison and that ain’t right.

So we want you guys to get everything together again, play your case out in front of the jury, use whatever new evidence you have, as shaky as it may be,” and it is very shaky in this case, “and try to get this guy held responsible for the deaths of these two people.” So, I think the DA’s office was put into a corner. They felt like they had to try the case. They’re doing the best they can, but I don’t see a guilty verdict here.

Yodit: I’ve been reading some comments from our viewers. And a lot of them are driven emotionally by this case. Of course, the details are extremely horrific. Gruesome, right? And I think a lot of that is what the state’s trying to do. They’re trying to pull this jury in emotionally. However, there was one particular comment that really bothered me, and I’m hoping that that’s not sort of the mindset that these jurors are in. And it was, “We know Boyd was involved. We know he was there.” This whole we know. No, we don’t know, right?

Page: Right.

Yodit: We don’t convict people off of gut instincts, gut feelings, right? It’s not about what you know, but what you can prove. And right now, the state isn’t proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Eric Boyd was present. Do you think that that’s going to be problematic for the defense, with regards to the jury having that same mindset?

Page: Yes. I think that’s the biggest problem for the defense. I mean, this…you can’t imagine a more serious, horrible, tragic crime than the one that’s played out in court. The one that everyone was convicted of who was directly involved so many years ago. What is possible here, is that the jury is thinking, “Wait a minute. This guy was clearly at least involved to some extent. Maybe it was just helping after the fact, but he knew what went on and he didn’t do what he should have done. He needs to be held responsible.”

And if they are not aware of the fact that he was convicted in federal court, that he is currently serving prison time, there may be a strong desire on behalf of the jury to at least get him now. “Let’s make sure he has some responsibility for what happened to these folks.”

Yodit: What he said in his opening statement, the attorney for the defense, “Basically, what they’ve done, the state, is they’ve reprinted the indictments they used to convict the murderers and they’ve used it to charge Mr. Boyd.” Do you think that that was gonna be effective, or is going to be effective? Because I think he will reiterate that point in his closing.

Page: Yes, but I could also see a compromised verdict. If you get some of the jury saying, “This guy needs to pay. He needs to be held responsible.” Others saying, “Well, there’s not sufficient evidence to show he was directly involved in the murder.” “Well, let’s pick a charge, maybe something less serious than the actual murder charge. Let’s convict him of something before we go home. We owe it to the families. We owe it to the community.”

That’s always dangerous for a defense lawyer, when the jury decides, “I’m not gonna sit here and weight the evidence like the judge is telling me. Somebody has to pay, and this is the only guy in front of us today.”

Woman: You know, it would be interesting if the defense attorney actually has Boyd testify.

Page: Oh, yeah.

Woman: And then, Boyd could say…

Yodit: That…exactly.

Woman: Yeah.

Yodit: And I was…

Woman: Not that they will do that.

Yodit: Not a good idea, Page?

Page: Well, I don’t think so, but you’re right, that that is one way…

Yodit: That’s one way. That’s one way.

Page: …you can get the federal conviction in. Because at that point, he’s a witness, he would be able to testify that, “I have this conviction. It could affect whether you believe me or not.” But it also helps.

Woman: And it may help.

Page: Exactly.

Woman: It may help if he’s remorseful.

Page: You’re right.

Yodit: So don’t need it right now, because the state…

Page: Right, and you were saying earlier, too, in a way, the state has not proven their case.

Yodit: Has not proven, right.

Page: Now, if they had really incredible evidence, it was overwhelming, their witnesses came off perfectly, then maybe you go to that, you know, plan B, plan C, whatever you wanna call it.

Woman: Plan D.

Page: Plan D.

Woman: Or Z, really.

Page: Plan F, I think, in this case. But you don’t do it, I don’t think, at this stage.

Yodit: How much pressure do you think there is on the jury when you’ve got the family of these victims in there every single day, and knowing that they’ve been there on more than one occasion? Twelve years later, how much of an impact do you think that has on their decision, Page?

Page: Well, it depends on where we are. An in Knoxville, I think it has a big impact. And it’s not so much the family of the victims. Obviously, the people there in the community wanna do whatever they can to help them to get past it and get some closure here. But it’s also your friends and your neighbors. I mean, everybody in Knoxville knows about this case. And it’s not something that’s gonna go away once this trial is over with.

So people that they go to church with, they go to school with, they go to work with will remember that they served on this jury and, perhaps, were the ones that let the last guy get away. So, that’s gonna weigh in their minds. And that’s why we were talking earlier, you know, where is the balance between following the jury instructions that the judge is gonna give them, following the law, and then trying to do something that they feel they may need to do for the community?

Yodit: And I think it’s telling, too, in terms of how tight-knit this community is, because the judge would always ask the jury at the start of every trial day if they’ve felt any undue pressure, if they’ve come up on news, or anybody tell them things about this case, which I find very odd that he does it every day versus just one admonishment and say, “Hey, if you ever were to… Don’t do this, don’t do that, and if it does happen let the court know.” So, do you have any thoughts about that?

Page: Well, it’s not totally uncommon, especially in a murder case. I mean, you’ve got local reporters there. There’s gonna be some coverage of it. But, yes, I do think it’s especially sensitive here, even though there hasn’t been a lot of recent coverage. And I think that’s the excuse the judge used, “Let’s go ahead and try it here. It hasn’t been covered as much now as it was back then, so maybe the people won’t remember.” Not so. Not a case like this. Not a town like Knoxville.

Yodit: Okay, so one of the, I guess, important witnesses that the state brought was Daphne Sutton, and she was the girlfriend of the ringleader Lemaricus Davidson. And she went on the stand and, essentially, she’s the only one that went into the house that came out and wasn’t indicted for any crimes. So, she was the one that, basically, said that she didn’t see Eric Boyd at all in the house. Let’s listen to a clip of her on the stand, and then I’m gonna get your thoughts.

Attorney: At least, in your initial interviews with police, you were less than forthcoming with them.

Daphne: Yes, at first.

Attorney: That’d be a nice way to put it. You…

Daphne: Yes, I lied.

Attorney: You lied to them about what you had seen and as what had occurred. For [inaudible 00:06:35], you lied about the last time you’d seen him.

Daphne: Yes.

Attorney: And then, in addition, you lied to them about what had taken place whenever you had been around Mr. Davidson.

Daphne: What do you mean?

Attorney: Whether…

Daphne: What took place?

Attorney: Whether or not he had a gun, whether you saw a gun.

Daphne: Did I lie? What are you asking me?

Attorney: Yeah, I was asking you. You didn’t tell them that information, that you had seen him, correct?

Daphne: I’m not sure…

Attorney: You don’t…

Daphne: …at first, what I told them. Honestly, I don’t remember the lies.

Attorney: And so, and then you talked to them again, a second time. Is that right?

Daphne: To who?

Attorney: The police.

Daphne: Yes.

Attorney: And in their second interview, were you totally honest with them at that point in time?

Daphne: No.

Attorney: When was it that you became totally honest with law enforcement in this case?

Daphne: Maybe the third time.

Attorney: The third time you talked to the police.

Daphne: Yes.

Attorney: And that’s when you finally told them everything that you knew about what had transpired, involving Mr. Davidson.

Daphne: I told them what I knew about where Lemaricus had been.

Attorney: Okay.

Yodit: Page, you got any thoughts?

Page: Well, it’s not a good strategy, but I suppose it makes some sense to let the jury know that this individual made some false statements, had some involvement or knowledge of what went on, and appear to not have been prosecuted. So maybe you’re pointing out to the jury, you know, “She also was there. She also said things that were inaccurate to the police. Maybe she should be culpable and they’re not holding her culpable, apparently, at least like they’re trying to do to my client.” I don’t think it’s a good strategy, but we’re searching here trying to figure out why.

Yodit: Yeah.

Page: And maybe you do say, “Look, even in these inconsistent statements that you gave, you were consistent about one thing.”

Yodit: Right.

Page: “And that is, this guy was not there.”

Yodit: And he did not do that.

Page: Right. That would have been, I think, the final question, if that was the line of questioning.

Woman: Yeah.

Yodit: Yeah.