Angels & Demons
FEAR AND ANGER: Some of the jurors were so terrified of Oba Chandler that they could hardly bear to make eye contact with him. Others wanted to slap him.
The judge nodded toward the prosecution table.
"State may inquire."
"Thank you," said Crow, springing from his chair and walking briskly to the lectern.
He did not bother to say hello to the man on the witness stand. Instead, he looked at him with naked contempt and launched his first question.
"How many times have you been convicted of a felony?"
Chandler looked back at him.
"Six times, I believe, sir."
"You believe six times?"
"I believe so."
Crow turned to the testimony of Chandler's daughter, Kristal Mays. Hadn't she told the jury that she had heard Chandler admitting to murder? And yet, Crow pointed out, Chandler had not said a word about those accusations during direct examination. He hadn't contradicted his daughter, had he?
"I have not had a chance to, sir."
"Didn't you testify on direct?"
Chandler looked confused. "Pardon me?"
"You didn't have a chance to say that under direct?"
Chandler didn't know what to say. Already, the composure he had shown during questioning from his own attorney was giving way. He looked toward the judge. He looked toward his attorneys. In his eyes, panic flashed.
Crow turned to the testimony of Kristal's husband, Rick Mays, who had also described hearing confessions from Chandler. What about those accusations? Had Chandler contradicted them?
What about the Canadian woman? Had he contradicted her testimony as to the rape?
Chandler shook his head.
"Not here to discuss the rape trial," he said, his face growing red. "Won't answer questions regarding the rape trial."
Crow stopped. He asked Chandler if he was invoking the Fifth Amendment.
"Yes, I am."
"You are afraid your answers may incriminate you? Is that why you refuse to answer?"
"You are not afraid they will incriminate you?"
"Then you can't take the Fifth Amendment."
At the defense table, Fred Zinober was standing. His client, he said, did not wish to talk about the rape case.
Judge Susan Schaeffer said that was too bad. Chandler, she said, did not get to control how this cross-examination unfolded. Either he answered the questions, or he invoked the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
"I invoke the Fifth Amendment," said Chandler.
Crow moved on.
"Let's talk about June 1, 1989. If I understood your testimony, you met the Rogers women in Tampa, correct?"
"Approximately what time did you meet them?"
Chandler shrugged. "I don't remember."
"Give me your best estimate."
"Was it morning?"
"What were you doing?"
"I don't remember, Mr. Crow."
Chandler was staring at the prosecutor now. His face was growing more and more red.
"You met the Rogers women," Crow was saying. "You wrote directions on a pamphlet, correct?"
"They went on their way?"
"As far as I know, they did."
"You saw Christe. You saw Michelle. Correct?"
What about their mother? Did he see Jo Rogers? No, Chandler said. He saw only the girls. What about a week or so later, when the bodies were identified and Michelle's and Christe's pictures were published in the paper? Did he recognize them as the girls he had met? No, Chandler said. Not at first. Not until that November, when the police made the connection between the murders and the Madeira Beach case and the composite drawing of his face appeared in the paper. It was then, he said, he realized that the two girls he had given directions to had been murdered.
"That's when for the first time you realized those were the women you gave directions to the Days Inn?"
"Five months after the crime."
Crow's questions were elliptical, gliding from one area to the next and then the next and then back to the earlier areas. He was circling, looking for the holes.
He kept in mind his conversation with Scott Hopkins just before cross had begun, when Hopkins -- an investigator for the prosecution -- had explained the problems in Chandler's account of his boat and its broken fuel hose. Crow had already factored those contradictions into his questions. At the same time, a boat mechanic had been dispatched to examine the Bayliner at the Tampa office of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
But Crow was not ready to tell any of this to the defense. Eager to keep the witness on edge, Crow did not want to reveal how he and the rest of the prosecution team knew Chandler's story was impossible, or how they were going to prove it.
But he did need to pin Chandler down. So he pressed for details. About those engine difficulties that night, he said. What had been the problem again? Just as he told his own attorney, Chandler explained that he'd had a fuel leak and had run out of gas. His 40-gallon tank had been full when he left, he said, and all of it had leaked out into the bottom of the boat and into the bay. He tried to find the leak that night, he said, but had no luck.
"You were out in the middle of the bay, leaking, at 1, 2 a.m.," said Crow. "Did you just sit there for six hours, or did you use your lantern to see where the leak was coming from?"
"I used my lantern to try to find out what my problem was, to start my boat. I
couldn't get it started. I called home."
"Well, after you called home, there's another six or seven hours before -- "
"Let me finish the question."
"Did you use the light to try to figure out what was wrong with the engine?"
"Yes, I did."
"And did it provide sufficient illumination for you to see there was a line busted?"
"Yes, it would have. But I didn't find it at that time."
"Did you call a towing service?"
"No, I did not."
"Did you try to call any of your friends who have boats?"
And once it was daylight, he had discovered the location of the leak in the fuel line? Yes. And he put tape over the leak? Yes. And by that point the gas tank was empty? Yes. And what did he do next? Chandler said he tried to flag down another boat.
That's when he saw the Coast Guard crew, he said, in one of those inflatable boats. He waved the crew members over with his shirt and asked for a tow, but they couldn't stop. They told him they were looking for a body on the rocks or something like that, he said.
Ten minutes or so later, he said, two men in a boat stopped and gave him a tow to a marina. Then he went home. Then he went to the house in Tampa where his subcontractor, Rollins Cooper, was doing some aluminum work for him.
Crow zeroed in on the time sequence of these events. Cooper, after all, had testified that he saw Chandler at the job site that morning around 7:30. Ileana Capo, the woman who owned the house where the work was taking place, had testified that she also saw Chandler around the same time.
"Do you recall her testimony?"
What about the marine phone tolls? Didn't the phone records show that Chandler made two calls that morning from the water, one at 8:11 and another at 9:52? Yes, Chandler said. Well, had Chandler made those calls before or after he got the tow to the marina and went home? Before, Chandler said. He made them while he was still out on the boat.
"If you made those calls before you came back in, Mr. Chandler, how could you have been at Ms. Capo's residence between 7:15 and 7:30?"
Flustered, Chandler shook his head.
"I was -- I didn't say I was there at 7, 7:15 or 7:30 in the morning. ... I said I do not remember what time I got there. I don't know."
His composure was almost gone. He was sighing and wiping his mouth. He seemed transformed from the congenial salesman who had testified on direct; now he came across as someone combative, controlling, angry. He argued with Crow, glared at him, complained to the judge about him.
Judge Schaeffer told Chandler to calm down.
"You won't do yourself any favors by trying to spar with this man," she said, nodding toward Crow. "He's experienced. Your best bet is to answer his questions. . . . Okay?"
Chandler nodded. "He just gets under my skin, judge."
That was exactly Crow's purpose. He wanted to break Chandler down, not just to expose the falsehoods in his testimony, but to expose the lie in the facade of detachment he had affected throughout the trial.
So the prosecutor kept pushing. He returned to Chandler's visit to Cincinnati in November 1989, after the composite drawing of the Madeira Beach rapist was published. Crow wanted to know why Chandler had made the trip.
"Did you flee the state?"
"Yes, I did."
"Because you were afraid?"
"Because I was afraid of the Madeira Beach case, yes, I was."
"The connections to the homicide had nothing to do with it?"
"Didn't worry me that much."
"The connection with the Rogers case didn't concern you?"
Chandler said it had concerned him, but not too much.
"I figured you people would find out who did it."
Crow paused, staring at the witness.
"Well, perhaps we have, Mr. Chandler."
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