sptimes.com
Home
Web Specials
  Angels & Demons
 

A_D_Header
Chandler on the stand

Times file photos (1994) -- MAURICE RIVENBARK

CROSS-EXAMINATION: Through most of the trial, Chandler maintained his composure. But under questioning from prosecutor Doug Crow, he became flustered and combative.


The cross-examination was still going when the mechanic called from the FDLE office. He had studied the Bayliner and its engine, and it was just as Scott Hopkins had remembered. In fact, it was all exactly as the prosecutors had hoped.

The fuel line.

The tank.

The valve.

Everything they needed.

***

They got the word to Crow during a break in the testimony. And when cross resumed, Crow ran with it.

"May I approach the witness, your honor?"

"You may," said Judge Schaeffer.

Crow handed a photo of the Bayliner to Chandler and asked him to show exactly where the broken fuel line had been.

"It's in the front of the engine, up in the front."

"Okay, where?" said Crow, looking with him at the photo. "Up in here?"

"Well, no. ... Your gas line is coming from the gas tank, which is under the floor here."

"And the gas lines come from the top of the gas tank, don't they?"

"I don't know. You can't see the gas tank."

Chandler, apparently sensing the trap he had set for himself, was growing more vague with his answers. But Crow had him cornered. Hadn't Chandler already testified that he did a great deal of work on the boat, replacing all the hoses and other lines in the engine? Wasn't he familiar with those lines? Most of them, Chandler said. But not necessarily all of them. Well, Crow said, what about the leaking fuel line? Didn't it feed into the top of the gas tank? Chandler said he wasn't sure.

"You fixed the line, right?"

"Yes."

"Was it above the gas tank or below?"

"I don't know. I can't see the gas tank."

Chandler was squirming now.

"Have you ever heard of an anti-siphon valve?"

"No."

On this point, Crow pressed hard. Chandler was unaware of any such device? Didn't he know that an anti-siphon valve would close off a leak in a fuel line? Yes, Chandler said. He had heard about a valve like that. But it only worked on another part of the fuel system, near the pump, where the line goes over the tank.

Crow stopped.

So was Chandler saying he did in fact know where the fuel line entered the gas tank? A few moments before, he had told the jury exactly the opposite.

"I don't know whether it's the top or bottom or where it is," said Chandler, going round and round. "I can't see the whole gas tank. I .. . ''

***

In the state attorney's office, Glen Moore was watching the whole thing on TV.

Moore, the St. Petersburg police sergeant who had led the long investigation into the murders, was impressed with what he saw unfolding before him on the monitor with the live feed from the courtroom. Crow was putting the case away. He was boxing Chandler in, forcing him to produce detail after detail that could be checked, leaving him with less and less room to wriggle away.

The sergeant noticed something else. There were two feeds available on the monitor. One was from the back of the courtroom, showing Chandler straight on; the other was from a camera positioned above and behind the witness. Switching to the second feed, Moore saw a detail that was hidden from the people in the courtroom. In his lap, Chandler was holding a tissue, nervously wiping his hands. As the questioning went on, Chandler kept rubbing the tissue, gradually tearing it into pieces. By the time the cross-examination was over, there was nothing left of the tissue but a few shreds.

As Moore would later put it:

"Doug filleted him."

***

The jurors could not stomach Oba Chandler.

Some of them, sick of the smile he had worn through so much of the trial, wanted to slap him. Others were terrified of him.

Especially the women.

Linda Jones, an office administrator seated in the back row of the jury box, could hardly make eye contact with Chandler. If he looked her way, she averted her gaze. Evelyn Calloway, a school bus driver who sat in the front row, next to the witness stand, had looked into Chandler's eyes as he testified and had seen such coldness in him, she did not think he was human. Calloway began to worry that he might actually lunge for her from the witness box.

Rose Welton, a grandmother at the other end of the front row, was also struck with the chill in Chandler's stare. When he looked into her eyes, Welton thought she could feel his spirit, crawling inside her body.

A single word went through her, over and over:

Devil, devil, devil.

The Magic Kingdom continued

 

  ©Copyright 1999, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.