Jeffrey Chapman’s trial begins next week. He’ll wear a turtleneck.
For those unfamiliar with the young man’s plight, Jeffrey Wade Chapman is an accused murderer who doesn’t want to start his murder trial with the word “MURDER” tattooed across his neck. In April of this year, I mistakenly closed a previous Chapman entry, “A Billboard for Brainlessness,” with, “as far as most are concerned, that’s the end of his story.”
Turns out, not only does Chapman’s saga continue (the trial was postponed pending his court-ordered mental evaluation), I think I’ve figured out a way for his defense to turn that tattooed frown upside down!
Chapman’s attorney previously appealed to the court to allow a professional tattoo artist into the jail to obscure, alter, or remove the tattoo from his client’s throat, but he’d been turned down. So, between the prosecutor, the judge, and the sheriff running the jail, alternate ideas of a turtleneck and fake bandages had been proposed. The turtleneck won, which I find disappointing ’cause I really wanted to see the bandage idea in action. Imagine the distraction in the courtroom!
The sheer volume of gauze and medical tape required would make it tough to keep a straight face. How could the defendant – or anyone for that matter – manage to behave as if it wasn’t there? Watching someone otherwise unimpeded by the serious injury such a large bandage implies would be off the hook. I can just imagine Chapman, mid-proceedings, jabbing his fingers between fraying layers of gauze to get at an itch and expecting no one to notice he has no difficulty responding verbally to the judge’s questions – again despite his apparently sizable wound.
That’s not to say the turtleneck won’t be an elephant in the room on its own. But now I believe Chapman would be best served by leaving the tattoo exposed. In fact, it could be one of those crazy-daring defense maneuvers silly jurors love to be charmed by.
Think I’m nuts? Get this: Chapman’s giant MURDER tattoo is mirrored. It’s reversed. Boom!
Before I explain, I need to cop to another mistake. My comparison of Chapman to a guy I knew who had “FRESNO” inked across his forehead was also erroneous. Fresno, you see, provided others with pertinent information: his city of origin, gang affiliation, etc.. Chapman’s tattoo obviously isn’t meant for public consumption (despite its visual assault on anyone looking directly at him).
Chapman’s albatross is highly, highly personal, intended for him to appreciate in a mirror. It’s a pitiful and harrowingly self-loathing message to oneself, sure, but it’s also uniquely defensible because of that. Perhaps some sympathy can be garnered by telling the jury how the tattoo represents the despicably low picture Chapman has of himself, underscoring that it’s by no means intended as a public announcement, warning, or prediction. In other words, it’s “philosophically harmless!”
Just think, if counsel for the defense was to verbalize this
utter nonsense stroke of genius in open court, the judge would probably throw a stapler at him. But in the end, I bet at least one softie juror would ruin the district attorney’s day by being unable to get past the ink-inspired “bias” his or her fellows display during deliberations.
So Chapman’s lawyer should forget the turtleneck and ditch those change of venue motions. (Besides, would the tattoo be less prejudicial two counties over?) Embrace it! Go so far as to tell jurors that Chapman’s is a spiritual journey, a journey inward. Since the mental evaluation has now proven his trial fitness, proceedings have been calendared for next week and Chapman’s counsel will need to downplay any risk the tattoo poses by getting ahead of it, ideally by suggesting that Chapman is even crazier than what he was tested for. There’s no excuse not to try; they already told the judge that Chapman was suffering from severe hallucinations while awaiting trial in custody (which made no difference whatsoever). This lawyer needs to turn that loss into a win by agreeing with the psychiatric report: Jeff’s no wingnut, no sir. Instead, he’s a first responder to the human dilemma!
Hell, if I was Chapman’s attorney, I’d grab a Magic Marker and draw a big question mark next to the word MURDER. Why not? Maximize the pitch! Emphasize the ultimate existential question all humans ask: Could I kill someone if I had to? You might laugh, but everyone I’ve ever known who has served swears up and down their jury box was filled with drooling mouth breathers who ate their pizza “crust first” and had trouble with crosswalk push buttons (meet our “peers,” people). I see no reason why this approach wouldn’t have at least some value as a counter strategy. Sure, the defense will still have to contend with all the evidence against Chapman for that pesky murder thing, but at least his billboard for brainlessness can be reduced to postcard size.