Witnessing a trial from a courtroom gallery is very different from watching a trial on television or in the movies. There is no DVR, so you don’t get the benefit of playback. You experience moments of numbing boredom, and particularly after lunch it can be a struggle to simply stay awake. It can be difficult to hear questions and answers if you are sitting in the gallery.
The prosecutors and the defense attorney are no more than a few yards away, but neither is miked, and they are addressing their attention, commentary and questions toward the witness, jury and judge. Therefore, you don’t see or hear everything. If a tape recording is being played and introduced into evidence , as it was during this afternoon’s session of the Michelle Le murder trial, the judge, jury and witness all read from transcripts, but those of us in the gallery only hear the white noise of a cheap audio recording interspersed with semi-intelligible dialogue. So, any opinions arrived at or judgments made depend upon other types of impressions.
I arrived in court late today, during the testimony of Lead Investigator, Hayward PD Inspector Fraser Ritchie. Prosecutor Butch Ford and Inspector Ritchie were setting the stage for the initial interview he conducted with defendant Giselle Esteban on the late afternoon after Michelle Le disappeared. After transcripts were distributed Mr. Ford pushed the play button.
Due to the challenging acoustics of the courtroom the words on the recording were largely garbled. However, the tone of the conversation chimed through as clear as a bell. Ms. Esteban was conversational and nonchalant in her responses to Inspector Ritchie’s questions. Her voice was atonal, flat and emotionless: broken by occasional bursts of inappropriate laughter.
Taken out of context Giselle Esteban’s laughter is simply an unmelodious expression of mirth. However, in the context of a murder trial in which both sides acknowledge that the defendant killed Michelle Le, her laughter is a chilling indictment of an empty soul: void of empathy, sorrow, or remorse. The evil cackle provides a rare window into the festering cesspool of lies, resentment and pure evil that is the mind of Giselle Esteban.
Amazingly, she not only placed herself at the scene of the crime on the evening that Michelle disappeared, she admitted that the two of them had a conversation, making her the last person known to see Michelle alive. Although she is not a card carrying member of Kaiser, she supposedly went to the hospital to inquire about pre-natal care. That doesn’t even make sense.
As the tape played, the defendant sat at the defense table staring straight ahead. This woman must have ice water coursing through her veins. Maybe that’s why they call it cold blooded murder. Occasionally, she would grab a pen and write furiously on the legal pad in front of her. As the damning conversation reverberated through the courtroom I could only wonder what she was writing. When Inspector Ritchie said, “If she’s dead all fingers are pointed in your direction,” did Giselle scribble “Awkward”? After the Inspector told her that other witnesses in the investigation had told police that she and Le had a tumultuous relationship, did Giselle write “Wait until I get my hands on those bastards”!
After the tape concluded Inspector Ritchie described the state of Michelle’s car when it was located the day after she disappeared. I have tried not to think about the crime as the trial approached, but it all became too clear to ignore. There was blood everywhere. Giselle lay in wait for Michelle Le in the Kaiser Hospital parking structure on Friday evening May 27, 2011. At around 7:00 p.m. Michelle visited her car, was attacked from behind, and stabbed to death by Giselle Esteban.
I don’t see what’s so God damned funny.