Well, its been one full year since Scientology had me arrested on trumped up charges but I finally have had the chance to tell my story to a jury of 12 good people who saw fit to find me not guilty.
It has been quite an experience. Never did I expect to stand trial for anything in my life, but then I had never planned to square off against a dangerous cult either. The phrase "I need to speak to my attorney" was a phrase I never expected to utter but now, not only did I have an attorney...I had two.
First, I'd like to thank my attorneys for their superb job. Denis deVlaming is top notch. We knew that from Bob's trial. The man knows what he is doing and he is not afraid to go toe to toe with Scientology. I couldn't have been in better hands.
Julie Aimen was completely unfamiliar with Scientology. When Denis and I first flew to Chicago last summer to discuss whether she would like to become involved with my case, we could see it was going to take some time to explain to her just how bizarre the world of Scientology is. She quickly found out first hand when she and her P.I. went to the Chicago Org to take some photographs and Mary Anne Ahmad came out of the Org to take pictures of them. Miss Ahmad informed them that the sidewalk was their private property and they had to leave. At least she didn't hire police to arrest them.
Over the past many months, Julie has become more and more aware of how Scientology behaves. But then so have the state prosecutor and the Chicago Police. While we were educating Julie, the Scientologists were hounding the prosecutor and the police. So much so that by the time of the trial, the prosecutor was fed up with Elliott Abelson's interference (sorry...assistance) and Officer Bonifazi swore on the witness stand that he would never work for them again.
Its an unusual feeling to be on trial. I can't imagine what it would be like to be a guilty person and face the pressure. Knowing that I was completely innocent gave me a calm sense of assurance through the whole affair. Over the past year many people have wished me well and stated their concerns but I had never doubted for a moment that any twelve people would find me innocent. Never, that is until the jury started their deliberations. More about that in a moment.
Let me quickly go over a few of what I considered the highlights of the trial. The first witness called was Mary Anne Ahmad and while it was humorous to see her try to explain why the complaint she signed against me was dated February 25th, 1900, and then finally admit she had no idea when she actually did sign it...the most important moment in her testimony came when Denis asked her if she worked for the Office of Special Affairs. She admitted she was the Director of Special Affairs. Then Denis asked if part of her duties included investigating critics. Although the state objected, the judge allowed her to answer. She admitted that, yes, part of her duties were to investigate critics of Scientology.
Within minutes of the start of the trial, the jury had a very chilling thought to consider. What church investigates people? And why did the Zizics pay a church over $100,000 for courses? And why didn't this church want to return the Zizics money?
The trial may have been won right there.
Next, the officers were brought to the stand. First up was Officer Foria, the larger of the two officers. In my earlier posts after the arrest, I mixed up the names of the officers. Foria was the large cop, Bonifazi was the small one. Foria was the "boss" the night I was arrested. He was the first to come at me with his insistent bark that I "turn off the camera!"
Foria's testimony was hard for me to listen to because it galls me to hear a duly sworn officer not tell the truth. He claimed I was the first at the door and trying to barge my way in shouting "it's a free country...I can go in if I want to!" He said I was asked my name and identified myself as Mark Bunker. He claimed he asked me three times to leave and I refused each time.
Virtually every aspect of his testimony was not accurate. And he quite often contradicted himself as when he first said I set down my camera, reached into my pocket and pulled out my cell phone. Moments later he claimed I had my cell phone in one hand, the camera in the other and when he cuffed me, the camera was knocked from my hand and fell to the ground. I wondered why Denis didn't point out those contradictions in cross but he told me "the jury heard and they noticed." You'll see these points when the transcript is put on the web.
Bonifazi was next and he said much the same. They both had me at the door of the building when in actuality I never got off the sidewalk. I'm going to give Bonifazi the benefit of the doubt and believe that perhaps his memory of the events were a bit hazy. I don't believe he had anything to do with the disappearance of the tape for after the trial he was very upset at allegations that the cops stole the tape. I believe him when he says he knew nothing about the tape. I apologize for implicating him in the theft of property but still don't believe his account of the event was accurate.
The state rested their case then we called Bill Zizic. Bill did a fine job but damned if he couldn't get out one word which would have been fun to hear in the court house. He explained that he called the LMT after getting our number from Jim Beebe from CAN. When asked what CAN stood for, Bill couldn't remember the word "Cult." We were all sending out intention beams but all he could remember was Awareness Center. Oh, well.
Barbara Zizic did great and she even got to say the X word. She told the jury that I was the cameraman for XENU TV. The state didn't object one bit even though, if Elliott Abelson had had a drink, he would have done a spit take. Memo to the cult...when you supply the state your propaganda about me, it may not be a good idea to white out XENU from XENU TV if you want the state to recognize this as a "bad" word.
Finally it was time for me to take the stand. I guess I did okay. The state tried to make fun of my documentaries and the fact that I had done some voices for animated programs but I don't think she was very effective. She made a face that Mary DeMoss would have been proud of when she asked "In fact, weren't you...an ACTOR?" Her expression added the "failed" actor charge Scientology loves so much.
I tried to be a good boy on the stand but I did let one response slip. When the state asked me if I had won any awards for my documentaries I answered, "no...not yet." I was afraid I may have come across as a smart aleck but was glad to hear that some on the jury (including the foreman) laughed.
Well, after I had my say, the state brought on two more officers for rebuttal. These two came on the scene after I had already been cuffed. Their purpose was to show that the cops couldn't have stolen the tape but neither of them were effective as the camera was already in the cops hands when they arrived.
When the closing arguments were done, we retired across the street to a nice restaurant. Before we could even sit down, the call came for us to return to the court room as they jury had reached a verdict.
As I said before, I felt confident but at that moment I wondered what would happen. The tape would never be seen again. It was our word against the cops. Would the police in uniform be enough to sway the jury whose members had many close friends and relatives on the force? It seemed every juror questioned knew a Chicago cop or state trooper.
When the not guilty verdict was read I tried to make eye contact with each juror and thank them for the job they did. Afterwards, I shook the hands of several of them including the foreman and one juror who worked for the Department of Justice. When he was being questioned during the selection process I knew he was a straight shooter and was happy he was on board.
So this whole affair has ended. Again, I would like to thank Denis and Julie for the great job they did. And I would like to thank Stacy and Jesse and everyone at the LMT for their support and kindness. And thanks to all you folks on the internet as well. It means a lot to me to hear your kind words and I couldn't wait to get home last night to read all the comments you would post on ars.
Most importantly, I would like to thank Bob Minton who is the most remarkable man I have ever met. Yesterday, while awaiting the verdict, Stacy and I were reflecting on how different this whole fight would be without Bob. How many people would Scientology squash under their thumb if Bob wasn't there to level the playing field? I certainly wouldn't have been able to fight this case alone. And if truth be told, I wouldn't even be a presence in this fight if it weren't for the courageous stance that Bob has taken. Without his example, I would still be a lurker, not a fighter.
Thank you, Bob. We will win.