The Trial of Willy & Sal

Smuggling coke by the ton and making money by the bushel. Getting tortured in Panama and eating smoked pork loin in Houston. The courtroom show is riveting, but like Al says, where's the justice?

As Simpson trial analysts never tired of pointing out, defense attorneys often attempt to empanel blacks on the theory that they are more skeptical of authority and more likely to believe claims of police and government misconduct than are whites, owing to their own experiences. Given the strategy of the defense team in the Falc centsn-Magluta case, that skepticism is essential.

"Defense lawyers for years have always felt that African Americans would give defendants a better shake," says Robert Hirschhorn, an attorney and jury consultant from Texas who has helped select juries in some of the nation's biggest cases, including the Yahweh Ben Yahweh murder trial in Miami, the prosecution of the survivors of the Branch Davidian Church siege in Waco, and the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith in Palm Beach.

In this case, the defense team has employed jury consultant Sandy Marks, who was present during the questioning of each prospective juror. Marks, or a member of his staff, continues to attend the trial every day. Keeping a jury consultant in the courtroom, even after jury selection is complete, is not uncommon, according to Hirschhorn. "You're there to watch the jurors' body language," he explains. "To watch when they are taking notes and to correlate that to the testimony, to see what they are interested in and what they are bored by." The consultant would also watch the defendants, to see whether they are reacting to the testimony in such a way that might offend the jury.

Hirschhorn says that long before the trial began, Marks and the other members of the defense team probably staged mock trials, with "jurors" gathered through telemarketing firms or classified ads, to gauge which arguments and strategies prove most effective. Hirschhorn has no idea what Marks is charging for his services, but says the typical fee for a trial such as this would range from $100,000 to $150,000. (Marks would not comment for this article because the trial is still under way.)

Though he is not closely following the trial, Hirschhorn predicts that Falc centsn and Magluta will be acquitted on the more serious counts they face, a forecast that has less to do with any analysis of the evidence than it does with his confidence in the abilities of the defense attorneys.

"Snitches are going to be to this trial what Mark Fuhrman was to the O.J. Simpson case," he says. "The defense attorneys are going to put the snitches on trial. Clearly these witnesses are despicable individuals. And once the jury perceives them as a bunch of thieving liars, they will not want to convict these men. As Johnnie Cochran said in the O.J. trial, 'If you can't trust the messenger, then you can't trust the message.'"

One element missing from this trial is a victim. Prosecutors are unable to show a cause-and-effect relationship between the thousands of pounds of cocaine they claim Falc centsn and Magluta smuggled into the U.S. and the havoc that cocaine wrought in people's lives. Clark can't hold up a snapshot of a newborn baby, for instance, and assert that it was born an addict at Jackson Memorial Hospital because the mother abused cocaine imported by Falc centsn and Magluta.

Instead he totes into court a poster-size photo of Falc centsn and Magluta wearing tuxedos, celebrating New Year's Eve at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. He attempts to shape the case around the money; his team rarely passes up an opportunity to elicit testimony about the sums Falc centsn and Magluta spent on prostitutes and Rolex watches and diamond pinkie rings.

In the process, the trial becomes more a spectacle than a search for truth. For prosecutors it's about storytelling, and the need to win jurors' favor by regaling them with a narrative reconstruction of the crazed Eighties coke trade in Miami. They work in otherwise extraneous tales -- how Falc centsn's mother was kidnapped and held by rival dopers for a $500,000 ransom, how the music group the Bee Gees played at Falc centsn's brother's wedding -- that have no direct bearing on the charges against Falc centsn and Magluta but that manage to keep the jury awake.

At times it is hard to tell which the jury enjoys more, hearing a smuggler describe his exploits or watching the defense attorneys proceed to impeach the credibility of that witness. In all likelihood, the answer won't be known until the verdict is read.

Falc centsn and Magluta began importing cocaine during the late Seventies, when the word "cartel" was synonymous with oil-hoarding Arab sheiks and not South American drug lords. Few people in this country had even heard of the Colombian cities of Cali and Medellin, which these days are to cocaine what Hershey, Pennsylvania, is to chocolate.

But until the trial commenced, it was never clear how two underachievers from Miami High could establish major-league South American cocaine connections by the time they were 23. The key, it turned out, was Jorge Valdes.

Valdes -- who Martin Weinberg castigated during his opening statement -- grew up with Magluta in Cuba. "His family is like my family," Valdes testified when he took the stand. "We were friends in Cuba. We came to the United States and we lived pretty much in the same area [in Miami] and we were friends again."

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