It was the mouth that struck a chord. Everything else about her, the rouge on her cheeks, the long brown hair, the dark-tanned skin, was common enough, especially in South Florida. But the mouth? That was special. Giant and audacious. Glorious and monstrous. A mere instrument, a maestro, a mauve-lipsticked Chopin that seemed to hold all the answers to all the questions in the universe. Just a glimpse of that glistening smacker told me I was in the presence of a star.
Stacey Honowitz, cable TV prosecutor.
You've seen her, whether you realize it or not. Honowitz has chatted it up on the small screen with everyone from Sean Hannity to Dr. Phil, from Geraldo Rivera to Bill O'Reilly. Lately she's been a regular on Larry King Live. Name a court case that has supposedly gripped America, and you can bet she's opined on it. Want to know about Michael Jackson or O.J. Simpson? Debra Lafave or Natalee Holloway? She'll tell you all about them, whether she really knows anything about the cases or not.
And that's what a real TV talker needs: the courage to plow ahead, no matter how thick the air gets with speculation and doubt. Honowitz is a doubt killer. She's second-in-command at the Broward State Attorney's Office sex crimes unit; it's what she does when she's outside the national limelight. She kills juries' doubt.
Or maybe not. Does it really matter that she's lost her most highly publicized cases? Should I care that someone paid by taxpayers' dollars to protect children seems to spend an inordinate amount of time researching and talking about cases half a world away?
No. She's on TV.
That's why I had to introduce myself when I noticed her at a Fort Lauderdale sidewalk café last week. Walking up to her table, I saw she wasn't alone. Three other members of television news' glitterati — Greg Mathis (the famed "Judge Mathis"), Democratic consultant James Carville, and Los Angeles defense attorney Mark Geragos — were lunching with her.
"Ms. Honowitz?" I said.
She popped a full meatball into the mouth and checked me out. There was still plenty of room left for talking. "Yes?" she asked with the beefy morsel rolling around on her tongue like a volleyball on the deck of a cruise ship.
"I'm a big fan," I said. "Just a big, big fan."
"That's nice of you," she said quite pleasantly. "Call me Stacey — and say hello to Mark, Jim, and Judge Mathis. What can we do for you?"
I tried to hide my awe. No way was I going to blow this opportunity.
"Well, Stacey, I know from your recent appearances on Larry King Live that you have strong opinions about the Internet," I said.
"Well, everyone thinks it's so fabulous, this superhighway,"* she said, simultaneously sipping wine and chomping pasta. My God, her mouth was multitasking. "And I can tell you, in doing the work that I do, I see nothing but problems with the Internet. I see it with soliciting kids for sex, soliciting kids for things that are absolutely disgusting."
"That sounds terrible."
"There are so many thousands of pedophiles, these Internet chat rooms are havens," she said. "They're sitting ducks, these victims sitting in there. So we need these undercover police officers to go and pose as 13- and 14-year-olds in order for us to make any kind of leeway in capturing these pedophiles."
"I don't know, Stacey, that sounds exaggerated, like Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle talking about the dangers of public bathrooms."
She turned to Peter, Jim, and Judge Mathis.
"Well, we recently, in the last couple of months, have had this whole thing going on in Broward County about anonymous gay sex in bathrooms, on the beach, in public, because there have been so many complaints," she explained. "It might not sound like the most important thing in the world, but things go on in these bathrooms."
"Yeah, but there were hardly any complaints at all," I said. "Mayor Naugle was grandstanding. Of course, right after that, you had the arrest of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who —"
"Well, I don't know," Carville interrupted. "I don't know why they're running him out. He pleaded to disturbing the peace and sent in a thing. Like I said, it's a traffic ticket, and you're going to railroad somebody out of the Senate for that? I could have easily said, 'I'll just send them the $500 check and the heck with it. What difference does it make?'"
"No, you wouldn't," Honowitz said sharply, a bread roll now clenched between her cheek and gum. "No, you wouldn't."
"I could see somebody doing that," Carville reiterated.
Honowitz stood her ground.
"No, you absolutely would not."
"Don't tell me what I would have done and what I wouldn't have done!" Carville said. "How can you tell me what I'm going to do?"
"That has never stopped Stacey before," Geragos piped in.
"We're not talking about a traffic ticket — he was arrested," Honowitz said, spraying crumbs across the table.
The tension was building, so I changed the subject.
"We've been consumed down here lately by the Sean Taylor murder," I said. "I'm a big football fan, so it almost chokes me up when I think too much about it."
"It's a horrible case," said Honowitz. "Everybody's watched it unfold. The shooter, being 17, he will be waived from juvenile court right into adult court. And really what I see happening, you already hear people will start cooperating. You will hear some of these guys start to flip."
"Let me say regarding the premeditated murder issue, I think you have a problem," Judge Mathis said. "The sheriff announced first that it was not premeditated. Now they are coming back with first-degree murder. And I don't believe they are going to be successful."
"Yes they will," Honowitz snapped.
"Instead it should be felony murder," Judge Mathis replied.
"That's what it is, first-degree murder," Honowitz said.
"There's a difference between premeditated murder and felony murder, lawyer," said Mathis, now clearly rankled. "And so, as I was saying, they will be able to charge him with felony murder, not premeditated murder. And so the case has been compromised already."
"Listen, first of all, I don't think the case has been compromised," said Honowitz. "Everybody knew from the get-go that this was a home invasion that turned bad."
As she spoke, Judge Mathis simmered.
"Let's get back to you not knowing the difference between premeditated murder and felony murder," he suggested.
"Hold on a second! Hold on a second! I do know the difference, okay? You don't have to ... wait a second! Wait a second!"
"You interrupted me," said Mathis.
"Listen, you don't have to criticize me," she said. "I understand the difference between the two."
"You should practice the law more if you don't know the difference," Judge Mathis said. "Go ahead, Mark, tell her the difference."
"This is really a distinction without a difference here, number one," said Geragos, perplexing us all. "Number two, the sheriff's got to make up with the prosecutor, because the prosecutor is not going to be happy the sheriff is out there making statements."
For a moment I thought Honowitz was going to lunge at Mathis and clamp her teeth onto his rather sizable neck, but Gerago's brilliantly inane comment seemed to defuse the situation.
"Stacey, it must be really hard to talk about cases on national television that you can't know much about," I said. "Like during the Michael Jackson molestation trial, you all but promised a conviction. And you defended prosecutor Mike Nifong in the Duke rape case until the bitter end, implying the lacrosse players were guilty even after they were basically cleared by DNA tests."
"We go to trial on murders where there's no body found," said Honowitz, now cleaning her teeth with a rather sizable steak knife. "What if the person didn't ejaculate? That's the first thing, they didn't ejaculate, number one. Number two, what if there's not enough scrapings? How do you explain the tears in the genitalia? And Mark, you don't know all the facts of this case; I know what you are going to say."
Suddenly they were debating the case of the drunken lacrosse players all over again. Old habits.
"Stacey, I don't know all the facts of the case," Geragos said.
"You don't," Honowitz said smugly.
"There hasn't been anything to substantiate the idea there was a sexual assault," the defense attorney continued calmly. "That hasn't stopped people from convicting these guys before they've heard any evidence."
"Mark, I'm not convicting anybody," said Honowitz.
Wait a minute. Hadn't this all been decided already? Now the knife was stuck between her incisor and canine, jutting out as she spoke.
"Mark, talk to the neighbors," she continued. "They'll tell you what's going on in that house. They don't know if a sexual assault took place, but certainly they can tell you the reputation of these guys."
"It is a college, and these guys are on a sports team," Geragos said. "And you mean they might be drinking and they might be staying up late."
"That's not an excuse, Mark."
"And the neighbors don't like them, so therefore that means they're rapists? So what? What does that have to do with the charge? If you want to just slander them, Stacey, you go for it."
"I'm not being slanderous; you are."
"Just figure it out, Stacey," Geragos told her decisively. "Nifong created the situation, and that's the problem."
"Mark, he didn't create this situation!" said Honowitz, rising ominously from her chair, knife still wedged in her teeth. "He did not create this situation!"
"He created the situation," Geragos repeated.
"Something happened in his town, a high-profile case involving the lacrosse team!" yelled Honowitz.
"You can keep screaming it," said Geragos, "but there's no evidence — none. It certainly hasn't stopped you from convicting these guys, has it?"
"Mark! Mark! Mark!" she yelled.
"It certainly hasn't stopped you from having a presumption of guilt in this case, has it?"
"All I'm telling you is you don't need DNA!" she said in a near-rage.
"Why do you assume?" needled Geragos. "Why do you assume that there's evidence? Why aren't you, as a good prosecutor ..."
"Why are you saying that?" hollered Honowitz, now towering over Geragos. "Obviously this prosecutor is doing what every good prosecutor would do!"
Finally the knife sprang from her teeth and sailed across the street, narrowly missing a window-shopping pair of tourists.
I began edging away.
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"It was nice to meet you all," I said, walking backward.
Stacey waved and told me to watch her on TV.
I knew I would.
*This quote and all quotes thereafter ascribed to Honowitz, Carville, Mathis, and Geragos are actual utterances from them that have been culled from CNN, Fox, and MSNBC transcripts.