Wayne Bush murder trial judge: Oops, my ‘snap judgment’ was probably wrong
A woman who witnessed the August 2013 shooting death of her hip-hop lyricist fiancé Jafar “Young Farr” Lewis probably should not have been questioned over her previous credit card fraud plea deal when she testified last week at Wayne Bush’s murder trial.
Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier on Monday conceded he may have been wrong to allow a defense attorney to mention the specifics concerning how Twanna Robinson reached an agreement about 15 years ago to get most of her criminal charges dismissed from what had been a 19-count indictment.
In exchange for pleading guilty to a single credit card fraud charge in January 2002, Robinson, 38, received a sentence of two years of probation and was ordered to pay $3,525.50 in restitution.
John Furlong, Bush’s defense attorney, probed Robinson under cross-examination last Thursday by asking her about the terms of the plea deal concerning her unlawful credit card use.
“I pleaded guilty to a credit card charge,” Robinson said on the witness stand, giving a disciplined response to a question that arguably was inappropriate.
Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor William Fisher objected to Furlong’s questioning, but Billmeier at the time allowed Furlong to ask Robinson if she had previously taken a plea deal to get most of her charges dismissed from a 19-count indictment.
Furlong “was permitted over the prosecutor’s objection to talk about the many charges about indictment that were dismissed,” Billmeier said Monday morning from the bench when the jury was away on recess. “I made it a snap judgment that I thought that was appropriate because it was contained on the judgment of conviction. Mr. Fisher’s research indicates perhaps the court was wrong.”
Fisher sent an email to Billmeier late Sunday night citing case law that shows it may have been totally inappropriate for Robinson to have been questioned about the specifics of her plea deal.
“I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Fisher that I think my snap judgment perhaps was an error,” Billmeier said. The judge, however, also said he would give Bush’s defense attorneys an opportunity to respond by 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Bush’s legal team is composed of Furlong and defense attorney Andrew Ferencevych, who is expected to craft a response of arguing that the judge was correct in allowing Furlong to question Robinson about the plea deal.
Billmeier said if he rules and reverses himself that he would give the jurors a “curative instruction” that would essentially direct the jurors to disregard Furlong’s probing question.
Bush, 39, has been held in custody on $1 million bail ever since he surrendered to the authorities on Aug. 30, 2013. He has been charged with murder, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and unlawful possession of a weapon on allegations he armed himself with a handgun and shot and killed 26-year-old Jafar Lewis on Aug. 23, 2013.
With Mercer County prosecutors having a difficult time winning convictions in recent murder trials, the smallest little detail in testimony or cross-examination can make all the difference in the world for a jury that must deliberate over whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty.
A judge, like a referee in athletic competition, is expected to enforce the rules fairly and impartially. But if the judge makes a potential mistake in judgment, the competing teams — the defense and the prosecution — have the right to challenge a jurist’s legal rulings just as opposing sportsmen can challenge a referee’s call on the field.
Mercer County Medical Examiner Dr. Raafat Ahmad, who has worked for the county for almost 40 years and is days away from retirement, testified on Monday about the homicide of Lewis and afterward received kudos from the bench for her long service.
“I want to thank you for being available for this trial; I know you’ve had a very long tenure as a medical examiner,” Billmeier said to Ahmad on Monday when the jury was still away on recess. “On behalf of the Mercer County judiciary, I want to thank you.”
“You’re welcome. It was an honor and privilege to serve the county,” Ahmad said in response. Then she asked if she could take photos with the judge, which Billmeier allowed once the prosecutors and defense attorneys made clear they had no objections to the photo op whatsoever.