Part 5 of an occasional series
We've all groaned when the letter for jury service arrives at our door. But Lorraine Maxwell, one of the twelve jury members who convicted Bruce Lisker of the 1983 murder of his mother, has a very different perspective. "I tell them I've already served on a murder trial and can't do that again. Maybe embezzlement, but never another murder trial."
The diminutive 80-year-old, sharp as a tack, still feels committed to serve, but those few weeks so many years ago, when she was a wire operator for a stock brokerage firm, changed her life as well as Lisker's. "My son Patrick remembers what I was going through," she remarked the other day as Lisker, freed from prison in July of 2009 and exonerated in August by a federal judge who overturned the verdict, sat by her side. Her sons were just around Bruce's age, 17, at the time of the trial.
The two have been getting together periodically for lunch now that Lisker has been released from prison. He has filed a civil suit against the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD for wrongful incarceration and a case against him built on lies, deception and incompetence. The court date has been set for March 29, 2011.
Maxwell had been the last holdout on the jury that voted to convict Lisker, and she has carried the weight of that decision with her ever since. And then, in 2005, after a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times questioning Lisker's guilt and the prosecution of his case, Maxwell remembers getting a call from Paul Ingels, the private investigator who had worked on Lisker's case for a decade. "I found out all the stuff we had never been told. Any one of those things would have been reasonable doubt," she said. When another juror heard that news, Maxwell says she told her, "The first thing I thought of was Lorraine. We should have listened to her more."
Maxwell remembers all the details of the case, the prosecution and defense. She and Lisker can reconstruct much of what happened in that courtroom so many years ago. They remember specific questions, and answers, allegations and decisions as if it were yesterday.
"Your lawyer should have put you on the stand," she said. "If he had done that I would have believed you." She recalls the jury deliberating 3 or 4 days. When they finally reached the guilty verdict it was too much to bear. "After we made the decision, I said, 'Can't we just go home? I just can't do this now."
They did go home, and resumed the next day, delivering the verdict of guilty. Some 28 years later, as she thinks about Bruce's life, and his eventual exoneration, she says, "After I found out, every time I'd think about it, I'd just start crying. It was so wrong to let this happen, so wrong. And people knew."
Over the years, she had thought about visiting Bruce in prison. "I couldn't bear to visit him," she said. "I couldn't bear to think of him there." Now she is so glad she didn't. "It would've been a very hurtful thing to remember him there."
After Lisker's release from prison, Paul Ingels asked the jurors if they would want to get together with him. Maxwell said yes. Lisker was anxious to meet the jurors. "I thought 'I have to tell them that they didn't do anything wrong. The jurors gave the decision their due diligence, but they were lied to," he says.
When Maxwell is asked how she felt upon learning of Lisker's release she says simply, "It's indescribable." In looking at him now, she says she still sees the boy she saw in that courtroom. "He hasn't changed a bit." It's a kind of extraordinary relationship. Every now and then, Lisker will reach out and stroke her hand. "I felt so bad that Lorraine was carrying this terrible burden. I knew she was lied to. But that doesn't surmount it." So, they have decided to keep in touch.
Lorraine wants to know what Bruce is up to now and he tells her about his A in English at Santa Monica College and his courses for next semester: Advanced composition, MS Word and Dreamweaver, all online, and a Speech and Argumentation class. He's working on his AA degree, and is thinking maybe he'll pursue a career in law, possibly become a lawyer like his Dad.
He recently went to the Convention Center to watch his girlfriend Kara become a U.S. citizen.
Although she has kept her English citizenship as well, he called the ceremony moving, with a caveat: "Whenever there is a judge presiding, and the talk of 'liberty and justice for all', I view it with mixed emotions."
And he talked about his birthday, just celebrated last week. Kara had been collecting gifts for weeks in advance. "I wanted to give him a gift for every year he had to celebrate his birthday in prison," she said. Twenty-seven gifts, small and large, a big basket of them that she gave to Bruce. "A Playboy Magazine from June 1965, when he was born. An Underdog t-shirt. A magazine rack for the bathroom. He said he wanted one of those when he got out. A framed picture of Marilyn Monroe. He loves Marilyn. Some framed Rick Griffin prints. I had sent him some when he was in prison, but they got lost in the shuffle."
Kara explained that she had started writing to Bruce three years ago after reading an article about his case. "And tickets to see Roger Waters play The Wall, at Staples Center. Those were expensive. Everything else was just little stuff." She pauses. "There was wrapping paper a foot deep in the apartment," Lisker said. "I'd open a present and throw the paper by the door. We didn't even try to clean it up."
"It was his first free birthday," said Kara, shaking her head. "I can't even take it in. I was going to bake him a cake, but I never got around to it. Maybe tomorrow."
Their tomorrows will be busy. In the past few weeks, they've gone to parties--one with a mustache theme where Bruce wore a Fu Manchu--and been taken to a fancy birthday dinner by a TV magazine producer who's been working on a story about Bruce scheduled to air in the fall. "The bill was $350. In prison, the allotment for meals was $2.45 per day," Lisker says. That meal alone was worth 140 days of prison food. They have three trips scheduled in the next few weeks: Las Vegas, a road trip up the coast to Northern California, and a trip to Maui. Kara remembers reading an article about Bruce the day he was released from prison. "He said he wanted to lie on a beach in Hawaii," she says. They have friends there, so will make the trip.
For Bruce, the hardest part of all this fun is the fact that he can't contribute financially. He's done some carpentry per diem, and is hoping for a job with a relative but it hasn't panned out yet. He has gone through all the money he inherited from his Dad in 1995, plus the $200 he was given when he was released from prison.
Mounting his campaign for exoneration while incarcerated proved to be very expensive. He estimates he's spent $30,000 hiring private investigators and almost three times that on lawyers. "My car's got problems, I can't afford a therapist and I need glasses but don't have the money to get them. I'm dealing with my depression by myself. I'm looking for a job, but finding it difficult to get one. It's hard to be broke in Paradise," he says.
But he looks at Kara. "At least I know I've got someone who's there for me 100%. It's a struggle for both of us. I try to look at the silver lining. I keep reminding myself that the worst day out here is better than the best day in there."
Lorraine, the ex-juror, reaches out and grabs Bruce's hand. "It's a miracle you survived all that and can be yourself now," she says. "I just like to touch your hand to know that you're here." She holds on for a long time.
When they are ready to go, Lisker carefully walks Maxwell to the door. She waits with Kara while he brings the car around. Maxwell tells Kara that seeing Bruce and the life he has now, with her, makes her feel so good. "He's a wonderful person and he will have a wonderful life."
But for Lorraine, it will always be difficult. "I've become resigned to what happened. It doesn't hurt as much as it did when I first found out," she says. And she will continue to see Bruce and stay in touch. Next time she wants to take him to Pogo's, her neighborhood bar to meet her friends and shoot some pool.
"People ask me about closure. But there will never be any closure," she says. "It will be with me for the rest of my life."
This is the fifth part of photographer Iris Schneider's series following Bruce Lisker as he returns to society. He was released from prison last August, after a court vacated his murder conviction.