Eight years ago, on the morning of May 5 in 2010, a woman named Jana Collins was sitting in a car at South Corning Street in Los Angeles. Most likely, Collins was excited about the upcoming months. The 27-year-old had just gotten married and was expecting a baby. But Collins also happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
On that morning, an armed man opened fire with a gun. A bullet reportedly hit Collins in the head. As tragic as it is, the case never made it to the international news. I only learned out about it last week when I attended the trial of the people who allegedly are behind the attack.
Those of you who’ve met me know that I’m very much into true crime. Thanks to my job as a journalist, I get to go to court every now and then to report about criminal cases. It’s a first hand experience of democracy which I find intriguing.
One thing I’ve always wanted to do was to go and listen to a trial in the US. So when my friend Bradley learned that he would get extra credit for a class if he attended a trial, it seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to join.
When Brad and I enter Stanley Mosk Courthouse at 9 a.m. on that Friday morning, it’s already busy. We go through the security check and walk down the hallway. Dozens of people in suits hurry past us as we try to find our way to a courtroom. Soon, we sense that this is not going to be as easy as we imagined it to be so Brad approaches the information center and asks if any trials of public interest are scheduled for the day.
“Just go to the fourth floor and wander down the hall. There should be some there”, the lady behind the counter – let’s call her Phyllis – says. Before we approach the elevator, Phyllis gives us a final piece of advice: “Try and see if you can find jurors.”
“That sounds reasonable”, I think. From what I’ve seen in Austrian courtrooms, all of the high profile cases usually involve a jury.
Even though there’s a schedule pinned next to every door that leads to a courtroom, it takes us about half an hour until we eventually find a trial with jurors. Finally, at 10 a.m., we take a seat in a courtroom and are ready for it to get started.
Brad and I have no information about what we’re going to see whatsoever. But soon, we find out that this isn’t the first trial session of the case. “It’s like starting season two of a series without having seen the first one”, I think as I try to put the pieces of information together.
Take care of yourself. Got to bed early and take your vitamins.
The first thing we learn is that one of the jurors can’t continue to serve his duty for he has an ulcer that needs medical attention. The judge turns to the remaining jurors. “Now we only have one alternate juror left”, he says, winking. “Take care of yourself. Go to bed early and take your vitamins.”
As it turns out, we’re in the midst of a trial concerning a door company. Apparently, a former employee is accused to have taken a quarter of the company’s value under false claims that he was a part owner. The attorneys discuss whether a video of the company’s accountant being questioned should be shown or not. Eventually, the judge decides in favour of the video.
About one hour into the trial – the accountant talks about attending a meeting with representatives of the company – Brad and I look at each other, look at the door and back at each other. Earlier, one of the attorneys had mentioned that the video is about 80 minutes long. I peek at the judge who rubs his eyes and looks tired. As interesting as the case might be, it’s time for us to move on.
As we leave the courtroom, I glimpse at my watch. It’s only 11 a.m. Brad and I decide to give it another shot. This time, however, we want to listen to a “real” criminal case.
Criminal Justice Center
“Criminal cases? You’re going to find what you’re looking for in the Criminal Justice Center down the street”, our friend Phyllis tells us. It takes us less than five minutes to get to the said building, where we have to pass metal detectors once again.
“Take the elevator and go to the 9th floor”, the guy at the front desk says when we ask him for potential trials we could go and listen to. “That’s where the high profile cases are held.”
High profile cases? As we take the elevator, I’m wondering which type of trial we’re about to witness. Before we can proceed to the courtrooms, we have to go through yet another security check. But it’s not only that. This time, we also have to remove our phones from our bags, switch them off and put them into special cases that are sealed. “You can reopen the case once you leave the floor”, the guard explains.
The 9th floor is where the high profile cases are held.
The “No Phones” rule isn’t the only one on level number 9, though. “No eating, reading or chewing gum”, a sign on the wall says. Well in that case, I just broke the law, I think after I’m done reading the sign. Ha-ha.
Brad and I walk to the end of the hall and enter a courtroom to our left, trying not to make any noise for the trial has already started. This courtroom is way bigger than the one we were at before this. We take a seat while the prosecutor is questioning a man who has taken a seat in the witness stand. He appears to be a police officer.
“You decided to not record the first part of the interview with the witness. Is that correct?”, the prosecutor asks.
“That’s correct”, the cop says.
“You’ve been a police officer for 23 years. It was your personal preference to not record the interview. Is that correct?”, the prosecutor asks.
“Correct”, the cop confirms.
While the prosecutor continues to ask the policeman questions about an interview, my eyes wander across the room. “No cellphone” signs are placed all over the walls. “No hats, sunglasses, food, gum or drinks in the courtroom”, another sign says. The trial must have been going on for a couple of hours already for the jurors – it’s 15 people in total – look a tad exhausted. I watch as they pass along a bag of chocolates. Another daredevil of a juror casually takes a sip out of a paper cup.
I’m wondering what exactly the trial is about. All I know at this point is that it’s concerning an incident that took place years ago. In a car. And apparently, gunshots were fired.
“It was gonna go a long way”
“I had the feeling that the trial was gonna go a long way”, the cop says at one point as the prosecutor continues to question him. Again, the prosecutor mentions a jeep as well as a shooting, without going into deep. The main dispute, however, seems to be that the police officer had only recorded parts of a witness interview electronically.
After having listened to the questioning for somewhat 40 minutes, Brad and I are eager to find out what’s really going on. We leave the courtroom to ask the security guards. Brad goes ahead while I go to the bathroom to freshen up. When I join him, he points at his notes. He has written down two words: “Double murder”. I look at him in disbelief. What!? I expected it to be serious. But that serious?
Brad proceeds to talk to another officer and asks him for names. The victim’s name was already mentioned during the trial. Now we also know the suspects’ identity. They did not appear in court that day, though.
On our elevator ride down to the ground floor, we google the case. As it turns out, Jana Collins was rushed to the hospital by friends after she had been shot on that day eight years ago. All efforts to save her life, however, proved to be futile. The mother-to-be was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital at 9.30 a.m. Her fetus – Collins was four month into the pregnancy – couldn’t be saved either, thus the double murder charge.
The latest article I find about Jana Collins’ case was published in 2010. It is said that the original target of the attack had most likely been her husband who is a suspected gang member. I still don’t know why there haven’t been any verdicts yet, after all this time. What I do know, however, is that Jana as well as her unborn baby deserve justice. Because their lived still matter.
Have you ever been to a trial? Would you be interested in attending one? Leave a comment or drop me a message.