A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Saturday, April 28, 2007

She-Hulk #6-7: The Trial of Starfox

She-Hulk (Vol. 2) #6-7
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Will Conrad

Former Avenger Starfox, aka Eros of Titan, is in New York for fun, and meets up with a woman named Christina Garvey at a club. They flirt some, and before you know it, it's the next morning and they're in a hotel room. Starfox puts on his costume and brags a bit before exiting through the window, leaving Christina in the bed, a little confused. Starfox, you see, has the power to woo women, and has a reputation for being a bit of a ladies' man. (Y'know, Starfox would be a more interesting character if he had that power but looked like his brother, Thanos.)

So, with typical comic book speed, it's suddenly a week later and jury selection is wrapping up for Starfox's trial for "sexual assault." There's nothing wrong with that phrase, but it's the only crime named in these two issues. I don't think "rape" is ever mentioned, although it would certainly be an appropriate allegation under the circumstances. I wonder if there was an editorial edict in there somewhere.

Later in the story, there's a scene between Starfox's dad and She-Hulk's boss, where daddy demands that his son be extradited home for trial on Titan (said trial was later seen in She-Hulk #11-12). I mention it here because there's never any indication that Starfox is resisting being on trial. When we last see him before the trial he's not in custody, so at some point he had to be notified he was charged with a crime, and was either arrested or chose to turn himself in. There's little stopping him from simply returning to Titan. His own submission undercuts his dad's objections.

The judge at one point refers to the courthouse being on "Centre Street." And that is, in fact, the location of the New York Supreme Court. (Note: Whereas virtually every other state, and the federal government, uses the designation "Supreme Court" for its highest court, New York uses that name for its lowest trial courts. Don't ask me why.) Kudos to Will Conrad for his depiction of that courthouse.

The trial itself begins in #7. There are no opening statements (at least, none are shown or indicated), and we jump straight into the prosecution's case. The prosecutor calls her first witness, a woman, and Jen turns to Starfox to ask who this witness is. Starfox, unfortunately, doesn't know. It seems he's slept with too many women to remember their names.

I was momentarily concerned that the story was employing the old "surprise witness" canard, a practice that was done away with in real courtrooms over 30 years ago. Thankfully, Jen then references the prosecution's list of witnesses, which is exactly correct. To avoid sudden surprises at trial, both sides are required to provide lists of potential witnesses to the opposition. Quite correctly, that's been done here.

Unfortunately, Jen doesn't seem to have done much, if any, research into who the people are on the prosecution's list. This is not a promising start for Jen.

Sure enough, the prosecution's first witness is a woman who claims to have slept with Starfox. So are the prosecution's next four witnesses. Which raises a question: where did the prosecution get the names of these women? Clearly not from Starfox. And their sexual histories aren't public knowledge. If there's, say, an "I got assaulted by Starfox" MySpace group, Jen apparently failed to find it. Did the prosecution take out a classified ad in the New York Times: "Have you slept with the superhero Starfox? Please call the New York DA's office immediately."

I suppose they could've individually come to the DA, claiming they'd been raped by Starfox in the past. Of course, that means that Starfox is a serial rapist, and that his powers caused them to lie on the stand. This doesn't taint him; it pretty much makes him a sex-crazed super-villain (well, depending on the 'out' that he got in the subsequent story). Or maybe the women lied to the police just to be in close proximity to Starfox again. In which case, they're all guilty of obstruction of justice for lying to police and the prosecution.

Unfortunately for the prosecutor, all five woman do nothing but sing Starfox's praises once they're on the stand. This rather annoys the prosecutor:

First off, kudos to Jen for the objection. She could've done better than "Where's the proof?", which doesn't really do enough to deny the allegation, but at least it shows she's paying attention and not doodling in her notebook (see the last page of #6). The prosecutor is way out of line making these kinds of allegations in front of the jury.

The prosecutor, on the other hand, is quickly proving that she can be just as bad a lawyer as Jen. Threatening witnesses on the stand, yelling in the courtroom, making highly objectionable comments...this isn't the best reaction for when things don't go well. It's surprising that Jen had to object at all; many a judge would interject to cut off this kind of display.

The more cool and collected thing for the prosecutor to do would have been to simply confront the witnesses with the inconsistent statements they'd previously made. "Did you say to Investigator Lestrade that Starfox seduced and raped you?" This requires the witness to either admit that, yes, she said that (which is what the prosecution wants the jury to hear) or deny it. If she lies and denies, then the prosecutor whips out a copy of the statement for the witness to read, or she calls another witness to say that the woman's story has changed.

This scenario plays out ALL THE TIME in domestic abuse cases. A woman goes to police and claims her husband/boyfriend hit her and hurt her, but when it comes time to say it to a judge or jury, the woman tells a whole different story. It's sad and depressing, but it's something a prosecutor has experienced, and knows how to deal with. It's not an ideal situation when you have to undercut your own witness's honesty in front of the jury, but threatening perjury charges in front of the jury is worse.

It's a lot more fun to lay blame on Jen Walters than on her guest opponent, though, so is there a way in which Jen can be faulted for all of this? The answer (not surprisingly) is yes. While it was good to see Jen throw out one objection to the prosecutor's rant, Jen should have been objecting to the mere presence and testimony of all five of these witnesses.

Pause and consider the central issue in this trial: did Starfox have sexual contact with Christina Garvey against her will? The evidence presented in the trial needs to relate, somehow, to this issue, either by supporting it or disputing it.

What value, then, is there to the testimony of other women who have slept with Starfox? Were they going to testify that he's a cad? That kind of character evidence isn't admissible, unless Starfox tries to claim he's otherwise, and he hasn't. Were they going to claim that he used his powers to rape them too? Those kinds of allegations would be highly prejudicial against the defendant, and would probably be excluded from evidence. Starfox is on trial for the sexual assault of Christina Garvey; the introduction of other sexual allegations makes him look bad without shedding any light on the question of his conduct with Mrs. Garvey. Under rare circumstances, the judge might give special permission for evidence of prior criminal behavior, but Jen should've been fighting hard to keep any such evidence out (which would best be done in a motion before trial even began).

What they probably could testify about would be the nature of Starfox's power. His powers of seduction are alleged to have played an important role in the crime, so it's important for the prosecution to explain and prove those powers to the jury. They need to show that he has the ability to get unconsensual consent. Unfortunately, their testimony only really contributes anything if his powers actually caused their opinion about him to change; if they were naturally attracted to him, then their testimony doesn't say anything worthwhile about his power. And if he DID force their opinion to change, then the prosecution has to walk a very fine line, or else she'll fall back into inadmissable testimony. (Plus, if they honestly didn't like him, then we're back with the meta-problem of Starfox manipulating people's minds in the courtroom.) They'd be better off making the same point another way.

OK, this post has turned out to be unduly long, so I'm going to cut it off here and finish the issue with a second post. So I'll finish up the Trial of Starfox next week, with more pictures and hopefully a little less text.