Trial and Tribulations

Naim Amini fled Afghanistan to build a new life, a life now lost in the translation.

Maroofi's response was puzzling. (In addition to not speaking Dari, it seems Maroofi also has a few issues with English.) "I supposed if he asked him yes, the answer," he testified. "But if he asked him a question, the answer is yes. But if I remember vividly that's because basically Mr. Amini was not on the stand during the trial. That's because of that I say I don't remember that because he was not on the stand if I do remember."

At the same hearing, Maroofi was asked to explain, in English, what Judge Lawrence had meant when he'd asked Amini: "You understand they can ask you questions if you take the witness stand?"

Maroofi now replied: "Oh, yes. It says that if you think because it seems like he's saying that if you asking judge that if you think he's saying that if you asking judge that if you think I should to take the stand, I take stand. I think that's correct."

 
 
Heartfelt appeal: Attorney Paul Grant has requested a new trial for Naim Amini -- a trial he'd understand.
John Johnston
Heartfelt appeal: Attorney Paul Grant has requested a new trial for Naim Amini -- a trial he'd understand.

Proper translation is not a word-for-word exercise. To be effective, a translator must understand both languages well enough to translate concepts -- such as the greater implications of the word "testify."

"Being forced to have Mr. Maroofi as one's translator must have been like being locked in a cell with an alien being," says attorney Paul Grant, who is representing Amini in his request for a new trial. "Mr. Amini was placed on trial in a proceeding whose nature he did not understand, a proceeding which was presented in a language he did not speak, a language which was translated for him by an Iranian who did not speak his dialect.

"Now, is that a fair trial?"


Asked for his impression of the crucial exchange between Judge Lawrence and Amini, Wayne Cole says, "What I recall about this is that Mr. Amini had been interrupting the court. Judge Lawrence was trying to shut Mr. Amini off and get through the advisement, and it was a difficult process. The interchange was not a very direct one. There were questions being asked and not responded to, and the court was not dealing directly with what Mr. Amini was saying."

Cole never conducted a practice examination to see what kind of witness Amini would make. He also admits he made no attempt to communicate with Amini before or during the trial to ensure that Maroofi's interpretation was adequate.

Cole called no witnesses in Amini's defense. He called no character witnesses, such as librarian Susan Wilson, who says she would have testified. He called no expert witnesses on child molestation, who could have told the jury that molesters almost always find a way to get their victims alone. He did not call any of Laila's other friends from school, who could have testified that they'd spent the night at Laila's house many times and never had a problem with her father, and that Laila and Tasha had been feuding.

In fact, Cole put up no defense at all. The trial moved directly from the prosecution's case to closing arguments.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I would suggest to you this," Cole began. "This case is a pretty good example of how it is possible for a totally innocent person to end up in a court of law accused of a crime he didn't commit and have nothing to rely on except the legal principles you have been instructed on."

He underscored the inconsistencies in Tasha's testimony before going into his wrap-up: "Now, you weren't there and I wasn't there, and the district attorney wasn't there. Nobody can know for certain what happened. So there is some doubt, and the question for you to answer is whether that is a reasonable doubt. I submit to you that under this charge, with this evidence, with this testimony, it is far more than a reasonable doubt. It is a huge doubt, a monstrous doubt."

Salaymeh got the last word. "Mr. Cole is correct," she told the jury. "You weren't there. I wasn't there. He wasn't there. But there are two people who know what happened at the defendant's house three times to [Tasha], and those two people are [Tasha] and the defendant.

"And I ask you to think about how important your decision is and to think about what will happen if you make a decision that isn't right and you think about it the next day. You're at work and talking with your colleague at work: 'Oh, well, yeah, it was a sexual assault on a child, but we found the guy not guilty.'"

The trial proceedings concluded at nine minutes before five. The total elapsed time of the trial -- including opening and closing arguments, presentation of evidence, jury instructions and conferences between the judge and the attorneys -- was five hours and forty minutes.

The jury deliberated for an hour that night before going home, having not yet reached a verdict.

"I was not real to them," Amini says. "I was just a statue, sitting there, arms crossed, with a man whispering in my ear."


The jurors resumed deliberations at 9 a.m. the next day. They broke for an hour at lunchtime. At 2:18 p.m., after more than five hours of deliberation, the jury passed a message to the judge through a bailiff: They were deadlocked.

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