The fourth day of Michael Tate’s first-degree murder trial for killing the father of his friend, Michael Fitzgerald, was supposed to start with Fitzgerald on the stand. But for the third straight day, the trial started late.
First, Tate’s attorneys tried to keep Fitzgerald from testifying – an effort that was unsuccessful, just as they were unsuccessful in their attempts to have Fitzgerald’s mother, the victim’s widow, banned from the courtroom during her son’s testimony. After those motions were denied, a Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy brought Michael Fitzgerald into the courtroom. Fitzgerald was wearing handcuffs, black dress-pants, no belt and a red shirt that looked like it belonged on a golfer.
And his stint on the stand would be in the rough.
After Fitzgerald was sworn in, he handed a note to the judge: He had an issue that needed to be taken up immediately, he told Judge Jane Tidball. He wanted to revoke his guilty plea to second-degree murder and burglary charges stemming from the killing of his father, a deal that got him a 62 years. Tate is facing life in prison.
The judge took the matter up with counsel. And although the implications of Tate’s request could have a major impact on both the defense and prosecution cases, Tidball kept the trial moving by ordering the prosecution to call its next two witness, both forensics experts who were on the stand until just before noon. Then, rather than break for lunch, Judge Tidball had the prosecution call its next witness, Michael Fitzgerald, who now revoked his motion to revoke his guilty plea.
“Did you kill your father, Steven Fitzgerald?” Chief Deputy District Attorney Bob Weiner asked Fitzgerald.
“No,” Fitzgerald responded.
“He is in the courtroom.”
“Could you please identify him?”
“He is in this courtroom.”
“Where is he seated and what is he wearing?”
“He is wearing a white shirt, his name is Michael Tate.”
“Why did you plead guilty?” Weiner asked Fitzgerald.
“Because I threw a post-hole digger at my Dad.”
At the prosecution’s cue, Fitzgerald proceeded to tell the jury how he and Tate had met at a home for boys, discovered they shared a love for the Insane Clown Posse, and later ran away, begging and stealing to survive. And then he told them how Tate had murdered his father, Steven Fitzgerald, in the family’s garage, as Michael Fitzgerald pushed an electric button to keep the garage door closed.
"I started hearing my voices and I picked up a post-hole digger and threw it at my dad," Fitzgerald said in a monotone.
During the afternoon recess, Jim Castle, Michael Fitzgerald’s attorney, arrived in the courtroom. And he was pissed.
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“What kind of ethics do you have? Unbelievable,” he railed at Tate’s defense team, accusing them of interviewing his client without his permission, in a conversation that Castle claimed had led to Fitzgerald’s attempt at withdrawing his guilty plea. Castle demanded that Tate’s defense team hand over all notes from that interterview and even stepped in front of Tidball for the record.
"I don't see any reason why I have to be addressing this now, I have a jury waiting," the judge declared.
Instead, she said, she’d take up the issue first thing the next morning, after everyone had an opportunity to reflect on the circumstances surrounding Castle’s allegations.
And so testimony this morning will again be delayed, as the judge considers the matter. Only after that will the defense team get the opportunity to cross-examine Fitzgerald -- the prosecution’s star witness, who agreed to testify against Tate as a condition of his plea bargain. – Luke Turf