The Star-News


Crooks and cut ups in the lineup

Sat, Dec 07 2013 12:00 PM Posted By: Tom Basinski

One of my favorite TV shows while growing up, once we finally bought a television, was “Lineup” starring Tom Tully and Warner Anderson. The show ran from 1954-1960.

As a DA investigator, I was tasked with conducting live lineups. Judges granted defense attorneys the court order for the lineups, usually held at the county jail. Even though defense attorneys obtained the order, they were only allowed to observe.

The jail lineup deputy would get the booking photo and physical description of the defendant. He would try to find approximately a dozen in-custody inmates who looked similar to the defendant.

On lineup day I would appraise the group assembled in the jail gym and pick out five that resembled the defendant.

Even though I didn’t have to, I would ask the defense attorney if he or she agreed with my choices. This was a good way to head off future objections. Sometimes the attorney would ask to have another inmate substituted for one I had picked. If the suggestion was reasonable I’d comply, but I had the last word.

If the defense attorney started throwing his or her weight around, I’d remind them they were observers, and objections could be raised later. I seldom had a moment’s trouble with a defense attorney.

The “stand-in” defendants would receive an extra sack lunch or visit for participating. After selection, I would give the five I picked “the talk.” I’d tell them this was a serious matter for the defendant, cautioning them not to joke around nor have horseplay on the lineup stage. I’d remind them the witnesses would find it odd that five guys were laughing and scratching up there, while one guy was dead serious. I said the witnesses would focus on the defendant immediately.

The participants were given a number and were referred to only by their number. All lineups were photographed and videotaped. If some of the guys had visible tattoos, they’d wear long sleeves or have their collars turned up to conceal neck artwork. If one participant had a turned up collar or long sleeves, they all did. You get the idea.

Once the guys were on stage I’d instruct them to do certain walking and turning maneuvers. All would do exactly the same thing. Sometimes they would have to speak, saying phrases like, “Give me your money.” All would say the same thing.

Witnesses were not seated near one another and were forbidden to speak. If they had a question they wrote it down and raised their hand. I would look at their question, and then show it to the DA and defense attorney. I would attempt to answer the question, or have all the participants do what the witness requested.

One time I had a gullible deputy district attorney who was at his first lineup. The “bad” Tom Basinski often messed with him. Before we went into the room I said, ‘Bob, what signal are we going to use?’

“Signal for what?”

“You know, to let the witnesses know who the crook is. I can remove my hat, scratch my ear, cough twice, or whatever.”

“We can’t do that,” he said, eyes wide as half-dollars. (Remember half dollars?)

“Okay, no signal,” I said, shaking my head. “It’s your case.”

I called the defendant’s number to step to the square at the center of the stage. BEEP!! BEEP!! BEEP!! The loud noise came from the deputy DA’s watch alarm sounding in the quiet room. Panicked, he clutched at his wrist several times to turn it off. No one seemed to notice. The witnesses picked the real crook.

Later, I said, “Bob, in the future I prefer to make the signal more subtle and less obvious than a watch alarm.”

During other lineups the defendants and/or participants did hilarious or mind-boggling things. You can read about them in the Dec. 20 column.


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