UCSD art history student chants during rape

In the heat of a summer night last year, a crime was committed

She heard a commotion to her right, in the direction of Broadway. She paid no attention until someone called her name.
  • She heard a commotion to her right, in the direction of Broadway. She paid no attention until someone called her name.
  • Image by Christine Kenner

No dwelling escapes coincidence. There's a thick-walled apartment building in Hillcrest, one with just enough character in its tiles to make the rest of it look better for being rundown, where I lived for a summer six years ago. In the apartment nearest the street lived a quiet young couple with a baby. Whether they were home or away, they left their windows, front and back, open to the air, and every day they put their baby on a big pink blanket on the lawn next to the sidewalk. Most everyone thought these were reckless things to do, but what could one expect? The couple were Hare Krishnas. No one had much to do with them. When they moved out, they opened everything in the house, right down the drawers and cupboards.

I don't know how many renters passed through that place before Marjorie James moved in a few years ago. She was an art history student at UCSD and word on weekends as a cook and all-purpose assistant at Central Manor, the live-in mental hospital at Fourth Avenue and Cedar Street. James looks English. Her arms are porcelain, white and shiny like that, and her dressy clothes are plaids and tweeds. She is friendly and polite, which a deep, sleepy laugh, but when she is the least bit annoyed, her language turns grammatical and old-fashioned, and even her accent grows more stately, as though from a different age. Her father is Canadian, actually, and her mother is a former dancer and actress from Kansas City. They were married to the tune of "God Save The King."

James dislikes talking about her childhood because she says it sounds privileged, but wasn't. When her father's work in chemistry took the family abroad, she was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland; when they settled in Massachusetts, she went to boarding schools in the suburbs; when it was time to go to college, she attended McGill University, her father's alma mater; and when she had earned her degree in art, from Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, she attempted suicide, underwent analysis and shortly thereafter converted to Buddhism and moved to California.

"I remember closing the screen door," she said, describing the ordeal that took place in her apartment. "I latched the screen door in two places, but decided to keep the back door open to get some air. It was about ten o'clock on August 28 — a Tuesday — and I'd worked all day running the slide projector for a convention at the Town and Country. I'd gotten the job through UCSD. (When you're a teaching assistant in art history, you know how to use a slide projector._ Anyway, I had to get up at five-thirty. I remember I left the bedroom door open.

"The next thing I knew, there was someone's hand on me, someplace either on the back of my head or on my neck. I screamed. I was an awakening-from-sleep, sort of nightmare scream.

"I could sense him kneeling next to me. His voice came from behind and slightly to the right. He reached up and turned on the drafting-table lamp that's attached to the wall above my bed. I saw his bare, black forearm. Then I think he asked me, 'Is that your natural color hair?' and I said, 'No.'

"'What is your natural color hair?

"And I said, 'Dishwater.'

"Then he started to reach under me, and at that point I kind of separated my mind from my body. I was on my stomach, and he told me to turn over, and I said, 'Let me just stay here.' He wasn't forceful and I didn't try to find out if he would be. I remember I started chanting, inwardly; with all my life I chanted. It only lasted a couple of minutes, then he got up and told me to get in the shower, and he went into the other room.

"I went to the bathroom and turned on the shower, but I didn't get in. All I did was turn the light on and stand there for a minute; then he opened the door and told me to get in the shower. He obviously must have looked at me, but I didn't see him. I think I didn't want to. I got in the shower with my nightgown on and turned on the hot water. Then I pulled the window up far enough to for me to reach my arm out and try to knock over the lid of a trash can. And just at that moment, I saw him slip out the back door. I saw his profile against the side of the building, but I couldn't see who it was. "Then I turned off the shower, jumped out, ran to the back door, closed and locked it, ran in the bedroom, tore off my wet nightgown, threw on some clothes, started to telephone, and decided to get the hell out of there."

At University Hospital, shortly after midnight, the first person James saw was a woman in white uniform, standing outside smoking a cigarette. James told her she'd just been raped and didn't know what to do. The woman asked her to wait a moment, then went inside and sent out a doctor, Dr. William Baxt. Having once been a policeman himself, he question James for a few minutes, asking if she could identify the rapist and suggesting that, although it was up to her, it might be good idea to call the police.

He led her to an office and telephoned for her, then asked if she wanted to talk to REAL, the local group that provides counsel at any hour for victims of rape. He dialed this number for her, too. James said she talked with a woman for a while, but found the conversation of little comfort. Soon two patrolmen came to fill out a blue Crime/Incident Report. One asked the questions and wrote on his metal clipboard while the other sat slightly apart and said nothing. James said the policeman was kind, and brought out his questions with elaborate care. She thinks now that REAL's contribution to the treatment of rape victims is the collective watch it keeps on the police department.

After the interview, she underwent a pelvic examination for evidence. The doctor took swabs in the shallow and deep vagina and set them aside for analysis at the police laboratory, then combed the pubic hair for foreign matter, and drew blood to test for venereal dicers. James said, "I asked the doctor the motive for rape, and I think he said no one really knows, but the theory is that it's not a sexually motivated thing, but an act of violence. I must have been basically satisfied with the answers, because he explained a little more, but I don't remember it. I remember in the room next door some people were making funny noises to entertain this little boy who had gotten hurt — his brother had brought him in — and they were trying to get him to cooperate with the first aid."

Finally James accompanied the patrolmen to her apartment, where they found entry marks on the screen door, took the bedsheets as evidence, and dusted for fingerprints on the bathroom doorknob. James noted that nothing had been stolen. looking around at the blue, bamboo-print curtains, and the silk-screening frame and chemicals, and the images of James's favorite subject (alligators), one of the patrolmen asked if she were some kind of artist; and then he spoiled a copy of The Painted Word, by Tom Wolfe, and asked if she had read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. In James's mind, that question confirmed her intention to cooperate fully with the police.

They drove her back to her car at the hospital, gave her a card with a number to call at the station and left her. "The only think I could think of to do was drive to my girlfriend's house in Lemon Grove," James said. "The dogs announced my arrival. Dorothy and I talked for awhile, and she told me to sleep on the soda, but instead I turned on the TV and looked at some old movies without watching them. Everything kept running through my mind. I kept relieving it, running through its I couldn't turn it off. And later, the next morning, I remember I was with Dorothy in the kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee and she was making breakfast, and that voice I had been hearing all of a sudden turned into a face. It flashed in my memory. I put down the coffee cup and I said, 'I know who it was.'"

"My? My name, sir? My name is Salavin Ross. Wait a minute, will you please?"

Ross, an inmate at the county jail, put down the telephone receiver in the visitor's room and slapped his breast pockets for a cigarette -- none -- then bummed one off the inmate next to him and cupped his shaking hands around it, nodding thanks, while his new cigarette took fire from an old one. it was a Sunday in January, four months after Ross's arrest on suspicion of raping Marjorie James (whose name, and Ross's, are the only ones changed in this account). The windowless, trashy visiting room was hotter than usual, as the weather for the past few days had been sunshine and drizzle. Ross picked up the phone again and squinted, smiled (no front teeth) and said, "Now, okay. Can? Can you hear me over this phone? Say, Mr. Appleby-"

"Gate."

"Mr. Applegate — can you get me out of here?"

"No."

"Because I didn't do it. I didn't rape that girl. That girl is ly-ing. She — she said she recognized me by my black voice, and I don't have a black voice. Do you think I have a black voice?

"You have an unusual voice."

"What? What's it like?"

"Clear. High-pitched. Good projection — an actor's voice, really. I like your voice."

"Oh! Do you like me, too?"

His face — of a color that shows freckles and liver spots — trembled around his smile, and his hand was working for a better grip on the telephone receiver, pressing it into his ear. He is thirty-eight years old and looks as though he's live every day twice.

"I must admit I do."

"That's good," he said, "because I like you, too. I can tell that you and I will be friends."

"You haven't been so friendly to everyone else."

"What do you say?"

"You tried to throw a Bible at the judge."

"Oh! Yeah!" he said. "Yeah, I get kind of excited when I hear people ly-ing, you know, and shit like that. Excuse! Excuse my language. But I am innocent. You know what I'm saying? I am. And that's the truth."

On the morning after the rape, James called Detective Gary Yoshonis of the vice squad and told him about Ross. She said that Ross had been a resident at Central Manor while she was working there, that they had been acquainted, that he had left without paying his rent, and that during one of his subsequent visits, she asked him to leave the premises. She said that although she had never seen the rapists's face, she had definitely recognized his voice. Yoshonis asked her to come to the station that afternoon, but James needed money and decided to work the rest of the day at the Town and Country. She arranged to see Yoshonis two days later.

The interview turned out to be unremarkable (the only surprise was seeing Yoshonis with a gun and shoulder holster in his office), and she left after telling everything she knew about Ross, which did not include his whereabouts. Since she was downtown, she decided to visit an artist friend, whose studio is near Fifth Avenue and G Street. She had just parked her car and was going to cross Fifth when she heard a commotion to her right, in the direction of Broadway. She paid no attention until someone called her name. She turned. It was Ross, walking up Fifth, away from her.

James hurried to her friend's studio and called Yoshonis, who said he would look for the suspect, then she went outside again to find him herself. She drove up and down the streets in her old Dodge Dart. nothing. No police cars, no help, no Ross.

After a while she gave it up and parked the car, and was walking to the studio again when she spotted him. He was standing on the corner of Fourth and Market — shirtless, with a red baseball cap and nondescript pants — shouting at the sky, and then seeing James, yelling over and over, "He attacked me."

"I ran back to the studio and called Yoshonis again," she said. "He wasn't in. So I went outside and looked down to the corner — Salavin was still there, alone. Then he saw me and started walking toward me. I was saying inside, 'Where are the goddamn police?' I ran back to the studio and called again; this time Yoshonis answered, and when I told him I'd just seen Ross, he said something like, 'What do you want us to do?' And I said, 'Come pick me up.'"

Soon there was a conference at Fourth and Market, with James, Yoshonis, another detective, and Officer Janice mcGill of the downtown beat, all wondering where the suspect had gone. James described him once more for everyone; then McGill said he could be someone she'd just talked to in Horton Plaza. She had made some notes on him. Was his name Salavin Ross?

"That's him." said James.

McGill had an idea of where he might be heading, and she left in her patrol car. "That's a good cop," James heard Yoshonis say when she had driven off. A few moments later McGill arrested Ross in front of the county courthouse (he had been walking to the Servicemen's YMCA on Broadway), while James watched from across the street, in the back of Yoshonis's car, unseen by the man who suddenly found himself captive in the hands of a slight acquaintance.

These events occurred on August 31, a Friday. Between then and Marc 6, when the last of the legal proceedings was completed, James got so involved with her own part in handling the case that she decide to give up looking for work as an artist and enroll in law school. She didn't go through with it, through; the thought of spending four more years in school (night school at that) made regular work a temptation. Still, as a witness for the prosecution, she was more than attention; she was active. She had to be, really, because she had no one to counsel her throughout the trial. The prosecuting attorney can give little advice to the rape victim, for she is a witness in the case, and is nobody's client. James's case depended entirely on her testimony that she recognized Ross's voice in the dark, after a harsh awakening from sleep and in the subsequent state of terror; but she did not connect that voice with Ross until the following morning at around eleven. Later that day, when Yoshonis asked how certain she was of this connection she said that on a scale of one to ten, her certainty was 9.6.

Naturally, this was the story that Ross's attorney, William Fuhrman, questions at the preliminary hearing. The judge was to decide whether the evidence against Ross was strong enough to hold him for a trial. Fuhrman could not dispute whether James was able to recognize Ross's voice. She had picked it out from several others in a voice line-up conducted by the police. But in cross-examining James, Fuhrman established that she knew several black men and from here he raised questions about the way James had reached her nine-out-of-ten conclusion. If James had chosen Ross's voice from among several black voices she happened to know, then there may have existed in the first place some ambiguity as to who the rapist really was, and ambiguity turns jail bars into a curtain. He also wanted to show that James grew more certain of her choice as time went by, which suggests in a backward way that she was uncertain to begin with. James said she didn't realize where Fuhrman's strategy was headed until it was late, but she was satisfied with her answers, as recorded in the hearing's transcript.

FUHRMAN: Would it be a fair statement . . .that over the period that passed between eleven that morning and the time you talked to the detective, that there was a gradual increase in the sense of positiveness about the identification of the voice?

JAMES: I asked myself many questions. I am very critical and skeptical. I went back and analyzed from a different point of view how possible and reasonable that seemed to me.

FUHRMAN: Did it become, as you analyzed it, more and more positive and reasonable?

JAMES: Yes. It made sense.

FUHRMAN: And prior to that analysis, I take it it would be difficult for you to assess how sure you were, how recognizable it was. Is that right?

JAMES: I trust my most immediate and direct responses. It was unfiltered by any kind go conscious analytical reasoning. It was a very direct memory kind of thing.

FUHRMAN: I have no further questions at this time.

He had no further questions at all. Ross grew unhappy with Fuhrman's counsel and asked the court to appoint him another attorney. The change surprised Thurman, but he didn't oppose it; he felt he'd done as good a job as he could, given Ross's attitude and mental state.

The replacement was Douglas Oden, whose first move was to have the case dismissed for lack of evidence. A judge denied the motion, saying that the weight of James's testimony would be a matter for the jury to decide. Oden is black, and could well imagine how his client might impress a jury. He felt the only way to overcome that impressions was to eliminate it— waive the defendants right to a jury trial and lay the case before a judge.

The hearing for this waiver and the setting of the trial date occurred on December 5, before Judge Earl B. Gilliam. Supervising judge of the criminal division, Gilliam reviews hundreds of cases a month, assigns them to other judges, and set up their calendars. His courtroom is as crowded as a stock exchange, with attorneys waiting for their cases to be announced, then pushing through the scarred wooden gate to come before the judge, and shouting out their names and their clients' names before the gate has shut. Inmates brought from the jail usually sit in the jury box, which has been enclosed in the glass to form a kind of waiting room. The panes are clear where they face the judge, frosted where they face the attorneys and the audience.

When Ross's case was called, there was a moment's delay while the defendant was conducted along the corridor from jail. Gilliam bounced delicately in his chair and sipped from a paper cup. The bailiffs watched the open door at the back of the court. Open talked with some other attorneys. Then from behind the closed door to the judge's right there came a noise like shouting or singing — jumbled words more loud than clear — which made Oden shake his head and turn an indulgent smile to some attorneys behind him.

"The bailiff tells me he's really acting up," Gilliam said to Oden.

"Yeah. I've been having some problems with him."

"Well," the judge said, and glanced at the opening door.

The shouting had stopped, and when Ross walked into the room he seemed to have emerged from the silence itself. He was holding a paperback Bible, all white with the covers torn off, and was wearing a denim shirt that said "County Jail" between the shoulders. He looked into the audience for the woman he hoped would be there, Dorothy Casper, a young, timid vagrant and one-time companion, on whom he was counting for an alibi. He didn't find her. He wouldn't see her until the trial.

Gilliam (who is black) asked Ross how he was doing, and Ross replied that he was doing fine, apart from feeling persecuted. Oden stepped up to his client and told the judge he wanted to forget a jury trial. Gilliam asked Ross if he was willing to waive that right, and Ross said he was willing enough — yes, that sounded all right but if he were convicted, then everyone should be convicted, because the was as innocent as everybody else. Gilliam nodded, seemed to consider the idea, and told Ross he would have his change to give his side of the story, then raised his eyebrows at Oden for comment, and receiving none, set the trial date for the following Monday before Judge Donald Smith.

The initial proceeding in Judge Smith's court lasted about twenty minutes. James was on the stand answering questions about the layout of her apartment when Ross, at the defendant's table, shouted her down as a liar. And where was Dorothy? he said, turning in his seat. Where was she?

Smith told Ross to calm down and be patient, then mentioned for James to resume her testimony. Ross, holding his Bible, listened for a moment, then said he was going to throw a ball of fire, and got as far as rearing back with the book before the bailiffs grabbed him and lacked it away. It looked at though he;d been aiming at Judge Smith, who calmly summoned the attorneys to his side for a conference, and then, on Oden's motion, ordered a psychiatric examination to determine if Ross was mentally competent to stand trial.

Two county psychiatrists asked Ross why he was being tried and what could happen as a result of the trial. "I was accused of rape and burglary," he replied, and he said that a verdict of guilty would bring him prison or probation. The psychiatrists wanted to know is Ross was sane enough to understand the nature of the charges against him and the consequences of those charges. They wanted to know if his speech, thinking, and memory were coherent enough to be useful to his attorney — that is, if Ross were capable of assisting in his own defense. They reviewed his medical record and saw that he had been diagnosed as a manic-depressive (a diagnosis they corroborated), with the manic or hyperactive phase of that disease being dominant. This explained his excitable behavior. They found him over talkative during the interview, but polite and attentive. They determined that he was triable, but phrased their conclusion in a way that aimed, so to speak, at a moving target. Ross was competent to stand trial "at this time," they wrote. How competent he might be at another time was not their concern.

For the purpose of this trial, then, Ross was normal. And moreover, in his own mind, he is normal for any purpose — or for the largest purpose of living in society. He does not believe he is ill. His medical report says he has no insight into his illness, no desire to stay in mental hospitals of any kind, and no motivation to take the medicines that help to clear his mind. Since his discharge from the Air Force in 1964, he has been admitted an uncounted number of times to mental wards run by the Veteran's Administration in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Diego, staying just long enough to stabilize himself and then petitioning for his release. Lately, each release ended in an arrest for some kind of disorderly conduct. In July, about a month before the rape, he found an electric fan in a trash heap downtown and strapped part of the motor to his chest, then acted as though he were carrying a bomb. By the time he got through yelling and parading in the streets, the police had not only arrested him, they had called in the bomb squad to dismantle the device. locked in the Alpine Convalescent Center, he escaped a few weeks later and returned to San Diego to find his friend Dorothy Casper.

Before this, he suffered from the delusion of being white. He had "KKK" tattooed on the inside of his right arm, believing this would impress the parents of a girlfriends in Portland, Oregon. Once he was arrested for burning a cross in Horton Plaza. He told me that he is not wholly related to his seven brothers and sisters in Alabama because his father was white, which made him an outcast from his natural kin. In a letter to Judge Gilliam, shortly before his trial, Ross wrote, "When I was fifteen years old, I got a shoeshine job in a white barbershop, Massey Barber Shop, in B'ham, Ala. Mr. Massey asked me, 'What's your name, boy?' I said, 'Salavin.' He flung around and said, 'Charley, did you hear that?' And Mr. Charley said, 'Yes, I heard it.' Mr. Massey said, 'I am going to nickname you "Them." 'Comprehend, judge?"

The trial resumed on January 2, with James's testimony followed by that of Officer McGill and Detective Yoshonis. There the protection rested its case.

Oden's defense began with the testimony of Walter Fung, the criminologist who had analyzed the physical evidence of the rape. It happened that the type of semen found on the vaginal swabs, Type A, did not match Ross's semen, which was presumably Type B, the same as his blood. Oden produced another expert to corroborate the testimony, and it looked for a moment as though he had won the case on the strength of a lab test he'd subpoenaed from the police. Then the prosecuting attorney, Howard Shore, demolished Oden's point by having the expert witness acknowledge that a Type B semen could have been masked by the Type A secretions within the vagina itself, which match James's blood. The discrepancy between Ross's Type B and the Type A found on the vaginal swabs therefore did not exclude Ross as the rapist.

Oden went on to call Casper, who had been in Ross's company on the night of the rape. She looked to be in her early twenties, and had known Ross since July, when she'd come to San Diego from Connecticut. Her brandy-colored hair was parted down the middle, and hung straight as string on either side of her pale face. Her front teeth had a tooth-wide gap between them. In the summertime she'd lied on the street with Ross as her companion, and at night she'd slept in the subterranean women's room at Horton Plaza with Ross standing sentry at the top of the stairs. This she admitted on the stand in a weak, embarrassed voice, under questioning from Oden. She said that August 28 had been and ordinary day for her and Ross. She arose and found him waiting for her at the top of the stairs. They decided what they'd wear that day (they kept their extra close in boxes they stashed in parks and hotel lobbies), and after breakfast took the bus to the county welfare office in Logan heights, arriving well ahead of her 2:00 p.m. appointment. The rest of the afternoon they spend in downtown's Panted Park, and the evening in Horton Plaza. She went down to bed between nine-thirty and ten o'clock, and heard Ross's voice on the pavement above until she fell asleep. Shore stood up and asked her to describe her relationship with Ross. She said it was strictly friendly, that sex between them was not even a subject of conversation. he asked if she knew that Ross had a tattoo on his chest that read "Dorothy." She did, but said she hadn't known about it until after he'd had it done.

"You think quite a lot of him, don't you?" said Shore.

"Yes."

"And he thinks quite a lot of you?"

"Yes."

"And if he were in trouble you would certainly help him, wouldn't you?"

"Yes."

Then shore asked about what time she went to sleep on the twenty-eighth of August. She said it must have been around eleven o'clock, or an hour after she'd gone down to the women's room. "So you really don't know where he was at midnight?" [when the rape was taking place]. "No." He ended his questions there, giving Casper leave to step down and walk out of the room.

"Hey, Dorothy, I still love you," said Ross as she pushed through the doors. She soon quit the job she'd taken only weeks before, never returned to visit Ross in jail, and didn't answer his letters.

"I love Dorothy," said Ross to no one in particular, while Oden put a hand on his arm. "I had to say it, man! I love her."

The judge called a recess to let Oden confer with his client.

Later in the afternoon the attorneys gave their final arguments. Shore said the case rested on James's testimony, and nothing presented at the trial had contradicted it. Oden, his hands in his pockets, rocking up and down on the toes, said there was reasonable doubt that a person in James's state of mind could recognize a voice and connect it some twelve hours later to someone she barely knew. he said there was no physical evidence — no fingerprints, no semen -- that definitely connected Ross to the crime. "If this were a different individual," he said of Ross, "this case may never have come to court."

Shore rose again and said there would be reasonable doubt about Ross's guilt — if there court dwelt in a world of fantasy, "I'm not a psychiatrist," he said. "Maybe Salavin Ross really believes he didn't do it. But that's speculation."

Finally the judge spoke. He said he found James's testimony to have the ring of truth, and he offered that her spontaneous connection of Ross's voice and his face, the way they came together in James's mind on the morning after her terror, seemed a plausible occurrence. He said, "We do make recognition unconsciously." And then he pronounced Ross guilty of forcible rape and burglary. James stood up and was out of the room by the time Ross had said, "I'm guilty? Is that what he said?" still sitting at the defendants table. In the hallway, she talked with a woman from REAL who'd been monitoring the trial, then she went home to the same apartment she has live in all the while.

A few days before the sentencing, she sat down to write the judge a letter. She wanted to tell him how the rape had affected her life and what she thought a just punishing should be ("I guess I just want him off the street for as long as possible"), but in the end she wrote nothing. "The worst thing that can happen to you is to lose control of your life," James said recently. "That's the worst feeling that can happen, and that's how I felt for months. That's why I'm glad this trial is over."

On March 6, Ross was sentences to six years in the state prison at Chino. His attorney is preparing an appeal.

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader

Comments

Log in to comment

Skip Ad