David Webster has been in the news since 2002 when he was arrested for and ultimately sentenced to 26 years in prison for assault and murder-for-hire after biting a woman's eyebrow off and trying to hire an undercover police officer to kill her.
Things only got worse for Webster when a cellmate accused Webster of repeatedly raping him during an overnight lockdown. Surprisingly, this trial ended up dragging on for much longer, meandering through bizarre twists and turns.
He wasn't even charged for the 2003 rape until two years later. After pleading innocent on Aug. 30, 2005, he said his trial was going to be better than Rambo or "any movie you ever watch."
He ditched his first two attorneys on March 31, 2006: "No, I can’t go to court with these peoples. Might as well knock me in the head," Webster said. He was animated through most of the 1 1/2-hour hearing, raising his hand to speak, often interrupting the court and pointing to attorneys Jim Egan and Patrick McBurney while making disparaging remarks."
And he tried to remove Judge Cameron Mitchell on Feb. 17, 2006: "I have no doubt about your representation. You may have all the legal power to exonerate Godzilla," Webster said. "But number one, I am black and you are black, and we’re going to have an all-white jury up there, and what you say out of your mouth is going to mean nothing to them."
His boisterous courtroom mannerisms and strange comments, such as his April 4, 2007, statement that "My defense is not consensual sex but consensual conspiracy," made him an interesting figure to cover. I remember hearing about him from Herald staff photographers during my summer 2007 internship here and again after returning as a staffer in January 2008. Through those years, Webster's trial went through numerous delays and he went through four more lawyers until Feb. 17, 2009, when Webster was allowed to represent himself.
Every time another staffer went to cover the trial, they'd sigh, but always made sure to remind me that I should really cover at least one day before it ended. Because of scheduling, it wasn't until April 20, 2009, that I finally had a chance to see the man in action.
I was called in after Webster had been removed from the courtroom earlier in the day because of hostile questioning of his own witness. The testimony continued that afternoon, with Webster calling one convict after another, none of whom were supportive to his case. It didn't help that Webster asked each person the same thing, whether he knew what it meant to ask a new cellmate for his papers, or documents about why he was incarcerated. He argued that there was something fishy about his accuser's unwillingness to divulge his criminal history, even though it had long been ruled that was inadmissible. Sure enough, Assistant Attorney General Melanie Tratnik objected every time, even pantomiming Webster's exaggerated gestures:
Funny as this was, I was let down — as is often the case when long periods of hype overinflated my expectations. I had plenty of expressive shots of his cross examination:
So I decided to call it a day. As I was leaving, however, reporter Kristin M. Kraemer sent me a text, "Webster just called himself as a witness!"
An interesting side note is that journalists use proper grammar when texting, even in urgent situations.
I rushed back and, of course, encountered the longest line I'd ever seen at security. Granted, it was only around eight people, but there’s hardly ever a line at all. On top of this, the X-ray machine decided to go wonky for a couple minutes. If a telepath was reading my thoughts, the endless string of expletives must of sounded like I had just bitten my tongue after stubbing my toe on a dead body I'd found.
In the course of his lengthy and animated testimony, I heard the phrases "man coochie" and "skeet like Niagara Falls," both new terms that I had never expected to hear in court. Webster also talked about slick legging and went into graphic detail telling his side of the sordid tale.
Despite his earlier claim, Webster's defense was that the sex was consensual and that his accuser was only mad because Webster reneged on a promise to let his accuser "hump" him in return. He described himself as a manipulative person, but framed this argument with his earlier establishment of the do-anything-to-get-by nature of prison culture. And though Judge Mitchell had warned Webster that he would not be allowed to take the stand to tell a rambling story, that’s exactly what happend.
He argued that proceeding in a question and answer format as both lawyer and witness would make him look like a "crazy person," even though that already seemed to be the consensus among many who watched his courtroom antics. His charismatic and erratic behavior meant that the media room was always full of courthouse employees who wanted to see the next episode of David Webster.
And boy was April 20 the day to tune in. His giggle-inducing testimony also drew slack-jawed gasps, eye-rolling and blushing as he carefully explained the sexual hierarchy in jail, using terms such as "he/she's," and detailed the mess created when two men got busy. Webster repeatedly said that he was not a homosexual, adding that he looked at pornography while having sex.
"I ain't no penis watcher," he said.
The mood of the courtroom definitely did not fit my expectations of a rape trial. Corrections officers were stifling laughter as Webster strutted through his testimony with a casual bravado and a sparkle in his eye. It certainly seemed like this was the day he had been waiting for as well.
Judge Mitchell, whom Kraemer had reported throughout the years as often sighing during these proceedings, did not seem to be amused:
And when he called for a recess, Webster was upset, adding that once he started a story, he liked to finish it. He then requested a pen, so he knew exactly where to pick up again:
One of the corrections officers stopped by the media room during recess and when Kraemer asked how he was keeping it together, he replied, "I've heard this story so many times, but it never gets old."
When it started up again, Webster jumped right in, "Well, like I was saying, he was talking like a girl. I had him talking like a girl, but it was quiet because we didn't want the guards to hear." He whispered during quiet parts and told his story to the jury like they were sitting around a campfire, spinning dirty yarns.
I should add here that despite the dropped soap jokes everyone makes, there's nothing funny about rape, even if it happened in jail. However, there is something perversely brilliant about a prisoner rape trial dragging on for four years and attracting media attention simply because of how ridiculous its defendant behaved. Before this trial, I had never heard of any prosecutions for prisoner rape and grew up with the notion that the possibility of rape was an institutional deterrent to a criminal career. Now I know there's a nearly 30-year-old organization dedicated to protecting prisoners from sexual assault.
Judge Mitchell sentenced Webster to 20 years and five months on top of his 26-year sentence on July 31, 2009. I had planned on running this blog item that week, but in true Webster trial fashion, it was delayed several weeks.
I won't attempt to psychoanalyze Webster or speculate on his motives or expectations of defending himself. I don't know if he truly believes there's a conspiracy against him or how closely his courtroom persona mirrored his real self. I will say, however, that though Webster's sanity is questionable, his intelligence and charisma are undeniable, and it really made me wonder what he could have done if he had made some different choices or lived in other circumstances.
He said that he moved here from Arkansas to be an entertainer, and in that respect, I suppose he succeeded. A twisted part of me hopes this is not the last we've seen of David Webster and a reality show about a prison lawyer defending other prisoners could be the peak of the format.
So if anybody from truTV is reading, save me a job on the show, please.