On the creation of language crimes

Roger Shuy tells the story of how he got into forensic linguistics:

After the man sitting next to on the airplane asked me to take a look at the tape-recorded evidence in a solicitation to murder case, I agreed to do so and a day or so later the lawyer in that case, Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, sent me the audio-tapes. The case was Texas v. T. Cullen Davis. The crucial conversations took place in Davis’s Cadillac, sitting in a sweltering Fort Worth parking lot.

It was possible to hear most of Davis’s speech while he was getting his sunglasses out of the trunk because he was shouting so that McCrory could hear him. He was unlikely to be able to hear McCrory, however, since he maintained an almost normal tone of voice, even lowering it a bit to sound more sinister.

I asked the jury to read down the speech of each separate column along with me and I pointed out that we could see two different and separate simultaneous conversations about two different topics here. Davis continued the previous topic about Art while McCrory talked into his mike about murder while Davis was out of hearing range. Davis’s allegedly damaging words, “good,” and “alright,” were part of his own topic, not McCrory’s.

This passage was the only time that McCrory made any effort to clarify what he meant earlier by “doing Priscilla and the judge.” But while Davis was out of the car and continuing his own topic of Art, he was very unlikely to have heard it.

The jury apparently liked my analysis because they acquitted Davis on all the charges. My experience in this case traveled quickly through the law community and my phone began to ring, which is why in my earlier post I referred to that casual conversation with my airplane seatmate as a “right angle turn” in my career.

Fascinating! Take a look!

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