Theatrical tactics in trial of mom who glued girl's hands raise questions

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by STEVE STOLER

WFAA

Posted on October 12, 2012 at 12:25 AM

DALLAS -- A mother who tortured and beat her little girl is now is being tortured on the stand by her own words and actions.

Prosecutors are branding Elizabeth Escalona as a monster in court, and not just by painting a picture of a bad mother. They are putting up the words "monster" and "liar" above her as she testifies. There's no jury. So it's designed to emphasize their arguments to the judge who will decide Elizabeth Escalona's fate.

Is it a smart legal tactic or is it crossing the line?

The label, written over the defendant's head as she testified, came at the moment prosecutor Eren Price asked Escalona why she lied to doctors:

Price: "Are you going to disagree that that makes you a liar?"

Escalona: "No, I don't want to say I'm a liar. I had reasons why I covered up."

Price: "So you're a liar with reasons?"

Escalona: "I believe so."

Price then projected the words "liar with reasons" above Escalona's head.

In later testimony, Price asked Escalona to agree that only a monster could commit such a heinous crime against their own child. She then wrote the word, "monster" on the screen.

"Monsters who torture their children deserve to rot in prison, don't you think Mrs. Escalona?" Price asked.

Mitch Nolte spent 10 years as a Collin County prosecutor, before he became a defense lawyer seven years ago.

"The general rule is, if you can say it in court, than why can't you write it down?" Nolte said. "You can certainly call a witness a liar. You can certainly question their credibility, and certainly use their own statements against them."

Nolte said as a former assistant district attorney, he understands why prosecutors would use that tactic. But as a defense attorney, he would have raised objections.

"It's a cheap theatrical tactic," Nolte said. "I would request the judge order the prosecution to take them down."

The prosecutor’s questioning ended with Escalona claiming she's not a monster, and should be given a second chance.

The judge is expected to decide next week if Escalona will go to prison, and if she does, for how long.

E-mail sstoler@wfaa.com

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