The Trial of Bernhard Goetz: Excerpt from Gregory Waples's
 Opening Statement for the Prosecution

The following excerpt is included in The Trial of Bernhard Goetz (Aae Films, 1988).

At first,  December 24th 1984 seemed a day much like any other day to the 20 or so passengers who were seated in the seventh car of the 10 car IRT Number 2 Downtown Express train. About 1:40 pm this grimy, graffiti smeared car was lurching, swaying in the noisy and peculiar rhythm that’s almost unique to the New York City Subway system as the train holed underground from the 14th Street Station towards its next stop at Chambers Street. Most of the passengers in that car were preoccupied with their own affairs, minding an infant child, reading, dosing, staring blankly into outer space, or lazy. Contemplating a holiday season. Suddenly, however, that day that had begun so ordinarily; turned into a nightmare. Suddenly, every passenger on that train, every passenger in that car was jolted be the electrifying and terrifying spectacle of Behnard Goetz.

This gentleman on trial here, standing on his feet firing shots in every direction from a gun he was holding in his hand. In a brief compunction of violence the defendant deliberately shot and seriously wounded four young men who had been riding on that train long before he boarded the car. By the defendant’s own admission, tape recorded admission that will be played for you at this trial; at least two of the four young men that he shot were trying to run away or in the process of running away from him, when he gunned them down. One of the two individuals, who was shot in the back, was a 19 year old young man by the name of Darrell Cabey, shockingly. You will hear the defendant admit that before the last shot was fired at the seated and helpless Darrell Cabey, that the defendant advanced on him as he was seated in the seat and said, “You look alright. Here’s another.”

You will learn that the bullet that actually did strike Darrell Cabey caused massive injuries to his body. It sever his spinal cord. As a consequence, since December 22, 1984 [sic] , Darrell Cabey has been paralyzed from above the waist down and can look forward to the rest of his life, if that’s the best way to characterize it, living in a wheelchair. For whatever reason, be it right or wrong, this case… this case has touched a raw nerve on the American anatomy. For whatever reason this case has not become simply a media sensation, but something of a cultural phenomenon, and indeed… with the haste and stridency that says quite a bit about ourselves and the society in which we live today, the name Behnard Goetz, whose claim to fame is that he shot for persons in the subway…

Slotnick: Objection, your honor, as being an improper statement.

Judge: Mr. Waples…

W: Convinced that the criminal justice system has totally collapsed, this defendant with moralistic and self-righteous zeal , resolved to take the law in his own hands. Like a self-appointed vigilante; answerable only to a higher cause. This defendant determined to do, on his own, what he felt the laws of that processes could not do.

You are here to decide whether the idea of equal justice under the law for all people is a reality, or is an empty dream.

Thank you for your attention.

Judge: Thank you Mr. Waples.