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There was testimony regarding the saw incident from two more witnesses this morning, and their comments introduced some new wrinkles to the case, but I’m going to skip all that because at 11:40 a.m. Vandeman himself took the stand and possibly made moot most of that “which hand was the book in?” and “was there a lunging motion with the saw?” stuff.
Vandeman’s testimony started with the standard stuff, a summary of his employment, college education and marital status. He explained that it was an article on how roads fragment wildlife habitat that first got him interested in transportation activism, which led him to mountain bikes, because they cause people to want more trails.
Very early on, he related the story of the East Bay Municipal Utility District group that went for a hike while debating whether or not to allow bikes on its lands, but decided against it when a biker came roaring down the trail, swearing at and startling the decision makers present.
If you’ve sparred with Vandeman in the past or moseyed around his website, however, most of this is old news.
In person, Vandeman actually has a fairly even, pleasing voice. I could have sworn I picked up some sort of southern accent (though I don’t know where that would have come from) and his testimonial style seemed to be telling kind of stories you’d expect to hear on a porch swing, rather than a witness stand.
This became a problem for him.
“Objection, this is a narrative,” Cabanero said several times.
There was nothing particularly damming or revelatory about what he was saying at the time, Vandeman seemed to just want to tell his story.
Eventually, Cook reined him in and got him to stick to the questions and at times his answers revealed an almost endearing naivete.
“Did you ever try to contact the authorities?” Cook asked.
“Of course. I report it to the UC police every time I see a mountain biker. I report it to East Bay Regional Parks, too.”
“Did you get much response?”
“Not a lot. I understand the police are kind of cagey and don’t want to disclose their methods. One time they said that they’d send out cadets to patrol the trail with radios, but I’ve seen cadets with radios two times in 27 years.”
“Did you confront the mountain bikers?”
“Yes, I always do. That’s just the way I was raised. When you see a crime, you report it.”
Vandeman seemed to be simultaneously downplaying the confrontations and upselling the physicality, portraying himself as the victim, as almost every witness had done so far.
“Did you ever consider using force?”
“No, for one, I’m completely and totally alone on the trail, and it wouldn’t accomplish anything. I imagine they would beat me to a pulp or they would come back later and beat me to a pulp.
“Had you been detained or placed in jail before this case?”
He said he hadn’t.
“Until I met mountain bikers, no violence had ever been done to me. I never even got into a fight as a kid.”
Having established his non-violence, Cook moved on to his M.O. when it came to flagging down bikers. From the jury’s perspective, I imagine that these were the first rumblings that something is amiss.
“You use your right hand to flag down mountain bikers?”
“Always. For fine motion and dexterity, to get the hand to do what I want it to do, my right hand is my best hand.”
The whole testimony was sprinkled with these little glimpses into Vandeman’s mind. He tends to verbalize thought processes that don’t need to be verbalized. At one point, he explained that he waves his hands sideways to attract mountain bikers attention because the brain best responds to sideways motion. It doesn’t make him guilty, just different.
Maybe it sheds some light on the next sentence, the logical keystone on which most of Vandeman’s arguments are based and which might have led to his undoing on cross examination.
“When they stop, I tell them, ‘You’re welcome to come here any time, but bikes are not allowed.”
I’ll write about more of Vandeman’s testimony tomorrow, including the times he’s been attacked by mountain bikers both with and without provocation and the cross examination that brought out some of what Vandeman is like online. After the defense wraps up its case and both attorneys begin negotiating jury instructions, court is supposed to have the afternoon off, so I’ll have some time to write. Jury deliberations should begin Thursday morning.