A jangle fills the room, overpowering the rattling air vent.
Five men and one woman in striped inmate uniforms, “Cochise County Jail” on their backs and shackled limbs, enter Judge Wallace R. Hoggatt’s courtroom. The room silences.
One inmate waves to a woman in the audience. She smiles.
U.S. and Arizona flags stand tall on either side of the judge’s bench. A large metal Arizona seal hangs on the wood plank wall behind the judge. Four long windows flood the room with light, surrounded by dull cream curtains that resemble hospital blankets. The flat tan carpet shows wear and tear from decades of service to the state. Chips mark off-white walls near the door. Illegible graffiti stain wooden audience chairs that creak with movement.
The six inmates sit solemnly in the wooden jury box.
This is a day in the life of the Cochise County Courthouse.
“All I can do is run the court room in the way I feel comfortable running it,” Hoggatt says. “All people in my opinion have worth and dignity.”
In-custody cases are heard first.
Jesus Alfonso Peralta, charged with a DUI, is handed a headset by the court interpreter. The headset system is used to make interpretation less distracting. Peralta apologized for his actions, pleading guilty. Judge Hoggatt ends with, “I very much hope that when you are released and you start the period of probation things improve for you and continue to improve for you… I wish you hadn’t done what you did… Mr. Peralta good luck.”
Paul Douglas Crawford’s burglary case is heard next. His hands are interlaced behind him as he takes the stand. He has sharp features, short black hair and a goatee. Crawford pleaded guilty to attempted burglary. Crawford told the court, “I stole Blu-rays from Target and attempted to sell them. … I was going to use the money to buy heroin.” He is in court for violating his probation. The judge agrees to a settlement conference, in hopes of avoiding a lengthy trial.
Martin David Wetstein, with slicked-back black hair and a thick, trimmed beard, is here today for burglary charges. He will see another day in court as he has been accused of first-degree murder, drug offenses and tampering with evidence.
Next Ishmael C. Harris, an eccentric man, requests to give up his right to counsel. The judge explains his concerns to Harris in a caring tone. When Harris insists he wants to represent himself, judge Hoggatt reluctantly says “all right” with a sigh, resting his head on a hand. Harris submits a handwritten motion on the back of a jail form. He attempted to sell marijuana while on probation. Judge Hoggatt said, “As a general matter it is a very bad idea for people to represent themselves.”
Harris asks for access to the jail’s law library. The judge grants his request, giving him another week to prepare himself for his probation violation hearing.
The court takes a 30-minute break.
Mary Elizabeth Srader’s case is he next. Srader turned herself in on DUI charges. Her child under the age of 15 was in the car with her.
Her left arm covered in a tattoo of a red bird-like creature juxtaposes her thin frame, soft complexion and strawberry blonde hair. James Macy, Srader’s boyfriend, sits in the audience sporting a foot-long scraggly beard and slicked-back hair. His body stiffens as Srader’s ex-husband, Sean Corneto, calls in to give his testimony.
Corneto’s voice bellows throughout the courtroom. Corneto says, “The only thing that is in her mind is to go and get a drink.” Corneto said that he does not think his ex-wife will stop drinking until she “gets killed or kills someone else.” Ms. Srader pleads guilty and is allowed to leave on probation, under the supervision of her boyfriend.
Ms. Srader tells a security guard that she will be taking a hot shower at home tonight. She sarcastically says that she will miss the green bologna.
Judge Hoggatt says, “There are too many people in prison. I don’t like adding to it if I don’t have to.”
Up next is Darrell Robert Yocum. His jumpsuit bottoms are sagging on his thin frame to reveal a white undershirt or underwear.
Yom pleads guilty to attempted murder.
Accused of firing a gun at a vehicle with two people in it, he is sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison, paying a restitution of up to $3,000.
After lunch, the judge hears out-of-custody defendant cases.
Patrick Bramwell is late, looking for a parking spot. Entering about 20 minutes after his scheduled court time, his entourage enters noisily. A security officer in thick black combat boots, black dress pants and a gray polo reprimands them. “There’s no talking in the courtroom.” The security officer watches them like a hawk. He orders three people to get off of their cellphones.
Bramwell attempted to sell ecstasy, heroin, mushrooms and marijuana. Bramwell said, “I’ve been dealing with this for over a year.” He wants the waiting to be over, but is happy he gets to stay out of jail for a little longer. His case is continued.
David Valdez, present for aggravated assault charges, withdraws his guilty plea. He is accused of stabbing a neighbor, puncturing his left lung. Valdez claims self-defense. The victims in Valdez’s case are present and assisted by an interpreter, who arrives late. The victims seek restitution of $140,000. Valdez will not begin the long and taxing process of preparing for a trial.
Danika Vigil arrives over an hour-and-half late for her hearing. She missed her last court date. She stands in the doorway of the courtroom for nearly a minute before identifying herself. She sits down on the floor, leaning against the wall, staring blankly at the chair in front of her.
Vigil’s mom says out loud, but not directed at anyone, “She’s doing a lot better.” Vigil’s mom rubs a feather on her face and mutters to herself during the hearing.
Vigil is here for suspected possession of marijuana, methamphetamine, morphine, diazepam, oxycodone, hydrocodone and possession of paraphernalia. She receives two years’ probation and is requested not to be late for another court date.
Shortly after 4 p.m., the court recesses.
Afterward, reflecting on the wear and tear of the day, the judge is philosophical.
“I think most jobs, if you do them right, are going to take their toll on you,” Hoggatt says.
Meryl Engle is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at email@example.com.