by Whitney Davis
In a two-hour closing argument Thursday morning, defense attorney J. Tony Serra retraced his client’s involvement in the death of her husband, Bryan Hoskins. On the night of August 3, 2014, Susan Hoskins called 911 to report shooting Bryan with a .22 caliber handgun in their Woodland home. Stating that Ms. Hoskins was at serious risk of injury from her husband, an abusive alcoholic, Mr. Serra claimed she fired in an act of incomplete self-defense, when not all the elements to the principle are present.
Mr. Serra opened his remarks by asking the jury to consider Ms. Hoskins’ character in light of previous witness testimony. According to Dr. James Morrison, one of Ms. Hoskins’ colleagues, the defendant was a “compassionate” nurse who was “helpful,” “sincere,” “honest.” Mr. Serra stated that she loved her husband and called him “babe” several times during the 911 call she dialed immediately after the shooting.
Stating his client’s love for Bryan as the “dominant theme,” Mr. Serra rebuked a conspiracy against Mr. Hoskins to fabricate medical records to prove her husband was a threat. Mr. Serra appealed to the jury, stating solemnly that “desperation creates desperate acts.”
Mr. Serra then reviewed the witness statements made about Mr. Hoskins, a former probation officer who took administrative leave. A former colleague of Mr. Hoskins’ called him “a control freak” and “bully,” stating that he “dominated, oppressed, and manipulated his staff.”
Dr. Linda Bernard, a psychologist who evaluated Ms. Hoskins eight months after the evening of August 3, 2014, described her client as exhibiting the visible symptoms of a “battered woman” who was the “victim of psychological and physical abuse.” Responding to Dr. Bernard’s testimony, Mr. Serra observed how the “cumulative effects of coercive control [are] one of the greatest damnations women can experience.”
He then raised a sheaf of paper above his head, causing Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Palumbo to object. Presiding Judge David Reed overruled, stating that the arguments of counsel were not evidence, but arguments.
Mr. Serra then urged the jury to consider the “karmic fortuity” of the current month – October – citing it as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, referring back to the document in his hand. Reading aloud, Mr. Serra claimed that “it takes a unified community to address this crime,” and that domestic violence is a “national and prominent issue.”
Citing her husband’s binge-drinking and abusive outbursts, Mr. Serra noted that Ms. Hoskins was, on one occasion, “choked to unconsciousness” and “forced against her will to perform anal sex.” Claiming the psychological and physical duress inflicted on his client by her husband was a form of torture, Mr. Serra compared Mr. Hoskins’ cruel and unusual behavior to that of torture tactics performed on American soldiers during WWII. “There comes a point where it becomes too much,” said Mr. Serra solemnly. “Ultimately, you become mad.”
Contending that his client responded “in conformity with her will to survive,” Mr. Serra noted the definition of depression in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition) and reflected once again on Dr. Bernard’s testimony. “The mind and memory gets kidnapped and hijacked by the pituitary gland and the adrenaline,” noted Mr. Serra, calling the holes in the prosecution’s cross-examination of Ms. Hoskins “a microcosm in the totality of the presentation.”
Claiming the deceased possessed a “sadistic need to belittle and find inadequate most of his human environment,” Mr. Serra reflected on the testimony of one of Mr. Hoskins’ former colleagues. According to the female colleague, Mr. Hoskins’ maintained an “overpowering methodology” and “castigated his colleagues” on a regular basis. In addition, his subordinates mutinied against him, filing several complaints and reporting a toxic, sometimes physically abusive work environment.
Citing his aggressive, unpredictable, and manipulative personality, Mr. Serra equated Mr. Hoskins to the character in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Motioning to his client, Mr. Serra asked the jury, “are we going to further victimize the victim in this case?”