Robin Cotton shares what it was like testifying during one of the most publicized cases including how she prepared for trial and what it was like being recognized as the ‘DNA Lady’.
Robin: I had, also, a fair amount of testimony experience by that point, because we started in ’88 and that’s when I was brand new, and then this was 1995 when the trial was. I also knew the two attorneys who were doing the DNA evidence. One was Rock Harmon and one was Woody Clark, and the woman from LA who was in charge, knew both of them. She was about to have a baby, so she couldn’t do it, but she said, “well, this is what I’m going to do. Who do you want to work with?” And, they were both amazing attorneys, but Woody Clark is very relaxed and calm, and I knew that would be better for me.
Then I studied. I had boxes of reference articles, and I had all my notes. So I had weeks to sort of put that together. I shipped out a couple boxes to the hotel.
So you never know when the testimony is going to end. They kept saying, “it could be any day now”, and it kept going on and on. So I went out before that was done, and Woody and I went to the courtroom after court one day so I could see the whole layout. It was a small courtroom. It wasn’t tiny, but it wasn’t huge. So I could see that. And then I said, “Well is the camera bothering you?” And he said, “No, it’s not bothering me. I can’t even see it!” So, if you’re Woody, and I’m me, the camera was right over there. Like, over your head. So, he wasn’t seeing it, but it was kind of in my peripheral vision. And not only that, but it kind of made this little whirring sound, so I could tell when it was moving. I didn’t know where it was pointing, but I could tell when it was moving. That was terrible.
And everything was pretty good, and then I spent the weekend… I had gone to school at UC Irvine, so I saw friends and stuff, and then I went to the courthouse, and well, the courthouse also had the District Attorney’s Office in it, so I was waiting upstairs on a Friday. And at the end of the lunch break, they finished the witness before me, and then I went on.
That was another thing that was good, because I only had half a day, and then I had another weekend.
Travis: So that wasn’t the end of it. That half day was just your first day?
Robin: Right. Total it was 5 ½ days.
Travis: Oh wow!
Robin: But on that day, I testified right? And then some investigator said, “ok, I’m going to take you back to the hotel.” He took me back to the hotel… And the hotel had those kind of elevators that go up on the side of the building and you can see out. So, I go through the hotel and I check in, and then I get in the elevator. There were a couple of other people in the elevator as well. So, we start going up. I’m on the 42nd or something floor. So, I’m just hanging out, looking at the people in the elevator, and there’s a guy in the elevator and he looks at me and he goes, “You’re the ‘DNA Lady’.”
Travis: Who was he?
Robin: I don’t know! Some guy in the elevator, but he knew who I was.
Travis: You had become the ‘DNA Lady’ already.
Robin: Yeah. So I basically only went to the courthouse. The hotel didn’t have a gym, but there was some sort of a Y that they contracted with across the seat, so I’d go over there, but then I had on gym clothes and different attire, so people didn’t recognize me. But, for a year, people recognized me. And it’s funny, because you think, “Oh, it must be fun to be a movie star or a politician or whatever.” But it’s not, because your privacy is gone. You know, I was in the grocery buying chicken or something. And someone comes up and says, “Oh, don’t you need a little OJ?” So, nobody was not nice. Everybody was nice, but it’s very disconcerting, it turns out, to have people come up to you and they know something about you, but you don’t recognize them. So you go through is this ok? What should I say to this person? And you don’t want to be unfriendly, because that doesn’t seem nice, but it’s weird. So I kind of learned how to say hello and then exit.
Travis: So when you were up there on the stand, what was the toughest question that anyone asked you? What was the hardest question?
Robin: You really think I can remember that after all this time?
Travis: Maybe that one that just had you shaking a little bit and got you thinking, “I can’t believe they asked me that.” Or were you just so prepared that you were ready to speak to the DNA?
Robin: My husband helped me to get ready by doing the following things; because we knew for a couple of months ahead of time that I was going to testify. Every morning, we’d get up and we’d sit and have coffee, and every morning I’d be worried about something. I knew a lot of science people. I’d been at NIH, and thought what if the science people don’t think my answer is good? Or what if my hair doesn’t look good that day? Or… Anything you could imagine worrying about, I had. I imagined those things, and you know, kind of towards the end of the conversation when I’d tell him what I was worried about, he’d look at me and he’d say, “Well, what’s your job?” And I’d say, “Well, my job is to speak to the evidence. I’m going to explain what the evidence means and what it doesn’t mean.” And he’d say, “Well, that’s what you’re gonna do.” And so, I think, with all those conversations being in that nice, safe environment at home, I was able to let go of those things and just focus. And I did not read the newspapers. I didn’t want the news. I didn’t listen to any of the commentary. If there was a sitcom, like Seinfeld, I could turn that on later, but I did not think that that I could hear all that stuff without having that affect how I thought I might be doing, and I just thought that I need to do this in a way that I think is appropriate, and not worry about all that other stuff. So that’s what I did.
Travis: Well thank you so much and thank you for bringing all the materials and donating them to the ISHI museum.
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