Scenes from a Marriage

It was about five hours into his father's trial when the question of what a sobbing Jeffrey Moon had told Missouri City police dispatcher Kelly Fantach was raised again.

This time, it wasn't the substance of what the seven-year-old boy had said that was before the court. Rusty Hardin, the lawyer for Warren Moon, had already established that Warren and Felicia Moon's youngest child never informed the dispatcher that his father had actually hit his mother.

What Hardin now wanted to know was whether Fantach believed Jeffrey had said "My daddy gonna hit my mommy" or "My daddy is going to hit my mommy" after the Moons' Spanish-speaking housekeeper handed him the phone on the afternoon of July 18.

Wasn't it, Hardin queried Fantach, just "one more racial thing" lurking there on the transcript the Fort Bend County District Attorney's Office had prepared of the 911 call placed from 1 Lakeside Estates? What Jeffrey clearly had said, Hardin argued, was "is going to."

I guess I'm just too dull-witted and insensitive, but it hadn't occurred to me until that point that hearing an obviously distressed seven-year-old say "gonna hit" might be suggestive of the "mindset," as Hardin put it, of authorities predisposed to assume the guilt of an innocent black man.

It is certainly possible that Hardin was correct: white people, and I can attest to this from personal experience, are capable of doing all sorts of stupid, condescending things, most of them unconsciously. On the other hand, several courtroom playings of the scratchy tape of the 911 call seemed to confirm that the transcript's rendering of "gonna hit" was legitimate. And I don't know about you, but I wouldn't expect precise diction to be his overriding concern if it were my young son on the phone to police. I'd be happy if he would have the presence of mind to squeeze out a complete sentence -- subject, verb, direct object -- as Jeffrey Moon did.

Perhaps Hardin's line of argument, which went no further after Fantach shrugged that it sounded like "gonna hit" to her, was all the lawyer's idea. He had already played the -- pardon me -- race card by citing another "racial thing" in the transcript of the police radio traffic that followed the 911 call from the Moons' housekeeper. That was a comment made by a Missouri City cop, unidentified on the transcript, who declared, "I saw a white Bronco," after patrolmen were notified that Felicia Moon had left her house in a white Lexus and Warren Moon was following in an unidentified vehicle.

Dispatcher Fantach -- who obligingly fingered the vile quipster for Hardin as a "Sergeant Crissman" -- agreed with the lawyer that it was a dumb, uncalled-for remark. Prosecutor Mike Elliott made sure that the three African-Americans on the six-member jury knew that he, too, considered it despicable. The looks on the faces of wincing spectators made it unanimous: it was dumb!

But even dumber was the spectacle of Hardin -- whose number should definitely be in your Rolodex if you're a celebrity expecting criminal charges -- puffing himself into a righteous snit over Sergeant Crissman's commentary. It was a "blatant racist comment," Hardin thundered, since the only similarities between Warren Moon and O.J. Simpson is that they are both "black African-American sports heroes" (as opposed to white African-American ones, I guess). Out of earshot of the jury, the lawyer called it "one of the most outrageous pieces of evidence I can imagine in this kind of case." You'd have thought he'd turned up a tape of one of the Missouri City cops using the N-word 40-something times.

But later, as he did his evening spin for the media, even Hardin was hard-pressed to precisely explain the relevance of the remark, as Sergeant Crissman wasn't involved in the investigation at 1 Lakeside Estates beyond his weak stab at humor. And thereafter, the white Bronco also mercifully disappeared from the trial of the State of Texas v. Harold Warren Moon Jr.

That was a salutary development, since it would have been a far stretch to argue that what was transpiring in County Court At-Law No. 1 was about race. What seemed to be the overriding issue in the trial of Warren Moon was appearances -- how they're hard to keep up, and how they sometimes can be deceiving.

The imperative of maintaining a composed and unsullied public face was a consistent thread in the version of events offered by both Hardin and Felicia Moon, who, contrary to appearances, was not Hardin's client. That's why, even if the "gonna hit" point of contention was Hardin's idea, it's easy to imagine Felicia Moon's being piqued by the notion that somebody might think her little boy had mangled his grammar. After she took the stand last Friday at the D.A.'s behest, Felicia Moon noted matter-of-factly -- and with a total absence of arrogance -- how she had corrected a number of grammatical and spelling errors that Missouri City detective Andi Wiltse had typed into the statement Mrs. Moon gave to police on July 18. She had been an English major, Felicia Moon said. It was her training.

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