Feminism on Trial
On the morning of January 11, 1983, Ginny was racing to the airport in Burbank, California, trying to get her lawyer friend Kay Tsenin to her San Francisco-bound flight on time. As she approached the terminal, however, she was greeted by a heavily armed contingent of police dressed in riot gear. Flashing lights came on behind her and she was pulled over and ordered out of the car. Then TV news crews emerged and began taking Ginny's picture. As Ginny was handcuffed and taken away, she told Kay to notify Bob Tuller immediately.
On being taken into custody and read her rights, this time Ginny had nothing to say without her lawyer being present. Her interrogators attempted to bluff her into making a confession, saying that Jack Sidote had agreed to testify against her. They said the car they were driving in at the time of the Chayo murder had been found and Chayo's blood was all over it, as were Ginny's fingerprints. Though maintaining her right to remain silent, Ginny wondered how the inside of a car could have blood on it from a murder that supposedly took place outside the vehicle. As for her fingerprints, of course they would be there. She had ridden in the car hundreds of times over the course of a 3,000-mile cross-country trek.
Following her arrest, Ginny was once again remanded to Sybil Brand Prison and again subjected to many of the routines she had endured during her previous stay. But this time it was a bit different. She was being confined in a cellblock reserved for high-publicity cases like hers was.
While in Sybil Brand Ginny began to learn the truth about Mandell's involvement in her arrest. Stories that came out in the newspapers painted a picture of a vendetta that occurred in the feminist circle in which the two of them associated. Mandell had made a phone call to the sheriff's office in Jefferson Parish, then followed it up with a letter, requesting information on any charges that had been made against Virginia Galluzzo, now known as Ginny Foat. Her inquiry triggered an investigation that reopened the Louisiana case against Ginny.
Mandell alibied in one newspaper account that she was merely trying to ensure that Ginny had a clean record before a Los Angeles City Councilman could recommend her to the city's Human Relations Commission. However, Ginny didn't live in that particular councilman's district so Mandell's story didn't hold any credibility. Later Mandell was apologetic about what resulted from her inquiry, even to the extent of calling herself "dumb," but the damage was already done. The feminist movement was traumatized and polarization between factions debating Ginny's guilt or innocence resulted.
On the one extreme were those who believed Ginny was an innocent victim of a conniving, scheming male who had been knocked down and was trying to drag her down with him. On the other extreme were those who may have had their private doubts about her guilt but nonetheless felt that just being accused of such a heinous crime was a stigma that could hurt the organization and the movement. Those in the latter group advocated distancing themselves and the organization from Ginny as much as possible while her status remained unresolved. There were fears that her feminist views would work against her in a conservative Southern state like Louisiana.
One of those who supported Ginny included Gloria Steinem, who called on the national organization to stand behind a sister in trouble. Another was Midge Costanza, a former White House aide to President Carter. However, the decision as to whether or not to back Ginny was left up to individuals' discretions and judgments. With the feminist movement in turmoil over Ginny's plight, the new national NOW president, Judy Goldsmith, came to visit Ginny in jail. She tried to get Ginny to sign a prepared statement disassociating herself from the organization but Ginny refused. Finally a compromise was reached in which the organization expressed sympathy for Ginny but not outright support, and Ginny was granted a paid leave of absence from her post as president of the California NOW chapter.
At a press conference the next day, Goldsmith expressed the organization's official position of having "great compassion" for Ginny's situation but she went on to say, "We won't waste any more precious feminist energies on internal fights." Immediately this statement was misinterpreted by some in the media. The New York Daily News headline the next day read "NOW: Won't vow aid in official's slay case."
However, despite the national NOW board's refusal to take a stand in Ginny's favor, many local chapters did. Money came pouring into a Ginny Foat Defense Fund started by her friends, much of it from chapters all around the country. Ginny received hundreds of letters from women who never met her, saying they had been in similar situations with abusive husbands and boyfriends. Women with disabilities living on meager Social Security checks were sending in what little they could, along with notes and letters of support. Ads that had been placed in newspapers and magazines were reaping results.
While all of this was going on and Ginny's lawyers were fighting extradition to Louisiana, Jack Sidote was giving testimony to a grand jury in Jefferson Parish. The D.A.'s office there had granted him immunity in exchange for his testimony implicating Ginny in the Chayo murder. No matter what he told the grand jury or testified to in court later on, he would not be charged with the crime. He was essentially telling them the same story he had told to the New York State Police and authorities in Nevada.
During the extradition wrangling, Ginny's California attorneys bought time to seek out appropriate counsel for her: lawyers who could practice under Louisiana's unique Napoleonic Code and had a solid track record for getting their clients off the hook. They ended up choosing John Reed and Robert Glass, two Ivy League grads with backgrounds in poverty law and civil rights cases. Once retained, Reed and Glass began the difficult task of finding potential witnesses who could testify in Ginny's behalf on a case that stretched back eighteen years. So much had changed in that time that even the bar in which Ginny and Jack worked was no longer standing. Potential witnesses had either died or disappeared. Ginny, however, was anxious to get to Louisiana and get the issue resolved. It had been hanging overhead for too long and she wanted to clear her name once and for all.