You already know what happened on the first day of the trial. Here’s what happened next.
A detective testified they apprehended Defendants #1 and #2 in a car together. They found two .45 caliber handguns in the glove box. It was not the car used on the night of the murder.
A ballistics specialist testified one of the two guns found in the car matched the bullet found in the victim’s head.
The medical examiner said a bunch of stuff that confirmed the victim was dead, which we already knew. Of note: the victim was shot in the chest, which all eye witnesses failed to mention. Nine shots were fired; one severed an artery that caused him to bleed out within minutes, one punctured his lung, another his liver, and one his stomach. There was almost no chance he would have survived, even with immediate medical attention. The final gunshot in the back of his head sent the bullet through one side of his brain to his cheek. It was instantly fatal, and a photo I’m glad I never have to see again.
Finally Defendant #1 took the stand and confirmed there was a disagreement over the polo shirt. He said he and three other men (our defendant, Defendant 2, and another man) were sent to the victim’s house to warn him. They were instructed to use selling the TV as a pretext to get into his house, then fire two shots to let everybody know they “weren’t playin’.” He said HE bent over to plug in the TV, while everyone else said it was the victim. Defendant 1 claimed he heard the shots while he was bent over, so he didn’t see who shot the victim. He said our defendant was the driver that night, and may have been the one who shot the victim in the head.
Under cross-examination it was revealed he never mentioned our defendant in his initial statement, only Defendant #2 and another man he gave a ficticious name for. He later gave a real name for the third man, but not our defendant’s name. It wasn’t until six months later that he gave the prosecution our defendant’s name as a participant in the crime.
And then we were excused to deliberate.
I wanted to ask 938 more questions like:
Did you find the car the suspects were in that night? The witnesses offered a make, model and color of the car. Fingerprints would have been useful.
Who owned the guns? Both had serial numbers on them. I’m sure they aren’t registered to the defendants, but could they be linked to anyone these kids knew or a previous crime?
Who called the victim that day to sell him the TV? Are there cell phone records that could be useful?
Why haven’t they picked up the third person who was identified, or the person the victim got into the argument with that day?
And look here, I work in finance yo. I only remember this kind of shit from watching Law & Order when I was pregnant TEN YEARS AGO and couldn’t get my fat ass off the couch.
We deliberated for three lifetimes. It was agreed by most that one line-up identification with 75% certainty wasn’t enough evidence to convict our defendant. The two eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen him there admitted to lying in their initial statements, and their stories contradicted each other. There was nothing we could really be sure about. Two of the jurors balked because one of the other defendants was currently incarcerated on a 75% certain identification. Um, buhcause he was caught with the gun in his glovebox that matches the bullet in a guy’s brain. Let’s file that in the “we’re pretty sure” pile.
We went over the evidence 19 more times and finally a verdict was reached.
The deputy lead us back into the courtroom and the judge asked me to stand and read the indictments and verdict for each. I was grateful to be able to read from the paper in my hand, so I didn’t have to face the reaction on both sides each time I read, “We, the jury, find the defendant: not guilty.” All 10 times.
After the last “not guilty” the judge asked the jury to confirm we were all in agreement. Everyone agreed. The judge began her wrap-it-up speech and a matronly woman quietly staggered out of the court room. As soon as the doors closed behind her she collapsed into wailing sobs, “Thank you, Jesus. Oh Lord, thank you. Jesus. Oh Lord.” It was the defendant’s mother.
I hoped he deserved her faith. Not Jesus – the boy we just set free.
The judge dismissed everyone in the courtroom but the jury. The defendant was escorted out and gave us a nod of thanks.
When the courtroom was clear the judge looked at us with Southern disappointment and said, “Well, he got away with this one.” She told us defendant #2 plead guilty to the murder and was sentenced to life in prison. She also told us he said our defendant was there that night. Then she dismissed us, and we all trudged out of the courtroom.
Regardless of what was or wasn’t proven in that trial, not one person in that house will ever be the same, and worst of all, someone had to bury their son.
While we were collecting our phones from the deputy, he told us the lawyers on both sides would like to speak with us. Some agreed and some ran for the door. I opted to stay. The State launched into us right away – they wanted to know why we didn’t find him guilty. As the spokesperson for the group, I explained that based on the testimony we couldn’t be sure he was even at the scene, which made it impossible for us to find him guilty for any of the crimes that occurred there.
Lawyers: But you had eye witnesses.
Me: Your two main witnesses lied in their initial statements and their final statements contradicted each other. The other eye witnesses said they didn’t know who shot him.
Lawyers: This guy is guilty. His parole officer told us he admitted to being there that night, but he hadn’t been mirandized so it wasn’t admissible.
Me: Why are you telling us this now???
Lawyers: We couldn’t tell you during the trial – he has privacy rights.
I asked all the other questions I wanted to earlier:
They didn’t find the car or really even look for it because they were “sure it was stolen.”
They didn’t find out who the guns were registered to because the suspects “weren’t old enough to own guns.”
They haven’t picked up the third person named or the person the victim argued with yet, but they’re “going to talk to them.”
They didn’t request any cell phone records.
Me: What else do you know about our defendant?
Lawyers: He has three other felonies pending in this county. All of these guys are in gangs. That’s why they won’t tell on each other.
Me: What are the pending felonies for please?
Me: Do any of them involve a firearm?
This made me feel a little bit better, but not much.
The defense attorney politely confirmed our guy was at the scene but didn’t have a gun, and then he gracefully bowed out.
Q&A was over.
It crushed my zen a little to learn our defendant was there, but I knew it was possible. However, the possibility wasn’t enough for me to send a kid to jail for life. Likewise, even if we could have confirmed he was there, we couldn’t be sure who did the shooting. In our state if three guys are present and only one does the shooting they still all get charged with murder. That doesn’t seem fair to me – what happened to being an accomplice?
To me the trickiest thing about serving on a jury is that your decision(s) can’t be a combination of fact and what you can reasonably infer. You’re bound by law to focus only on the evidence. It’s hard to keep that separate. We learn at a very early age to draw conclusions – to connect the dots. We prefer black and white situations, but we understand grey exists and have learned how to work around it.
Serving on that jury made me thankful the decisions we make outside the jury box don’t have to be black and white. They don’t have to be provable in a court of law. We all have the right to make inferences when it makes sense, to use our intuition, and to let our conscience be our guide. Some of the best decisions are the ones we make even when the “pro” side of the paper is a lot leaner than the “con” side.
I used to have more faith in my decisions based on the grey. As I’ve gotten older, fear creeps in more. I play more on the safe side. That trial was a good reminder that we don’t need sufficient evidence to do something we believe will make us happy. Time is ticking by. As long as we’re out here in the free world, we should probably behave that way. Start that business plan, send the query letter, end that relationship, go back to school, quit the unfulfilling job – whatever it is we’ve been yearning to do.
We don’t need proof that it’s the right decision.
We just need to believe our happiness is worth the risk.