Friday, May 06, 2005

Jury duty

I served on a jury in a Murder I trial this week. The principals were all Vietnamese and most of the testimony was translated into English. We found the defendant not guilty.

Eyewitnesses saw the defendant stab or stab at the victim on the front porch of an apartment building. One saw him chase the victim through an alleyway and into a nearby backyard and saw them wrestling in the back. The most reliable witness, the victim’s teenage daughter, saw a cohort of the defendant run away from the backyard as her dad fell. The victim had some superficial cuts as well as two deep, complex punctures in the chest, which killed him. These undoubtedly took place in the backyard. The defense story was that both men were asleep the whole time.

Police were on the scene quickly and upon arriving in the defendant’s home, found him and the cohort. No blood or anything found on them or discovered in the home. The murder weapon, a knife, was found in the backyard. No testimony or evidence about fingerprints was admitted.

In the end, I thought the guy definitely stabbed the victim, but couldn’t ascertain beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant and not the cohort delivered the punctures that killed him. The only options we had were Murder I or Murder II. There were no other charges, such as attempted murder or assault w/ deadly weapon, etc. I was working under the assumption that the cohort was being prosecuted separately. He was not a witness in this case.

I felt decent about our verdict. Frustrated that this bad guy is being found not guilty, but unable to do anything about it.

As we were leaving, the judge came back and told us that the defendant and cohort are serious gangsters and had been suspects in another crime with striking similarities: knife stabbing to the chest. They had not been found guilty for that crime either. The judge said that one of the witnesses who testified against the defendant would likely be the next victim. The defendant in this case was willing to plead guilty for 15 years, the prosecution wouldn’t go below 30. The judge said he understood why we found him not guilty, that the evidence was not overwhelming, but he was clearly disappointed. He said there would soon be an article in the paper that would likely describe the defendant as an assassin. The judge also said that the cohort had been a party to this lawsuit and charged w/ brandishing a deadly weapon, but was dismissed; the circuit attorney’s plan was to prosecute the cohort for murder if the defendant was convicted in this case. I don’t know what the plan is now.

Needless to say, I felt awful after hearing this. I don’t think that we were wrong, but I do think we could have legitimately found the guy guilty and so I just feel sick. The take away message for criminals: kill in pairs.

I’m mad at the police. 15 officers were at the scene, not including the CSI types, and yet no bloody clothes were collected. This was a bloody killing and those clothes didn’t disappear within the 6-8 minutes before the police arrived in the defendant’s home. For years Rich, the attorney I work for, played on a softball team w/ officers and he says that the quality of their work depends on the color of the victim.

I’m mad at the prosecuting attorney’s office. Their witnesses were in no way prepared to testify and contradicted themselves during the state’s own questioning, before the defense attorney even got up. The judge said that all of these people speak English just fine. I can understand the defense wanting their witnesses to feign a language barrier, but why wouldn’t the state have its witnesses testify in English if they’re able?

I’m mad at the system. I guess there’s not a better alternative than the presumption of innocence and the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard. Nonetheless, justice was not done and I feel awful for the victim’s family.

This sucks.


Blogger Vergasy said...

don't beat yourself up about it. the fact that he is or is suspected as being a gangster doesn't mean he killed this particular guy, and that's what you were there to determine. i'd be scared to death if we started convicting people because they were "bad characters." it's too bad the prosecution didn't have their stuff together, but that's not your fault--the beyond a reasonable doubt standard is there for a reason.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Prof. Schwarzenegger said...

I was going to make some smart assed "The Patriot"-like comment, but I feel eally bad about the way it turned out on you guys. My only legal thought is that I'm surprised they didn't even try for something like felony murder or conspiracy to commit murder - something which could have tied the two together. Also, I thought that if you were a contributing factor to the death you could be found guilty. Don't trust what I say, however, because my CrimLaw knowledge has fallen off the map.

I also agree with Vergasy (**gasp**) about not wanting to convict people simply because they are "bad" actors. There are rules of evidence designed to prevent that - because it would simply allow those who control the definition of "good" to keep the "bad" from getting anywhere. While I know this sounds like moral relative-ism, we make choices not by the easy cases, but through the hard ones. So we can all agree this guy is "bad", I don't know that we can say the same thing about someone who kills in self-defense or in a grossly negligent manner.

You're job was to find whether a set of facts occurred or didn't. You found that it didn't. You did your job - even if you got it wrong (okay, I had to take at least one blatant shot). I don't think you got it wrong. I just think the prosecution and police prevented you from getting it right. There's a reason for that too - because if we ever become the "bad" guy, we don't want the state to convict us on a half ass job.

4:09 PM  

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