A few weeks ago, I wrote about being selected to sit on a panel for deciding on a jury. If you follow me on twitter, you will know that I did get selected to be on the jury. The jury of a murder trial. I was juror number 5 our of 12. The trial officially started the Monday following my post.
Now that I can talk about it, I’ll give you a rundown of the case without ALL the details. I’ll give you enough for you to understand why the trial ended the way it did. (If you are squeamish about stuff like this, you might want to skip a couple paragraphs.)
This trial was a murder trial, however it was murder under special circumstance. We were told that the original intent of the crime was the carjacking of a brand new Cadillac that was totally pimped out. We are talking 7 TV’s, sound system, and Playstation 2. The defendant had supposedly ridden around in the car and wanted it. As the car jacking went down, the victim and his friend were pulled from the car, put on their knees against a brick wall, and one was shot and killed. Supposedly he was killed because he would not stop fidgeting and turning around to look at his shooter. The car was then taken and picked up the next day. After that, the police came across it purely by circumstance. They were called to a domestic dispute and the car happened to be across the street and had already been flagged in a homicide investigation.
5 months later, the defendant was picked up by a gang unit for the grand theft auto. This was the only thing the police could link him to at this time. They did not pick him up for murder. Before he was booked by the police, he told them that he would tell them what happened. They took him to the lobby of the police station and spoke to him about the crime for about an hour. The detectives then decided to “re-cap” the confession and then, and only then, did they turn on a hidden recording device that one of the detectives had. Basically, they had the defendant on tape saying that he was there and to them, confessing to killing the victim. They then charged him with murder.
This crime was committed in January of 2006. The prosecution was faced with convincing the jury that the defendent was guilty. He brought up both detectives that worked the case, a fingerprint expert, the person who did the DNA tests on evidence, as well as the coroner. He also brought in another young kid who was in juvinile detention at the time who refused to admit that he knew the defendent or anything that had happened regarding this case.
By the time the prosecution rested, there was no solid evidence that linked any known person to this crime. There was no gun. There were 5 bullets recovered which could have matched up to 3 different guns. There were supposedly 11 shots fired. The crime scene photos showed very little blood in the area that the victim was killed. There were two sets of prints recovered from the car. One belonged to the owner who was killed, and the other, unknown. The defendant was in the fingerprint database but his prints were not on the car. There were 3 profiles of DNA found on evidence collected. None of those profiles matched the defendant.
When we began deliberating, almost all 12 of the jurors already had their minds made up. The defendent is an admitted gang member. He “confessed” to the detectives. The police also had a tape from inside the jail of him on the phone with a friend saying that he was in jail and that they got him for murder. The majority of the jurors were convinced, based on those two tapes, that he had done it.
I felt otherwise.
There was one other juror who had suspicions that leaned in the same direction as mine did. That the police were not exactly innocent parties, that they had possibly coerced the defendant into a confession. They admitted that they told him they had him on tape and that they had proof he had done it.
I had a very big problem with there not being any evidence. Nothing linked this kid to this crime other than his “confession” and the fact that his mothers car was caught on video driving around the scene. I also had to put myself in his shoes when it came to the “confession” tape.
He’s 19 years old. He’s in a gang. He lives in one of the worst parts of the valley. His parents are divorced. He’s picked up for the crime of grand theft auto. He’s told by the police that they have him on video, that they have his “homies” ratting him out. He knows its his word against the LAPD. Gang banger vs. cop? Who’s going to win that war? He knows his family cant afford a good lawyer to plead his case. He knows that if he doesn’t fight it, if he takes the blame, he’ll be a hero to his fellow gang members. He mentioned in the tape to his friend that he would do 10 years. How would be make that assumption unless the cops told him that? The detective admitted on the stand that they use coersive methods to get suspects to cooperate. Why not promise the kid a short sentence in order to get him comfortable?
Needless to say, the final vote was 11-1. We were a hung jury which resulted in a mistrial. As we were leaving the courtroom, the DA and the defensive attorney were able to talk to us. I happened to go down the elevator with a representitive of the defense. He asked me why I did not vote guilty. I said that I felt there was not enough evidence to prove that he took a man’s life. He asked for my phone number so that the real defense attorney could talk to me. I gave it.
I received a call from the man who defended the guy on trial the very next morning. He was very gracious and said that I had completely understood his defense. He also advised me that there had been a previous trial that was also a mistrial however that time, there were 5 out of 12 who felt he was not guilty. He also advised that the man who was killed was a drug dealer, however this judge would not let him use that as adding character to the victim. He thanked me again and again and offered to take me to lunch. I may take him up on that offer.
While we were deliberating, I struggled. I stressed so much during the weekend we had before finishing deliberations. I did not want to be there as much as the other 11 people. I wanted to go home but I knew that this whole situation was bigger than me. I owed this kid a fair chance and I could not convict him of a crime that I was not 100% sure he committed. I wouldn’t have been able to live with that. It was extremely hard to not give in with the majority. Believe me, some of them were very keen on convincing me. I eventually asked them to stop trying and that there was nothing they could say to make me change my mind.
I dont want to do it again. I dont have to for another year or so. Now that its over, I can say I thought the process was very interesting. I even entertained the thought of becoming a court report for about oh, a minute. I enjoyed the time off work. But the simple fact that I had someone else’s future, literally in my hands, was just too much.
I can only hope that when this kid is on trial again, he will have someone on his jury who’s willing to look past assumptions and be completely fair when it comes to his future.