Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty


Last week when I wrote about getting out of jury duty (and be sure to read the update about the trial), I promised to tell the tale of the trial I sat on nearly twenty years ago. I was in college when I got the jury duty notice. I immediately called the courthouse and told them I was a student and was obviously too busy with classes for jury duty. They kindly rescheduled for my next quarter break. Since I worked alternate quarters that at least got me on the clock, so I was getting paid for the time.

They picked the jury in the morning, took us to lunch, and then started the trial. The first witness was the victim of the crime who told the basic events. He was working alone in a small clothing store when the defendant came in and browsed for awhile and picked up a shirt. When the defendant came to the register to pay, he instead pulled a gun out from under the shirt and demanded all the money from the register. To prove he meant business, he fired a shot over the clerk’s head into the wall. After taking the money, the guy left.

The clerk did all the paper work things you have to do after getting robbed. He called the police and gave a statement. They came out and took the bullet out of the wall as evidence. He called his friends and told them what a bad day he had had. They decided to cheer him up by taking him out for drinks.

When they got to the bar, the clerk was startled and made all his friends leave the bar. He told them that the guy that had robbed them was in the bar. The friends thought it was a put-on, but he refused to go back inside. Instead, he described the shirt the guy was wearing since it was the one that had been stolen from the store. His friends went in and confirmed a person matching the description was there.

They called over a beat cop and told the story. Some cops went in to apprehend the defendant and when they did, there was a small satchel next to him at the bar. Inside the satchel was a gun.

In summary, according to the prosecution, the defendant had robbed a store at gunpoint, stolen a shirt, and then wore the shirt the same day out to a bar and took his gun with him.

Then came the expert testimony. A forensic cop (this was long before CSI) said the gun found in the bar and the bullet in the store wall were the same caliber. He could not prove or disprove that that exact gun had fired that exact bullet, but it was clear he thought it did.

The star secret prosecution witness was the sales representative for the line of shirts that the defendant had stolen. They were a parody of Ralph Lauren Polo® brand except that the embroidered polo player was falling off the pony. The shirts were called Get Off You High Horse and were only sold in two stores in the Atlanta area; the store that had been robbed and another store about twenty miles away. The sales rep had never heard of her company’s shirt being counterfeited since it was a parody of a popular brand.

That was the end of day one. The judge warned us not to talk about the case to friends or family and not to do any research outside of the courtroom by visiting any of the sites described in the case. From chit chat with my roommate, I recognized the name of the store and the bar as being in a predominantly gay neighborhood. I assume the judge was trying to keep jurors from forming any prejudicial opinions about the victim, the store, or the defendant.

The next day, the defendant took the stand to present his side, which essentially covered the following ideas:

  • He wasn’t at that store because he had spent the day with his dad who was too sick to come to court to confirm the alibi.
  • He had bought the shirt a year earlier from a street vendor on Moreland Avenue, several miles from the store that got robbed. (I knew that was a lie because I worked on Moreland Avenue and the street vendor shirts were mostly crappy white bootleg Ralph Lauren and DKNY tee shirts. Not a polo shirt in the bunch.)
  • The gun in the bar wasn’t his and must have been left there by somebody else.
The defense had no other witnesses.

The judge addressed the jury telling us that we did not have to believe everything the witnesses said and that part of our job is to determine who is more credible.

We elected a foreman and the first vote was like 9-3 guilty versus not guilty. Most of the discussion was around what was “reasonable doubt”. The last hold out juror thought that what the defendant had said could possibly be true. The rest of just shook our heads in disbelief. If ever there was an open and shut case, this was pretty close.

We were given the evidence to look at, which included the gun, the bullet and the shirt. The shirt was well made and in very good condition. Inside the shirt there was still an “Inspected by” sticker. This finally convinced the hold-out that the defendant was lying.

One frustrating part of being on a jury, as opposed to watching a Perry Mason mystery, is that there is a lot of stuff the jury can’t hear. The lawyers were always going up to the judge and whispering. At one point something slipped out that inferred the defendant had threatened the victim to not testify. We were told to ignore that and we were ushered back to the jury room for about ten minutes while the judge scolded the lawyers.

After we presented the guilty verdict, we were dismissed. The court remained in session since there were some other charges that the jury wasn’t needed for. I skedaddled and enjoyed the rest of my afternoon off and came to a few conclusions:

  1. Crooks are really stupid. Especially the ones caught parading around in stolen merchandise.
  2. Some people will give anyone the benefit of the doubt.
  3. Trials, even simple ones, take a lot of time to do the simplest things.

I feel good that a criminal went to jail as a result of my civic duty, but it’s not an experience I’m eager to repeat regularly.

Blatant Comment Whoring ™: What would have given you reasonable doubt about this case?

9 comments:

Jennine said...

Wow. Your memory of this event is razor sharp! What a fascinating read.

Recently there was an article in a popular news magazine stating that many jurists are demanding more and more forensic evidence in the courtroom due to the prevalence of television dramas like "CSI". Pop culture is leaking into the judicial system.

In this case, reasonable doubt for me would mean that the defendant was born without opposable thumbs, or something to that extreme. The evidence, based on your description, was adequate to come to a guilty verdict.

Now days they would test for gun shot residue or match the spent bullet to the gun barrel from the gun found on the perp.

Or is that just me CSI'ing?

dykewife said...

you were quite thorough with your description of the case. it didn't sound like there was much there to have reasonable doubt about. i think the reasonable doubt would have been the gun. it's not that i believed that it wasn't the perp's gun, but that it wasn't a total positive match to the gun used in the crime. however, a simple use of deductive reasoning states that if he's the guy who robbed the store, he's wearing the shirt he stol and he had a gun of the same calibre of the one used, it must be the gun used despite the lack of 100% identification.

2fs said...

Twenty years ago? Good lord, what a memory! I can barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning. Anyway: my (so far) only jury experience was a couple of years ago...from which I concluded that if I'm ever on a jury again, I'm volunteering to be foreman, if only so the deliberations don't get bogged down in inane, idiotic irrelevancies by people who don't seem to understand the most obvious aspects of the legal system (i.e., the ones painstakingly given to them by the judge at the beginning of the trial). Anyway: it certainly seems to me your jury reached the right decision. But it is amazing the things some jurors will think. A friend of mine was on a jury for a case involving a person who, clearly, was faking an injury after an accident to try and milk money from the situation. (I can't remember the specifics...only that in my friend's description of the facts as presented, it was pretty obviously not a genuine injury.) One or two jurors tried taking the line that, hey, yeah the person's faking it, but wouldn't you do the same if you could game the system and get some money, and so yeah, we should agree with the person and help her get money. As if "the system" were going to be the ones paying the person...as if that's a good reason to convict someone of a crime. Yeesh. I like the principle of a jury...but in practice, given media saturation and other factors, it seems increasingly difficult to come up with a viable one.

Anonymous said...

Have you read all the comments on
May 21,06 Brandy's Back?
33 pages of comments. Why don't you updated us on what's happening now to the "BIG BOOB" Ellicott City Hooker.

Harmonica Man said...

The only doubt I would have is how someone could be so stupid. It's fascinating to me how the gene pool helps weed out the really dumb ones - one way or another.

Mooselet said...

I don't think anything in this case would've given me reasonable doubt. Sure there was no 100% match on the gun, but was the technology there to do that 20 years ago? I think some people fail to grasp the difference between "reasonable doubt" and "possibly true". Sure it was possible the moron has an evil twin who committed the crime, but is that reasonable?

I'm left wondering how long the crim went to jail for and if he was back in the courtroom not long after his release.

Flyboy said...

Good on you, I'm glad you hung the guilty SOB. We need to get more jerks like this one off the streets. No doubt in my mind for even one second that he was guilty.

Claude said...

I have no experience to draw upon; I've never been successfully called to jury duty.

I've gotten notices twice, and both times it was within a few weeks of moving out of the jurisdiction that called me.

I guess with juries, as with so many other groups of people, there are always going to be a couple of knuckleheads to deal with.

Anonymous said...

Yellojkt - about your article: Does that clothing company still exist, Get Off You High Horse, where the embroidered polo man is falling off of his horse? Do you know of any other company that makes those types of polo shirts. I want one!