Tag Archives: Jury

First degree murder…

4 May

The case I was assigned to, as juror #8, wasn’t a whodunit. A 16-year old boy, from a high crime neighborhood (6th worst in America), with a penchant for street fighting, and in constant battle with a group of boys from this high crime neighborhood, exacted revenge against another 16-year old boy.

I won’t go into the details here, as I’m not sure I want to blog about the case, but I will say this: you carry a gun to school,  you are thinking about using it. You carry a gun and find out your little brother was jumped as a warning to you, you will likely decide to take it to the next level. Which is what happened. The defendant was carrying a gun and shot the victim at least 5 times, hitting the boy 4 times.

I volunteered to be the foreperson. I’m very good at facilitating large meetings. Very good at keeping people focused on the requirements and culling points from facts.

We started with the obvious, read the law and make sure we understand the instructions we were given. Next was independent review of our notes taken during witness testimony. Discussing questions or pertinent facts. Dismissing conflicting statements based on our opinions of the witness.

Our choices for the verdict were: Murder in the first – or – Murder in the second.

I polled the jury for a verdict on Second Degree Murder. The instructions and definitions for this, and based on the evidence, it was unanimous. 12 votes for Guilty.

We then went over the instructions again and again and again for First Degree Murder. This was difficult. There are 3 major elements that change the verdict from murder in the second to murder in the first. The killing had to be willful, deliberate, and premeditated.

In layman’s terms:

1) Willful means the defendant acted with an intent to kill.

2) Deliberate means the defendant fully understood the consequences of killing and chose to do so anyway.

3) Premeditated means the defendant specifically went to the victim’s neighborhood with the intent to kill.

We debated over points 2 and 3 for a full day. We physically re-enacted the murder, starting with the events that led to the act. We literally cited evidence from testimony for each of the three elements to ensure the prosecutor had proven his case. Last, we applied our own common sense and experience, including the defendants environment, to determine if there was any reasonable doubt.

None of us wanted to vote first degree, but in the end, there was no way we could have voted any other way.

I have had nightmares since this trial began. I woke up this morning convinced we made a mistake, after all the defendant was only 16 at the time. I’ve since rationalized the decision and do believe we concluded the only possible verdict. Yes, he’s a child, but in a high crime environment, where fighting and being at war is a daily thing, where seeing guns and using them is commonplace, this boy was more aware of his world than your average kid.

They say guns kill – and yes, they do, but they don’t fire themselves. Someone buys bullets, loads them into magazine clips, chambers a live round, removes the safety pin, puts their finger on the trigger, points it at another human, and with each step, they make decisions that will alter everyone’s life in dramatic and tragic ways. Especially when they pull the trigger. Again. And again. And again. And again.

I took my responsibility very seriously as juror #8 and foreperson. I grieve for the families of both the defendant and the victim. And at age 46, I think I grieve a little for myself having been witness to the realities of their lives forever changed.