Monday, May 16, 2005

Guilty or Not Guilty, But Not Innocent

On Today's Menu:
More Just Desserts

I spent three days at the county courthouse last week on a jury for a criminal case. On day one, I sat around and waited. I didn't think I'd be chosen. My summons read juror #222. They only needed 12. I was certain I'd be back at my work computer that afternoon.

Somehow I fit whatever profile the DA and the defense attorney agreed upon. The 12 of us made the best of it as for a day-and-a-half we heard testimony from a myriad of witnesses about what happened on August 29, 2004 at a particular residence in the town where I live.

The young man was originally booked on a charge of attempted murder, but indicted on assault with a deadly weapon. Sitting in the courtroom, he looked like a polished young man with an inscrutable expression. His dark chocolate eyes didn't glance in our direction very often. I wondered what he wrote when he jotted occasionally on his legal pad. His defense attorney, a no-nonsense woman with a strong sharp voice and bad posture, would glance down at the paper from time to time. I learned later that he had not made bail when I saw him escorted across the parking lot after a day in court, headed towards the county jail diagonally across the street. His slight limp betrayed an ankle bracelet (just like Martha's!) covered up by his tailored khaki pants.

"None of these people are angels," the DA had said when he began the profile of the trial for us, the jury. "You will hear testimony from a young man in Federal prison. Some of these people on both sides of the case have had run-ins with the law before."

At first it seemed cut-and-dry. The accused had supposedly fired out the front window of the house where he was living, wounding a young man in the arm.

"We saw him look through the blinds before he fired," insisted both the young man, and his sister, who first told us she was with her brother at the front door.

The young man who'd been shot glanced over at the defendent. "I--I just wanna be careful, don't wanna send no one to jail if they ain't done nothing. But I know it was him, I mean, I'm pretty sure it was him."

Pretty sure?

Another young woman took the stand. She'd been with the young man and his sister when he was shot. Her long hair hung limply down her back. Her baggy clothes made her look heavier than she probably was.

She raised her hand to be sworn in. "I don't want to do this..." She was ready to cry, but she had no choice but testify. She'd been driven in from the prison, where she was serving a term for a felony misdemeanor.

Another young man testified. He'd been asleep in the house while the accused shot out the window, and he hadn't heard anything until the police came. He too had the same polished demeanor of the accused. I remember seeing their similar facial features and coffee-with-cream complexion and thinking, "They could be cousins," when the bailiff let him into the courtroom.

How easy it is for young people to mess up their lives. No education, no gainful employment, and lots of party time with the wrong crowd. Add in immaturity and a hair-trigger temper, and even the girls would end up in cat-fights. In fact, the night before the shooting, two of them had fought--one had cut another's hand with a knife. The one with the cut hand in turn slashed the tires of the other girl's car. A real "adult" way to solve conflicts, huh?

After a morning's testimony which included an ER physician who assured us the young man had to have the bullet remain in his arm, and a few officers who responded to the shots-fired call, I was ready to eat my sandwich in peace at the park and listen to Days on my car radio.

When we resumed after lunch, though, the first witness returned, telling the court she needed to add more to her testimony...

To Be Continued...

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