Wednesday, February 25, 2009
I just completed my civic duty for the year, serving as a juror on a 6-week murder trial. It was a tough case. There was no direct evidence linking the defendant to the crime scene, other than testimony that this man was in the area of the shooting. I'm ok with there not being any direct evidence, because the law says we can convict on merely circumstantial evidence. Afterall, Scott Peterson was convicted on mere circumstantial evidence. So that was not my problem. The problem was, all the circumstantial evidence we did have was toxic, shaky, at best. Every single witness (except for a couple, plus the detectives) had a criminal history and flat out lied on the witness stand. We heard tape recordings of their own voices directly contradicting their testimony in court. There were holes in the evidence and in the investigation that left enough room for reasonable doubt. By law, as jurors, we must find the defendant not guilty if we feel the case has not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The real anguish comes because I do believe, in my gut, that the defendant killed this man. Every one of us 12 jurors believed that. But when we looked at the evidence and tried to piece together the puzzle to make the case beyond a reasonable doubt, we just could not do it. I cried in the jury room when I came to that realization. I cried in court when the verdict was read. But for all of that, I do still stand by our decision.... it was the right conclusion based on the evidence we were given. The DA did an excellent job of presenting the case with the information she had, but it just wasn't enough... there were too many holes and not enough credible witnesses.
After the verdict was read, we got to talk to both the DA and the defense attorney. I didn't know that they did this and it was a really neat time to talk about how we reached our conclusion. However, we also learned some details that were not allowed to be entered into evidence. We learned that the defendants girlfriend didn't testify because she is in jail, charged with being an accessory to murder. This murder. We learned this wasn't the defendant's first victim. This was his third. (That would explain the lack of physical evidence that we had so much trouble with. As one said, "He's a smart cat.") We learned that this was the second time this case was tried... the first case ended in a hung jury. We learned several other things that, quite frankly, I am pissed off that we were not told about in court. As the DA herself said, that is why this is called criminal justice system, not the victim's justice system. With all my frustrations though, I firmly believe that we came to the best conclusion we could with what we knew. We spent days deliberating this, going over everything piece by piece. It was not pleasant. But every single person on that jury was incredible. They were all fair, they were all honest, and we really worked well together as a unit, even when we didn't all agree on where we stood. Its kinda weird, but I'm going to miss all those people.
So where does that leave us? When it comes down to the law-- which we read over and over and over-- we had to acquit him. Now is that enough peace of mind to help me sleep at night? Probably not. This will probably bother me for a very long time. But the fact of the matter is, the law is written to protect the accused. I still think our justice system is a good system, but in times like this, it really sucks. Mr. Grayes, you have been given a second (or is it a third or fourth?) chance to do something good with your life. So do it.