Inside the Courtroom: Epilogue, Part 6

29 Sep

It’s strange how quickly something can begin (you go to your day of jury duty and end up being there for 3+ weeks) and how quickly something can end (you give your Guilty, 1st Degree murder verdict and its all over).

After our time in the courtroom came to an end, we were instructed to head back to the jury room (our holding cell, as we called it) to wait for the Judge who wanted to thank us in person. We were also given time to pack up the evidence (we’d already done so) and shred our notes (also done). The two alternates were finally allowed to join us and we were grateful when they both said “You reached the same verdict we had.”

We stood there feeling relieved and soon the Judge came, accompanied by two individuals we had spent a lot of time speculating about. Turns out they were both law students interning for a lawyer that summer who asked them to sit on this case so they could see what a full court case looks like. They had accompanied us on our crime field trip and we had seen the Judge speaking to them often so when she introduced them to us and said “lawyers never get to tamper with the jury pool so inviting these law students back here gives them rare insight into a part of the case they will never see again” and then said “Now what questions do you have for me?” we all had to laugh as our number one question had been “Who are those 2 people always sitting in the back row?”

The Judge explained that very few judges give out written copies of the jury instructions and we were shocked – they were an instrumental part of keeping our deliberations on pace, staying on topic, and an invaluable reference source to remembering all the parts of the law. The Judge added that she wouldn’t tell us how she felt about our verdict and that she didn’t want to hear about our deliberation process, as that was a private matter between the 12 of us. Then she added that we had our First Amendment rights to speech back.

I can tell you what I wanted to ask her but knew that I couldn’t. And I can tell you what the other eleven wanted to ask her but knew they couldn’t. Because it was one and the same: When the lead sergeant detective said that he had direct evidence of Ricardo Arias’ guilt and he was allowed to make that statement but he was not allowed to tell us what the direct evidence was. We were angry, frustrated and really, really upset about that statement during our deliberations. It was tantalizing, we all knew it was helpful somehow, but we did not know why. Just like we knew that the witnesses were scared, none of them brave enough to say “I saw the murder. I saw the gun. I saw who shot the gun.” On one hand, it made us wonder how we would react in a similar situation. On the other hand, as a “disinterested” juror only concerned with gathering up every kernel and crumb of evidence that we could, it was frustrating.

And then the Judge said “I am able to give you some information on the court case now that wasn’t permissible in court. Do you want to hear it?”

My heart jumped into my throat. I knew the Judge was intelligent and reasonable, she wouldn’t tell us additional evidence that would prove his innocence and ask us to live with the knowledge that we wrongly convicted someone of 1st Degree murder for the rest of our lives. I knew that she was about to give us peace in the form of answers proving his guilt. Closure to the case. A rare gift that most jurors don’t have.

I was right.

She explained that one of the four guys in the getaway van confessed about the crime and who had committed it to the officers that night. His testimony was captured on video. He explained the same at the Grand Jury Trial but (I’m a little fuzzy on the actual law so forgive me as I try to repeat it as it was explained to me) it was not permissible in our case because the burden of proof is much lower at a Grand Jury Trial (the trial determining if there is evidence enough for a criminal trial) and the defendant and the defense lawyer are not present. A few days or weeks after the Grand Jury Trial, he was gunned down while riding in a car and killed. By his own gang members. No wonder the witnesses, some of whom were clearly involved in the rival gang, were too scared to speak the whole truth: if a gang will kill its own members for testifying, how much more will they kill a rival gang member for the same offense?

I took a step back and into the safety of one of the jurors standing behind me. He gave me a huge hug, wrapped his arms around me, and I looked around the room to see that all 14 jurors were either hugging or holding hands with another. And tears were falling.

It’s hard, as in most life events, to capture all the emotions that were co-mingling:

  • Tears of relief that the case was over.
  • Tears of relief that we chose a guilty verdict for a clearly guilty person.
  • Tears of frustration that we didn’t have all the evidence.
  • Tears of frustration at how fair and unbiased the legal system is.
  • Tears of shock at how close we came, many times, to a not guilty verdict.
  • Tears of shock that two young men were killed in such senseless ways.
  • Tears of anger towards this gang. Towards all gangs. Towards all the violence and crime that pervades our cities and the money and heartache and time it costs.
  • Tears of anger towards the defense lawyer for choosing to defend someone he knew was guilty. (I know, I know, it’s their job and the #1 reason I didn’t go to law school after thriving in my pre-law classes.)
  • Tears of admiration for a Judge who kept her mouth shut, respected our decision, never once said anything to sway us towards anything but having open minds.
  • Tears of admiration for the witnesses who tried to help us, even if they were too scared to speak all the truth. Particularly for the gentleman who spotted the boys while on his balcony and went out of his way to find the cops and force them to search for the van he had seen.
  • Tears of admiration for our Boston Cops. This case did not convince me that all gang members are criminals. It certainly did not convince me that all cops are good. But it opened my eyes to just how much is going on in our city on a daily basis, that so many of us are completely unaware of (thank God) and gave me new respect for those who didn’t take jobs as engineers and lawyers and accountants but toil away as fire fighters and cops and detectives and nurses and doctors and forensic scientists striving to bring justice and safety to our citizens. Not to mention the court officials who all got huge hugs from us in the basement of the court house – and maybe a few kisses on the cheek as well.

I will never be glad I spent the month of July on this court case because I will never be glad that this case had to exist. But an experience like this can only change you – make you more aware of your personal biases and your own predilection to jump to conclusions and assign blame, your own naivety as to the world we live in, give you a new gratefulness for each day you live. Life is precious and rarely lasts as long as it should. People make bad choices and ruin their own lives (and so many others) by seeking revenge (over and over again).

As Edmund Burke once said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

The only beauty that I can take away from this horrible tragedy is that I got to see good men do something. And I got to see a defeat of evil. And both of those glimpses leave me deeply humbled and incredibly grateful.

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