Friday, August 10, 2012

Jury Duty

I got picked for jury duty along about the beginning of August. Lucky me, I was seated on a jury the first day I was required to be present. Note that, in my county, I'm on call for two months. I check with the county clerk to see if I need to be present on any given morning; there are multiple jury panels, they tell us which panels need to report on any given day. Panels get called up for jury selection, and jurors who aren't seated can go to work or home or wherever they normally go during the day. Jury selection will typically eat up all morning, even if you don't get picked.

So I got seated on my first reporting day for a criminal trial. It was a multi-count indictment.
  1. Aggravated Burglary: Using a firearm in the commission of a felony in a residence.
  2. Aggravated Assault: Using a firearm in an assault, which is harming someone or causing someone to be in fear of imminent harm.
  3. Aggravated Domestic Assault (3 counts): Using a firearm in a domestic assault, which is an assault where the victim is a family member.
  4. Aggravated Animal Cruelty: Causing needless harm to a companion animal.
There were a couple of additional charges, but I've let this wait long enough that I don't remember every one.

Basically, a man was charged with going to the home of his ex-wife and their children and shooting his way in with the intent to at least threaten and possibly harm one or all of them. He was also accused of shooting the family dog while there. The ex-wife, daughters, and a house guest hid in the bathroom when he arrived and started shooting the door until the lock broke. They said they saw him walk by the bathroom door (which was ajar), and then heard him moving into the far part of the house. At that point, they ran out the back door to a neighbor's house.

The eldest daughter had been on the phone to 911 since he first arrived at the house and started knocking on the door, claiming to be a sherriff's deputy. No one was fooled by that, and they went into hiding before he started shooting his way in.

He apparently gave up and left the house, heading back to his car, because a deputy sheriff intercepted him on the way to the car. He was detained and then arrested. The family was told they could return to the house. While gathering things they needed to spend the night at a friend's house, they found the dog shot.

The district attorney provided ample evidence that the man had gone to the house with a gun and performed the various acts described. The defense didn't make any serious attempt to challenge that evidence. The defense case hinged primarily on whether he performed these acts "intentionally or knowingly".

The suspect had a history of substance abuse, although he had been through clean periods in his life. He had, reportedly, been clean for about nine years before going to a clinic and being prescribed anti-depressants. The medications, according to the defense, were strongly contra-indicated for someone with his medical (alcohol and drug abuse) history, and they triggered a substance abuse relapse. Consequently, they argued, he was not in control of his actions at the time of the events of the case.

The instructions that the judge gives the jury after closing arguments are ironically simple. A charge has a number of elements. If all of the elements have been shown by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury must find the defendant guilty of that charge. If any of the elements has not been shown beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury must find the defendant innocent.

That the defendant was there and did the alleged things was never in doubt. Whether he did these things knowingly or with intent was the question.

To do these things, he had to get a rifle (which he identified to the deputies who arrested him as belonging to his "girlfriend"), load it, put it in a car (along with a box of additional ammunition), drive from another county to his ex-wife's home, park down the street, walk to the house, lie about his identity when knocking, very systematically shoot around the dead-bolt lock until it failed, and then kick the door open, enter and wander through the house looking for inhabitants, shoot the dog (which showed no evidence of hostility), leave the house, abandon the rifle in a ditch, and then head toward his car to leave.

He never actually saw his ex-wife or any other person at the house, so the defense did ask whether he could be "intending" to assault someone he never actually saw, but do you really drive to someone's house from another county with a gun "intending" not to find them at home?

No. He had a plan (if not necessarily a good one) to go to his ex-wife's house to threaten or harm her. If you put a shot of whiskey in front of him and told him not to drink it, I might excuse him for giving in to temptation, but what he did went far beyond what his addiction might compel him to do.

So a man is probably going to prison (the jury is excused before sentencing, I don't know exactly what penalty he will get), in part because of me.

Not a good day, really. A lot of things went terribly wrong for a family. I hope they recover from it.

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