Wednesday, July 17, 2013
12 Befuddled Men (& Women)
It's a story about an alleged crime, a trial, a jury, and an almost certainly guilty man walking free.
It is not a dramatic story. There was no murder, no rape, no violence, no theft.
In fact, in the big picture of criminal jurisprudence, it's kind of a stupid story.
But, it has some of the elements of a good court story.
Racial tension and lurid innuendo. "He said, she said." testimony. Allegations of police misconduct.
And a lingering mystery that has never been explained.
it's not John Grisham.
But it is all true.
The PC knows it's true, because he was there.
The PC wasn't just a member of the jury. He was the jury foreman.
You are on the edge of your seats now, aren't you?
First, let's meet the defendant and the plaintiff, then on to the case.
A tall, handsome, black man in his late 20s. A personal trainer, by profession. One could tell, not only by the way he carried himself, but by his impeccable grooming and expensive, tailored suits, that his personal appearance was a point of pride.
A 30-something Korean woman. A wife and stay-at-home mother. Birdlike and nervous. Well dressed. A tenuous grasp of the English language.
The Case (as it was presented in court)...
About 10:30 PM on a Friday night, the plaintiff was returning home to her up-scale apartment after seeing a movie with her husband.
The husband dropped the plaintiff off at the building's front entrance and drove to the garage to park.
As the plaintiff approached the entrance to the building, she saw the blinds of a ground floor apartment window open, revealing the defendant, naked and masturbating in front of the window.
(I told you it was a lurid tale!)
The plaintiff immediately pulled out her cell phone and called 911.
The police arrived shortly after. The defendant answered the door in a silk robe. Police found "a greasy substance" on the blind pull.
The police charged the defendant with "Indecent Exposure" and "Lewd Conduct."
Seems pretty "open and shut," doesn't it?
Enter, The Prosecutor and The Public Defender.
And, this is where it all falls down the rabbit hole.
The Public Defender...
A small, apparently highly caffeinated, white woman. Flighty, disorganized, prone to dropping papers and rummaging for the photo or notes that she needed and going off on irrelevant tangents. Repeatedly admonished by the judge to "get her shit together."
(Okay, maybe not his exact words. But, we all knew that was what he meant.)
A P.D. so comically incompetent that, being that this is Los Angeles, one might have suspected that she was working on her audition for a role in "My Cousin Vinny 2."
So far, things aren't looking so good for our self-pleasuring (allegedly) defendant.
A large, intimidating black woman with a laser beam stare. The sort of "type" that modern television cop and court shows like to cast as a major authority figure.
Things are really not looking good for our defendant.
I suppose a word or two about the judge is appropriate, here.
The Blog has served before this same judge several times. Either on a jury or as a perspective, but dismissed, jury candidate.
His Honor is a hard-ass. He does not suffer fools gladly. He exhibits a dry sense of humor, but does not like to have his time wasted. And, in this particular case, his eye rolls, sighs, admonitions to both the P.D. and the Prosecutor to stay on topic, (and also, because the case was being tried while The World Series was being played,) his occasional updates of the score to the courtroom (indicating what it was that he kept checking on the second laptop on his desk,) telegraphed his own feelings to the jury about the case currently in front of him.
It truly seemed that this was going to be an easy case.
But it went on for two and a half days.
As laughably lacking as the defense's case was, from start to finish, it was the prosecution that screwed the pooch.
The responding officers could barely get their stories straight. Not out of any sort of malice or misconduct, (I exaggerated about police misconduct.) But, because the whole thing went down nearly a year earlier, and the incident was so idiotic, they retained very little of what actually happened.
Then there were the "witnesses." None of whom actually "witnessed" the incident in question.
The witnesses were all tenants of the building. All were Korean. Many of them were related to the plaintiff. All testified to seeing the defendant parading naked, or nearly so, in front of open doors or windows.
And, every testimony shot down by the judge as irrelevant to specific case.
Did I mention that this went on for two and a half days?
And now, to the jury room.
The jury was diverse. Men and women. White, black, latino. (I don't recall any Asians, Korean or otherwise. But, no matter.)
We spent the first half hour or so just scratching our heads and thinking, "What the fuck?"
We had spent nearly three days witnessing the weirdest damned thing we had ever seen.
Then, one black man on our jury stated that he believed that the defendant, being the only "brother" in the apartment complex, was being railroaded by the plaintiff and the other Korean tenants, to drive him out of the building. A position that this juror would maintain for the duration.
Have I mentioned, yet, that the duration of the jury deliberation was three days?
That's right. Three fucking days! One half day longer than the actual trial.
That one guy aside, the rest of us agreed, from the start, that both parties should grow up and stop wasting our time and the resources of the court system.
The defendant should have kept his blinds closed and, if he wants to get his freak on in the future, there is a chain of "all inclusive" resorts in Jamaica that would cater to his every kink.
And, the plaintiff should stop acting like she has never seen a dick before.
Issue solved, less than an hour into deliberations.
But no. We were tasked with the responsibility of determining, beyond a reasonable doubt, if a crime had been committed.
And for the next three days, we puzzled, and puzzled. (Until our puzzlers were sore.)
And in the end, even though we all, (well, eleven of us, anyway,) knew in our guts, that our guy was guilty of yanking his crank in front of an open window, we all harbored "reasonable doubt" about whether he knew he was exposing himself to the plaintiff, or if he was just caught up in the moment, and opened his blinds to flaunt his ecstasy to the world in general.
So, adhering to the "letter of the law," we had to find him...
Do you know what sucked the most about that?
I said so in that jury room.
That insanely incompetent P.D. is going to, happily, celebrate this as a "win." Never understanding that our decision only meant that the prosecution lost.
There was a moment of closure, however.
As the freed defendant left the courthouse, so did the jury.
And one of our number, a wonderfully outspoken Latina lady, marched up to the defendant and said, " You don't know how lucky you just got! From now on, keep your dick to yourself. Next time, you might not be so lucky!"
I mentioned an unexplained mystery.
Here it is...
The day before the trial got underway was the afternoon that the jury was seated, the rules were stated by the judge, and the case was summarized. The jury was introduced to the defendant and the plaintiff. And at that point, the plaintiff's side included her 10-year-old son, who, at that point, was a witness to the incident. "Indecent Exposure" and "Lewd Conduct" in the presence of a minor would have been a far more serious crime. But, and here is the mystery, less than 18 hours later, the minor son had vanished from the story, as if he had never existed. He was never mentioned during the trial. He disappeared like Richie Cunningham's older brother.
And we, the jury, were not allowed to take him into consideration.
That's my story.
Read it and re-read it.
Then, think about far more serious trials.
Like the case of George Zimmerman's murder of Trayvon Martin.
Our current system is fucked up.
It doesn't even require a hot-shot legal team to throw a monkey wrench into the system.
We have to fix this.
I just don't know how.