Skrip - tyur' - i - ent: adj. Possessing the violent desire to write.


#065 In which our hero does jury duty (pt. III).


The case was this: a one-year-old girl had died in the care of her foster mother. Her parents were crack-heads, thus the reason that she was removed from the home in the first place. The foster mother was being charged with involuntary manslaughter.

The details of all the testimony are a little cloudy in my mind, but I remember the defense attorney clearly. He was tall, thin, a little ruddy-complexioned, and pissed off. His apparent strategy was to cast doubt on anyone and everyone that came within three feet of this woman and her foster daughter. But he was so angry about it that I was completely soured on anything he said. And, he appeared to be rather inept, to boot.

Things the defense claimed in his opening statements:
  • When EMS was called to resuscitate the child, they made a series of errors, and used defective equipment.
  • An unsupervised visit with the child's birth parents two days prior might have resulted in injuries that led to her death.
  • The bruising shown in the autopsy proved that the foster mother didn't hurt the child.
  • The foster mother had no history of physically punishing her children.
All of these things would blow up in his face during the course of the trail.

The prosecutors in this case were a man and a woman, the man was "first chair" to use the lingo I picked up from The Practice. They were well groomed, polished and poised. At all times they were polite and very confident, as if a conviction was a foregone conclusion. Maybe they weren't really that slick, but the bumbling, angry defense lawyer made them seem like the offspring of Perry Mason and Ben Matlock.

First witnesses where the EMT's that worked on this poor little girl. She was (allegedly) found in her crib -- not breathing -- by the foster mother, who immediately called the fire department. They did everything they could at the scene, then rushed her to the emergency room. She never woke up and was most likely already dead before they were even called.

Now, this trial was well before the events of September 11, when anyone wearing a uniform automatically gained "hero" status. But even so, these were the good guys. The defense lawyer tore into them, questioning their actions every step of the way. From his telling, they were incompetent boobs that could have saved this little girl's life if they had just tried a little harder. The lawyer was full of righteous indignation at their actions. For their credit, the EMT's handled it pretty well. They were obviously becoming angry at this constant haranguing of their abilities, but they remained calm and explained their actions.

What I walked away with from this part of the trial was that the EMT's tried their best to save the life of this little girl, but ultimately could not do it. I resented the defense lawyer for trying to create doubt about how hard they tried.

And as to his claim that they used defective equipment: the paperwork completely by the hospital indicated that were was a "leak" in the intubation tube the EMT's used. The defense lawyer jumped all over it, claiming that this broken piece of equipment didn't allow the little girl to get air into her lungs. However, during the prosecution portion of the questioning, it came out that the leak indicated in the report wasn't due to defective equipment, but rather was air leaking out around the edges of the tube. Apparently, in adult intubation tubes there is an inflatable collar that seals the airway and keeps the tube in place. The intubation tubes used for tiny children don't have this, and it's typical for air to leak out. However, sufficient air still gets into the lungs.

For me, this was incredibly damning evidence. Not of guilt or innocence for the accused, but of the idiocy of the defense. One of two things happened here: the lawyer read that report and assumed the equipment was faulty, and didn't bother to check his facts; or he knew what the report really meant and tried to bullshit the jury into thinking otherwise. Either way, I was hesitant to believe anything he said from that point forward.

Next up were the parents. Both were crackheads, and I think they were both currently in prison. Again, if I was sitting on this jury today, I'm sure I would have been extremely empathic toward these people... crackheads or no, their daughter had just died. But at that time, I remember thinking that it was a good thing that this child was removed from the home. The mother was your stereotypical crackwhore mom, strung out and shaky. She sassed back to the defense lawyer when he tried to beat her up on the stand, which I thought was funny. The judge actually had to worn her to just answer the questions. Basically, the defense tried to pin the blame on her, that she somehow inflicted injuries that resulted in her daughter's death two days later.

But, crackwhore or not, I didn't believe it. And the next expert to take the stand cemented it for me. A doctor testified that he thought it would be unlikely for the child to be asymptomatic for two days and then suddenly die of her injuries. But what the defender really hung his hat on was the bruising on the child's body. It was a greenish-purple, which he claimed could be conclusively used to indicate the age of the bruising. However, the doctor wouldn't go along with this theory. He explained that there isn't a set spectrum of colors that bruised flesh goes through, that it tends to be different on different people. The defender asked this same question of the EMT's and every other medical person that took the stand... no one would support him. He seemed frustrated and, naturally, angry that no witness would collaborate his theory.

Again, this just proved to me that he either didn't do his homework or was a poor lawyer.

The foster mother finally took that stand. She seemed kindly, and not a violent person. Could she has really struck or shook this baby hard enough to kill her? In the course of the testimony, it came out that she had spanked her kids in the past. Now, I didn't find that damning in and of itself - I was spanked as a kid by my father, and obviously I didn't die from it. But still... it did set up the idea that she had struck children before.

Now, all of this testimony came over the course of several days. Once the trial began we reported directly to the jury room, and were ushered directly into the courtroom as soon as all the players were in place. We broke for lunch around noon, then came back and listened to testimony until around 4pm, I think. We were not allowed to talk about the evidence between ourselves or with anyone else.

Remember, I was first alternate, meaning that if everyone remained healthy, I wasn't going to have to render a verdict. And after hearing the evidence, I really didn't want to. This wasn't a capital case, so it's not like the woman's life was in our hands... but we could send her to jail for quite awhile. I didn't want to have to make that decision.

However, there was one juror that worried me. An older woman, she seemed in ill health and was constantly late in the morning, and coming back from lunch. The judge became increasingly annoyed with her for holding things up. She also didn't seem especially attentive in the jury box. I thought for sure she was either going to call off sick or be kicked off the case by the judge.

The trial was winding down, but the prosecutors had one more grisly thing to show us: autopsy photos of the girl. Now, I've seen plenty of fucked-up things on the Internet, and truthfully, the images of this little girl weren't that bad. She wasn't cut open, we were just shown the bruising around her head and torso.

But, the thing is, we had just spent five days learning about this little girl, hearing from her mother and other people that had cared for her. She was described as a cute little lady who liked to play and laugh. It was hard to see her photo and know she was dead. But the worse was yet to come.

I don't know if this was a trick of the prosecutor or not, but it worked on me. The autopsy photos were projected on a screen. The prosecutor flipped through the photos of the girl; from the waist up, no autopsy scars, just bruising. She could have been sleeping. Then he went to a photo of her face "expressed." This means they basically peeled her face forward, so you could see her skull. It was pretty horrible, and all the worse since we had no warning. The prosecutor quickly flipped back, then explained what we were about to see. Oddly, the facial bruising was much more apparent on the inside of the face. But if he wanted us to feel horror, that's exactly what I felt.

And that was basically the whole trial. The defense made a horrible, angry closing ("there's no proof that she did it, and she didn't do it!!") and that was that. Mrs. Late From Lunch managed to make it to the end, and I was thanked and sent back to the jury holding pen.

I asked to be informed about the verdict, and much to my surprise was told that if I wanted, I could go up and sit in the audience when the verdict was read. I did so.

She was found guilty. She wailed and actually collapsed when the verdict was announced, it was pretty horrible. I read something in the paper a couple of weeks later about an appeal, but I think the guilty verdict was upheld.

If I had been in deliberations, would I have voted guilty? Boy, I don't know. There was no hard proof, really. No one saw her hit the child, there were not fingerprints or DNA or anything like that. I still had doubts, but did they pass the "reasonable doubts" test?

And that's the big question. Throughout the trial, the concept of "reasonable doubt" was hammered into us by both sides. The defense told us that if we had reasonable doubts, we couldn't convict. The prosecutor stressed that reasonable doubt didn't mean no doubts, or beyond a shadow of a doubt. We could still have some doubts and find her guilty.

I would have voted guilty. All of the medical evidence pointed to the fact that the injuries had to have happened fairly shortly before she actually died. The birth parents couldn't have done it days ahead. All fingers pointed to the foster mother.

Tatiana. The little girl's name was Tatiana.

Concluded in Part IV.


Post a Comment

<< Home