As the dust settles on last week’s verdicts, and non-verdicts, in the Mattapan Massacre Matter, we have had a few days to calm down and reflect. Assumptions abounded as the week came to a close last week and conclusions were drawn by many.
Hey, I got caught up in it too.
On Thursday, I was questioned on both WBZ, am, and WBUR, fm’s show “Radio Boston”. The latter interview you can hear here if you wish.
As you may recall, my assumption was, when we found out there was one hold-out juror, that the hold-out wanted an acquittal. Then, when I learned that the returned verdicts were all acquittals, I assumed that the hold-out was for convictions (which tends to be rare). As it turns out, the lone juror was indeed for acquittals. The jurors were basically torn between the defendants.
“So, is there anything we can glean from that?”
To some degree, yes. The jury seems to have not totally rejected Mr. Washington’s (hereinafter, the Witness”) testimony. However, most of the jurors were ready to use his testimony to help convict Mr. Moore (the defendant who received the mistrials).
The reactions to the jury verdict ranged from anguish to jubilation. Then, “experts” like us weighed in to read minds and foretell the future. Finally, some people declared that the trial’s results showed us that the system works.
In one respect, I would suggest that the proposition that the system “worked” is undeniable. Whether you agree with the results or not, it is clear that the jurors put thought into their votes. They took the time to dissect the evidence and, instead of delivering results in one fell swoop, they concentrated on each count. Finally, it would appear, that they stuck to their guns once they had come to a decision.
One thing that was remarkable, I thought, was when the jury came back at the end of the day Wednesday. It was clear that the judge was not going to send them back to deliberate if they continued to indicate that they were deadlocked. She asked them to think about it and get back to her if they thought it was any point to return the next day to try and continue.
I was sure that this was it. The end was coming by the end of the afternoon.
Instead, the jury panel decided to try some more.
This was clearly not an extremely happy and easy jury to be on at this point. However, they really seem to have tried to do the right thing…regardless of whether we agree with their judgment.
“But, Sam, don’t the victims’ families have a point that it is terrible that someone goes out and murders people and never end up punished?”
Sure…if we knew, for sure, that this was what took place. However, regardless of what we believe, or want to believe, we do not know. It is important to realize some things about the jury’s judgment.
First of all, the jury did not rule that Defendant Washington was involved in the killings but that it was “ok”. The panel found that the Commonwealth did not prove Mr. Washington guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There is a big difference. In other words, they were unconvinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Washington was part of the shootings.
Also, it would seem that one cannot say that this panel was against convicting someone of these crimes. All but one of them were ready to convict Mr. Moore, apparently. Only one juror remained unconvinced and voted her conscience.
Now, of course, is the time for both the Commonwealth and Defendant Moore’s counsel to posture and put up confident fronts to the public while they figure out what to do next.
“Can the Commonwealth just drop the whole thing now?”
Can they? Sure. Will they? No. Should they? In my opinion…no.
It may seem non-Boston-Criminal-Defense-Lawyer and all, but, clearly, 4 people were murdered here. One other was viciously assaulted and is lucky to be alive. It would appear that, as far as this jury was concerned, the prosecution has a viable case against Defendant Moore.
“Hey, aren’t you the same guy who was ranting and railing against the deal the Commonwealth made with their chief witness?”
Yes, that would be me. And I stand by it. I believe I have seen a number of people sent to prison who were innocent on the word of a liar who merely gave the prosecution what it wanted to hear in order to save his own skin. For the way in which prosecutors do this, I condemn them. I feel it is wrong.
However, I do not know the true facts underlying this case and I also realize that sometimes the Commonwealth needs to make deals with “bad guys” in order to prosecute cases. I just wish they would not do it so blindly!
Whether I agree with the Commonwealth’s methods in this case, they do have a case they need to prosecute. So, one way or another, I expect that they will do so. Do I really believe that either side is as confident as it sounds? No.
Do I think that a deal may end up being made?
But, most importantly, let’s remember what we are dealing with here.
The defense, prosecutors, families, witnesses, jury and judge all have one thing in common. They are human beings. They all have human foibles.
And they all have their own perspectives.
As is the case with all of us, those perspectives color what we do…no matter how machine-like we try to be.
I will tell you that after more than 25 years of trying cases to juries, I have had one common experience. Whether or not I agreed with a verdict, I have always been amazed that the juries really seem to try to do the “right thing”. They take their oath quite seriously in my experience.
Sometimes, I wish the rest of the participants in the criminal justice would do more of the same.