Tonight while I made dinner, I thought about a young man and his mom and his brother and sister and his 5 year old daughter. Did Mom make his favorite meal to celebrate? Did they eat out? Have they stopped crying tears of relief yet?
As the trial began on Monday, hell, from the first few sentences of the Prosecution's opening statement, I wondered, "are they kidding me?"
I don't know what evidence they may have had that they weren't allowed to show us, but from what we saw, there was never really enough evidence to prosecute. There was a ridiculous amount of reasonable doubt for the first charge, and as for the second charge, well, someone threw that gun into the backyard in an attempt to hide it, but there's absolutely nothing to suggest that the defendant did it and not one of the other people who may have.
During the testimony, I was glad that someone as reasonable as I am was sitting on that jury. I went into deliberations prepared to have someone disagree with me about the tremendous not guiltiness of this guy, but no one did. We discussed it a bit and asked to look at some of the evidence again and finally someone asked for a show of hands and we filled out the verdict form and let them know we'd reached a verdict. Our hearts were pounding as we entered the courtroom, but nowhere near as hard as the hearts of the clean cut young man, his mom and family. His mom had been there for every minute.
Juror # 1 announced the verdict on each count and the young man's head sagged in relief. His mom wept. His brother smiled like he might burst from joy. The judge had the clerk ask each one of us if we agreed with the verdict and even the most soft-spoken of us said "Yes," confidently and loudly.
I wish I could say that at that moment, I was proud to be an American, but it was our federal government that had overstepped their bounds, threatening a man's freedom, spending my tax dollars and forcing this man's family to pay thousands of dollars to a defense attorney. All based on the testimony of one cop who was either very confused or lying his ass off. (If a black cop lies about a black defendant, does that mean we've moved past race in America?)
They thought that they could convince a jury that grabbing a gun away from your opponent in a fight so that they don't shoot you is "gun possession". According to the law as the judge explained it to us, it is because he had control of the gun. Except that the defense claimed justification because of that whole keeping the other guy from shooting him thing. It was obvious to the 12 of us that this was the case. But the federal government went ahead with the case anyway.
While waiting for the judge to call us in to read the verdict, we discussed recent examples of how overzealous the federal government has been lately. Listen to the March 28, 2008 podcast of This American Life to hear examples of the sort of things we were discussing.
So as the defendant's mom thanked us as we left the courthouse, I did feel proud. Proud that I could save someone from my own government.