About the Collection
“The Jurors Erred” anthology will include commentary about the outcomes of proceedings that were, in my opinion, erroneous as a matter of law or as a matter of morality, or both. Many of the proceedings in the collection would have been publicized by the media, but I will even include those that are discussed in remote legal corners of North America (Canada will not be neglected). The collection will contain both criminal matters and civil matters/litigation. As I diligently attempt in all of my posts, I’ll share my commentary in plain English—I will try—but I cannot guarantee the absence of legal jargon. Keep in mind that I have not compiled erroneous outcomes because they were later overturned by appellate courts (although I may include such cases in the future); instead, this collection will be composed of cases that were erroneous in their outcome by virtue of opinion.
Of all the criminal proceedings I have encountered either in print or on television, one particular outcome has evoked a sense of dismay and disappointment in me. For that reason, I would place that case of the ‘Valentine tragedy’ in the anthology of monstrous, ‘jurors-erred,’ products of the criminal justice system. That category includes, to list a few, the highly-publicized: O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony, and most recently, George Zimmerman (which I wrote and opined about here) criminal trials. The tragedy here entails Lawrence King, a homosexual eighth-grader and his classmate, Brandon McInerney. For those who are unfamiliar with the case: King became the victim of a brutal and heinous crime when, while in the classroom, McInerney allegedly upholstered a firearm and discharged it onto the back of King’s head—fifteen-year-old Lawrence King had been barbarically murdered before his eighth-grade classmates. The reason, everyone would later learn, is that King made a perceived advancement when he asked McInerney to “be [his] valentine.” The defendant guided his conduct on the perception that King had made a romantic advancement. Defendant, McInerney, was recently tried in a California state court when he entered legal adulthood. At the conclusion of the proceeding, a mistrial was declared since the jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision as to whether the defendant was culpable. The revelation that a jury could not establish a consensus—which strongly suggests that a few or several jurors took up the position of the defense counsel—is worrisome and has left me in state of dismay. I was further baffled to learn that some of the jurors’ audacity to wear “Save Brandon” bracelets.
What is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this mistrial is not the heinousness of the crime itself, but the outcome espoused by the defense counsel’s outrageous justification. The defense posited that their client reacted appropriately to a problem: a perceived sexual/romantic advancement. It is very troubling that a reasonable fact-finder could find that the defendant was merely reacting to resolve a problem, in which defendant’s perception was appropriate; and for which the resolution—to take the life of his admirer before the eyes of a host of other eighth-graders—was reasonable. Arguably, in the mind of a reasonable person, King’s proposal to the defendant—to “be [his] valentine”—could be perceived as a romantic advancement; and that, to those whom are anti-homosexual, the proposal could be perceived as problematic. However, to respond to such a minor and, undeniably, non-life-threatening problem with an act as extreme as to take the life of another—to viciously murder Lawrence King—is to convey an abhorrent indifference to the inherent dignity and natural rights of his/her being; such a response to a perceived problem and condoning it are, I argue with utmost conviction, a testimony, a contemptuous illustration, of the moral-desensitization and numbness that has become of America (where “ironic-living,” as Christy Warmpole described it in her eloquently-written NYT column, is pervasive). We are the subject of laws, we retain the natural rights and dignity, which exist, innately, in each of us, and we are afforded legal rights: and under these we shape and guide our daily conduct and map our entire life. The basis of our conduct is not, and ought not be, this debacle of a performance, this jury’s fiasco, that resulted in a mistrial. In short, our existence occurs at a time when the observance of law exists—even when we are not conscious of it—routinely in life, we do not live by fiats propagated by overzealous defending and unheeding jurors.
The result—aroused, in turn, by the ‘perceived problem’ defense—unfolded in contradiction to the most basic concept of civility; a concept that is taught as early as pre-school through seemingly minuscule collaborations such as sharing: that we treat one another with fairness and respect, even in conflict resolution. The jurors who accepted this defense elected to dangerously perpetuate a culture of violence that already plagues American society; they also chose to condone life-threatening violence as a means of resolving non-life-threatening conflicts. It is troubling. And, even more striking, the conflict here is not any conflict, but one that arose during the elementary phase of schooling—at a time, and in an institution, that ought to be devoted to teaching and imparting responsibility, civility, and cohesion in an ever-growing sphere of diversity: in ideas, in appearances, in experiences, and in backgrounds. The outcome here does not serve to perform justice for the innocent and young victim, nor does it exonerate one accused in bad faith—it serves only to subvert the ideal of achieving a tranquil cohabitation, despite the arrant differences that are natural and inherent among us.
There is a clear—common sense—explanation for all that is wrong and crooked with what happened to King and the aftermath. What it all boils down to is: someone expresses their admiration of you, you either feel flattered or perceive a problem; but when, if ever, has fair conflict mediation and resolution, or even common sense, taught us that perceiving a problem justifies bringing a firearm into a eighth-grade classroom and ridding your problem with the pull of a trigger? When has mediation and arbitration advocated for the utility of violence in conflict resolution? And now, as a matter of consequence, the defendant’s conduct has not only impacted the lives of all who were intimate with victim, but his conduct has likely traumatized the other eighth-graders who witnessed the graphic passing of a classmate—and in doing so: their childhood innocence, their peace-of-mind, and their liberty to be free from all that is psychologically harmful, was stripped away from beneath them, like the young life of Lawrence King, at the selfish behest of a monster.
© 2013 THE ADVOCATE’S GAVEL (licensed under CreativeCommons)