On April 18th, 2002, in East New York, Brooklyn, a 29 year old, while intoxicated, sped rapidly through a stop sign, without lights on. He hit a Fire Deparment EMT ambulance, killing one person, an EMT driver. The main charges were murder in the 2nd degree, and manslaughter in the 2nd degree. It was a crime/accident which probably made the newspapers at the time it occurred. In fact, I found a couple of references on the internet, such as: Scene of the Accident
The case was an extremely emotional one. Several of the jurors broke down during the trial, and the forelady broke down upon reading the verdict. The victim had befriended and later married a woman whose prior husband had left her because they had had a child with Downes Syndrome. Apparently he was very beloved in EMT circles, and beyond for his kind and caring personality. He had planned to retire very soon from EMT. He was killed responding to a emergency which ended up being a false alarm… I doubt that any of my fellow jurors had totally dry eyes when the widowed wife testified. I didn’t.
The defendant himself was no habitual criminal. He had absolutely no previous criminal record of any sort. He himself had married a woman with a couple of children. Though unemployed at the time of the accident, he had had a steady employment record, and seemed an ordinary citizen like you or I. The defendant himself was badly hurt in the crash along with two of his friends, who are now suing him. The above background made the case very difficult both due to its importance, and the evoking of various sympathies. The jurors agreed that regardless of the verdict, nobody was a winner in this trial, not even the jurors. Though we were not supposed to discuss things like sympathy, or possible sentencing, this was unavoidable as human beings.
The jury stayed remarkably composed and non-confrontational, compared to two other juries I had been on years ago. There was one slight accusation of racism in the jury room which was baseless because defendant and victim were of same race. I stayed clear of that one. The woman who made this charge was the most outlandish of the jurors, constantly trying to blame the victim for the accident, and denying facts that even the defense did not deny. The same woman accused me of trying to "railroad" the defendent, even though I was by no means the most aggressive or earliest guilty vote. Nobody liked this woman, as I found out when the trial was over. Then there was the religious zealot, who insisted on reading a prayer on the final morning (talk about violation of church and state!). Nobody objected; we had more important things on our mind.
Then there was the charming woman whose life story I know in its entirety by now due to her outgoing personality. There was the brilliant micro-biologist. There was the KeySpan driver, a woman who I would easily lose an arm-wrestle to. There was the woman who had not a clue as to what was going on. There was the woman we called “Oprah Winfrey”, who the jury unanimously voted was my girlfriend for the length of the trial. Then there was the guy that we affectionately referred to as “Joey Buttafucco”…. There was the comedian: a young black man who, in the middle of a most serious discussion, announced in his best Bill Clinton: “I did not have sex with THAT woman”. Then there was me, also a comedian in the group, of course, who answered a knock on the jury door from the court officer with the retort "you can't come in yet, we're not all dressed".....
The defendant was acquitted of the most serious charge: murder in the 2nd degree, due to the definition of that charge, which I helped convince some of the more 'militant' jurors was not proven. However, we convicted him of the second most serious charge: Manslaughter in the 2nd degree. There were a host of less serious charges, some of which he was found guilty, and some not guilty. Let me tell you that intoxication increases the validity of the many charges: DON’T DRIVE DRUNK! You can be convicted of crimes which are normally associated with intentional crimes. The system is trying to make intoxication a very serious act.
Despite the fact that we felt that no verdict would satisfy anyone, it appears as if our verdict satisfied everyone. In a BIZARRE occurrence, the defendant’s wife and mother stood outside the building, and said “thank you” to me, as I walked by. At the time, I believed this was sarcasm and bitterness, well understood. However, I was later told that they actually HUGGED some of the other jurors. Apparently, they were most fearful of the murder charge, and felt glad that their husband/son was not convicted of that. The next day, I found out that the murder charge could have carried 25 years or more in jail... Some jurors spoke with the prosecution outside the building; the prosecutors were also satisfied with the result, even though denied the top charge. So, all in all, I like to think that we made the best decision under the very sad circumstances.
Afterwards, ironically enough, four of us went to a nearby bar for a drink. You can be sure that we all made sure that NONE of us was driving home from there…. I made a few friends on this jury; we intend to gather up next month. But I don’t think I want to go through such a harrowing experience ever again just to meet nice people. The whole experience is like no other: it cannot adequately be described in words.