“Not Guilty Verdict”: Regarding criminal gangs in New York City’s West Harlem; social decomposition; ineffective education and lack of Human Resources; understaffed police surveillance and laxe investigation, …

October fifth 2017, after three weeks of endurance, my service as a juror in a murder trial in Manhattan State Court was concluded with a not guilty verdict due to a reasonable doubt—over flimsy evidence, and a protracted seven years of detectives’ investigation. Although, the defense lawyer was hardly up to par, the burden of proof fell solely upon the district attorney, who could not manage to prove the case against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. It was a hard wrenching experience for every one involved.

The medical examiner showed us photographically a detailed compilation before and after the autopsy to establish evidence of a 22 revolver’s 1/2” projectile’s passing through the body, which was the only ballistic analysis in terms of direction and cause of death. We had to observe stoically, with the maximum emotional modesty possible but not everyone succeeded.

The defense claimed the fifth amendment in order to not being open to examination or cross examination; there was no gun recovered, no DNA, no proven motive, a poorly visible video of the event, a stale case to boot, with a lot of hear-say interwoven throughout among two unreliable key eyewitnesses, 18 depositions and various estipulaciones in lieu of new witnesses.

Despite the tragedy, we, the jury, remained at peace with the decision, which could only be just and intelligent, devoid of bias or emotion. We chose to absolve a 17-year-old who was being accused of having killed a 14-year-old in Sept 2010 with a “community” gun. We concluded that it was a case of misidentification, not due to perjury by the witnesses but by a murky or nebulous set of events. Although, we believed there was collective collusion and complicity by the two West Harlem communities (West 140th and 141st Streets between 7th and 8th Avenues), who incited the tragedy; our doubt about the identity of the killer was greater than the evidence provided. Still we were not 100% sure of it, but had to be guided by the degree of doubt, which was greater than our certainty.

It took us 2 days and a half of deliberations and analysis to arrive at the verdict unanimously. We went from an even split of 50/50% to an unified, 100% understanding of the facts. When we announced the not-guilty-on-all-counts-verdict, in a sad and somber moment for both the family of the accused and the mother of the murdered child, as well as ourselves, it was very difficult for all involved to contain tears. After admonishing the court room to be quiet, the eminent and fair-minded judge Robert Stolz commended our carefully conscientious performance as jurors, stating the great relevance of our participation.

As we left the deliberation room, heading to a private elevator, which descended at the opposite end of the court at street level, we were cordoned off by a half-dozen police officers, while the acquitted’s family—kept aside—shouted their thanks amid inconsolable cries. From there on, except for me, the remaining eleven members of the jury went to a neighboring bar to relieve the great blow that we had felt. I waved goodbye to everyone between hugs, handshakes and kisses, wishing them well and congratulating them for their exemplary work!

Pondering how special was our experience, it may not have been possible for any one single individual to own such vision, the required compassion and the clarity to arrive at a consensus over something as tragic—arriving at the decision after two minutes of silent introspection and a single instance of total awareness in all of our minds at once; it was only conceivable by the group itself and no one in particular. So, I wonder if we were so unique a group; if any one other group could have arrived at the same conclusions, preventing either a wrong conviction or even a possible derailment of the case.

Criminal activity as a chosen life style (exemplified by young crews or gangs) among certain neighborhoods in New York City may be distinctly different from other communities in other states or abroad; but the underlying pattern of behavior seems to be commonplace among marginal communities: Lack of self love, undervalued self-esteem—due to lack of positive roles and lack of developmental opportunities— are perhaps the most insidious and corrosive causes. Moral suppression, self sabotage and low self esteem are indeed intertwined due to lack of guidance. The level of education is impaired by a hostile environment of reactive survival where children grow aspiring to achieve power in their relationships through means of oppression, verbal attack and physical domestic assault. So it is not surprising that they should die prematurely. Guns and knives turn to be of common usage in these communities, whose children’s resort to petty larceny until they become victims or seasoned murderers. It is no surprising under such harrowing circumstances that there may be such an encumbered path to preserve one’s human dignity. I believe being poor as being rich imports no virtue in of itself. However, if one focuses on the resources offered by the city of Manhattan to those communities struggling to survive, we must ask what we, as a collective society, are doing to remedy it: not being equally reactive while indifferent to such a plight. If we understand that those conditions nurture the worst in us, by cultivating psychopaths from an early age; what are we doing to reverse those conditions? What are we offering as non complementary conditions as well as solutions to the overarching social problem: where we all exist literally and equally vulnerable to violence? And yet still, are we not all responsible?


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