October 10, 2006 – 8th day of the trial
This is the twelfth entry in a series of entries on my role in the jury in a double murder case in the county of Contra Costa, California. You can see a more detailed view of the case including links to these posts and other items at this page.
8:30 am – Most people are here but one of us is still missing. Of course, the only day they are ready to start on time is the day that one of us is late.
9:00 am – The last of the jurors arrive. The moms in the group were all worried about her but it turns out she thought we were starting at 9 am.
The judge tells us that he was thinking (jokingly) of having the prosecutor read the first 50 pages and the defense lawyer read the other 50 pages of instructions. Then we realize that there really are at least 100 pages of instructions. They warned us that they are going to take a while to get through. He gets started and a lot of it is about what we can and can not consider about the charges from a general standpoint. The instructions also included things like if we are unsure they we must err on the side of not convicting and so forth. They then go into specific instructions about the requirements that must be met for each charge to be found true. The judge tells us what sort of things the jury can request and so forth. I don’t remember if I’ve touched on it before but I think it’s good that they emphasize the phrase “reasonable doubt” and cover the fact that one could probably come up with a very unplausable situation to create doubt but that those should be put aside because they are not reasonable explanations. These instructions are when I realized that as an alternate I would not be allowed in the jury room. He kept saying “12 jurors”.
Mr. Cope, the prosecutor went first in his closing arguments. We could tell he wasn’t feeling good that day. He thanked us for for being jurors and for dealing with the delays that occurred during the trial. Initially he told us that it might have been suggested that we consider the defendent’s age and the fact that he confessed as reason to “give him a break” and that as jurors that was not our job. I think he was just reminding us with that one but I’m pretty confident that based on what I knew of the jurors that this would not happen. We haven’t been able to discuss the case but more just getting to know the jurors I couldn’t imagine any of them would do this. He started to get into each of the charges and discussed how we might go about determining what the defendent is or is not guilty of. He had an easel setup that had a flip chart with each of the charges on it. He went through the requirements for each charge and specifically laid out what he felt made the defendent guilty of them. Mr. Cope went through in detail each of the different theories that would convict Mr. Wright of 1st degree murder. 1st degree murder requires one of two things in this case. The first would be that we have to believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there was both premeditation and deliberation before the murder. The second would be that we have to believe that there was a robbery or attempted robbery that resulted in the murders. For the robbery charge it was obvious that there was some robbery that occurred (the victim’s clothes and the car) but that those were not qualifying robbery for the felony murder part. Basically, felony murder is 1st degree murder when it came down to it. If you are committing a robbery (felony robbery in this case) then it automatically becomes 1st degree murder. There were also firearm and robbery enhancements on the murder charges that were only valid if the defendent was found guilty of 1st degree murder. Mr. Cope talked about each of these and talked about how he felt that each of the points leading up to these were established irrefutably.
Once he finished with his presentation at the easel he started to get more animated and going through how the timeline and other circumstances show that there was premeditation for the crime. For me, the part that really was critical was the timeline and the availability of materials they used. The prosecution had established that the victims were only at the house maybe 90 minutes at most before they were killed and 2 hours total before their bodies were dumped on Morgan Territory Rd. Obviously the video had established the defendent’s guilt in murder but we still had to be convinced that there was premeditation and deliberation. I had no doubt that this was planned due to this fact.
He did answer an important question for me, though. I was unsure if you could be guilty of robbery when the item in question is illegal to possess. And the answer is yes, you can be guilty of stealing something illegal.
Mr. Cook, the defense attorney was next. He started out very emphatically that he did not want our pity about the defendent’s age or his cooperative nature in the interview video we saw and that the witnesses (Karen Novak specifically) had testified to and that it was never suggested. Of course it was or else why would he have brought the point up during the trial many times?
Next he brought out his own chart. He offered his own idea on how we should approach our deliberations. This is where it actually got very interesting. He should a progression of possible murder charges that went from murder with special enhancements to 1st degree murder to 2nd degree murder to voluntary manslaughter to involuntary manslaughter. He immediately said he didn’t expect us to take very long on deciding against either manslaughter charge. He wanted 2nd degree murder. It was interesting strategy. 1st degree murder with enhancements would provide a much longer sentence I’m assuming. The crux of his argument is that the prosecution didn’t prove that they set out to rob the victim of the drugs. He said that Mr. Wright only said he was going to rob the victim once and that he neve rcame back to that. It didn’t seem quite right to me because I’m pretty sure I heard that in the tape at least a few times but that’s something that can be examined by the jurors during deliberation. I figured I’d ask them after the verdict was in.
One note that I had kept was how he referred to the people as “the government” during this closing statement. These are just little things used to try and sway us without directly addressing us. I don’t begrudge him or think less of him for this, though, and I’ll actually address my thoughts on each of the attorney’s jobs in my last posting of this series.
It’s noon now and so we’re sent on our lunch break. After the break the prosecutor will get a chance to rebut any specific claims of the district attorney if he wishes to. At that point the jury will start their deliberations.
1:15 pm – The prosecutor specifically rebuts the fact that the defendent only said he was going to rob the victim once and specifically noted something like 3 or 4 different times. He also pointed out his belief that the murder was planned because the idea was to steal the drugs and the only way to do so was to kill the courier and then claim they had given the drugs back to the courier and he must have run away to deflect focus on them. This was my thought exactly during lunch. I could not see any other point for doing what they did to the victims because nothing else made sense. I’ll eloborate on this later but there was really no reason to do what they did unless they were planning on stealing the drugs.
The judge gives a few last instructions and then he sent the 12 jurors into the jury room. The other 3 alternates and I were then excused but kept under the admonition to not discuss the case, etc. We were told to give the clerk a number that we could be reached at until the case was over just in case it was necessary for us to take someone’s place in the jury room. Two other jurors and I asked the bailiff to ask the clerk to call us when a verdict was ready so we could come back for that.
It really was disappointing that we couldn’t sit in the jury room. The other jurors had wanted us in there as well. Plus, it’s kind of anti-climactic that after this long of a trial that we can’t help take it to conclusion. It’s like reading a 300 page book and getting to page 270 and then it skips ahead to page 300. You will find out the ending but you miss all the interesting twists where the author ties all the plots together. I headed back home at this point and got some more work done. I’m going to work from home on Wednesday so that I can get back to the courthouse for the verdict when they’re ready. If they go beyond Wednesday then I’ll just have to go back to work.