I don’t like the implications of this story one bit.
In Clayton County, Georgia, a jury had just come in with an acquittal verdict in the trial of Eric Lydell Smith, who had been charged with nine counts including malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault, in connection with the death of his neighbor, Eric Hernandez. Two years ago, Smith and Hernandez got into a fist fight on the street where both lived. Smith, an African-American, says he shot Hernandez—the mainstream newsmedia would refer to him as a “white Hispanic” if he had done the shooting— in self-defense, but prosecutors and witnesses told the jury the fight had ended and Hernandez was walking away when Smith killed him.
“Not guilty of malice murder,” the jury foreman read from the verdict form, as Hernandez’ family openly wept in court. One not guilty verdict after the another was announced. Then prosecutors, nobody is certain why, asked the judge to take the unusual step of polling the jury members. The first eleven jurors, in turn, repeated the announced verdict of “not guilty” on all counts. Then the 12th juror, a white woman, answered the judge’s “Is this your verdict?” with a shocking “No, your honor.”
That’s a mistrial. Smith will probably be retried.
The lone juror told the judge that the jurors had called her a racist for not agreeing to acquit Smith. She said that over the twelve hour deliberation, they attacked her relentlessly and made her so uncomfortable that she had left the jury room. She said she would not return to resume deliberations, and told the judge she was not going to change her vote.…again.
What’s going on here? I don’t know. Something is wrong somewhere, and it is serious, The jury was made up of nine African Americans and three whites: our jury system is falling apart if racial intimidation is occurring in jury rooms. The second a racism charge was used to intimidate any juror, the judge should have been notified: I’d call a mistrial immediately. Or was the lone juror the racist? Apparently she was going to allow a verdict she didn’t believe in be delivered to the judge because she was afraid to stand by what she really thought. Or maybe she is just feckless, changed her mind after the verdict was read or had doubts, but wasn’t going to say anything until the prosecutors decided to poll the jury.
I worry that this is one more ugly piece in the growing mosaic of incidents pointing to a disastrous breakdown in racial trust, slowly but surely rendering our justice system dysfunctional.
Directing “Twelve Angry Men” began to convince me that it is time to have video cameras in jury rooms. This story clinches it for me.