Sandra Mendez Ortega, a 19-year-old maid, stole three rings worth at least $5,000 from a house she was cleaning in Fairfax City, Virginia. Lisa Copeland, the client of the cleaning service, discovered her engagement and wedding rings were missing from the container where they were usually kept. The two rings were appraised at $5,000 in 1996, and a third less valuable ring was taken along with them. Fairfax City police interviewed the three women who had cleaned the home, and they all denied seeing the rings, much less stealing them. Ortega, however, subsequently had second thoughts, and confessed to the theft. She told her boss that she had the rings and turned them over to him. He contacted the police, Mendez Ortega confessed to them as well, saying she returned the rings after learning they were valuable. (Thus she only took them because she thought they weren’t valuable. Okaayyyy…) The police told her to write an apology letter to Copeland, in Spanish, in which she said in part, “Sorry for grabbing the rings. I don’t know what happened. I want you to forgive me.”
(I’m sorry, but I have to break in periodically so my head won’t explode. ” I don’t know what happened?” She knows what happened! She stole the rings because she thought she could get away with it.)
Copeland says she has never seen that letter, and that Mendez Ortega has never apologized to her in person. The maid was charged with felony grand larceny. At the trial, the jury found her guilty. (If she had confessed and was remorseful, why did she plead not guilty?)
But we are told that they felt sympathy for the defendant, who was pregnant with her second child, during the sentencing phase. “The general sentiment was she was a victim, too,” the jury foreman, Jeffery Memmott, told the Washington Post. “Two of the [female jurors] were crying because of how bad they felt.” Although the jurors convicted the maid of the felony, they agreed among themselves that it was just a “dumb, youthful mistake.” So they decided that her punishment would be only be her fee for cleaning the house the day of the theft, $60. Then they took up a collection and raised the money to pay the fine, plus and extra $20.
(Yes, she made money on the transaction. Crime pays.)
“Justice had to be done,” said another juror, Janice Woolridge, explaining the guilty verdict. “But there’s also got be some compassion somewhere. Young people make bad decisions. We just couldn’t pile on any more.”
(And I’m sure the jury would have felt exactly the same way about a 19 year-old man who had stolen the same rings while fixing the plumbing. Like the convicted teen on the left below. That’s sad-faced victim Sandra on the right…)
(Note to juries: your job is to determine the facts and guilt or innocence. Compassion should be left to judges.)
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Smith entered the conviction and imposed the $60 fine. Apparently no one is aware of any precedent for a jury paying a convicted felon’s fine. heard of a case where a jury paid a defendant’s fine.
Oh…did I not mention that Sandra Mendez Ortega is in the country illegally? The jury didn’t know that either, because it isn’t relevant to what they were supposed to be deliberating on, which was her guilt or innocence regarding the charge of grand larceny. It would have been relevant to whether she was “a victim,” however.
For her part, Lisa Copeland is furious. “The fact that she confessed,” she said, “and they didn’t want to convict her? I don’t get this. That’s basically saying it’s okay to steal….she lied to the cops, she lied to her employers. She didn’t turn in the rings, she made somebody else do it. She confessed, but claimed that the rings were in the bathroom. And then she tried to blame her boss.”
Mendez Ortega’s lawyer, predictably, saw the result as the justice system working the way it should work. “[I’m]thrilled that the jury felt sympathy for my client and that they took it upon themselves to help despite finding her guilty. I think the jury saw this case for what it was: a teenager who had never been in trouble before who made a really bad decision, but then tried to make it right when her conscience got the better of her.”
(Funny, I think of being an illegal immigrant constitutes “being in trouble”…)
A third juror who asked to remain nameless told the Post, “The degree of empathy that was shown by these citizens and the serious way everybody took their responsibility, was really remarkable.”
(It was remarkable, all right.)
Your Christmas Season, Heart-Warming, Charles Dickens-esque Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…
Did the jury do the right thing?
(Gee, I hope I haven’t given away my answer!)