Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Takeaway.

What actually happened just doesn't matter.
Which makes it easy, once again, to say that I have no idea what happened and won't venture a guess as to whether he did what they say.
Those things - what happened, whether the defendant actually committed the criminal acts he is said to have committed - really don't have anything to do with our system of criminal justice.
I've talked about these things before, delved into the difference between truth and proof, explained that proof is at best both elusive and illusive.  (Truth is little better.)  What we have is a system based on belief and, in particular, what jurors believe.
Of course, we hope that what jurors believe (i.e., what's "proved") bears a close relationship to what in fact occurred in the world and, insofar as it matters, to psychological truths.  Sometimes the hope is borne out.  Other times, not so much.  The reality is that nobody much knows except maybe the participants in the events at issue and often not even they (regardless of their certainty).
Still, jurors mostly convict and trials mostly end with at least some guilty verdict or verdicts.
But sometimes they don't.  And sometimes they really don't.
In Cleveland, for instance.  In the case of Demrick McCloud.  Patrick O'Donnell, in the Plain Dealer gives the outline.
McCloud was charged with leading a gang of teens that beat a Martin Luther King Jr. High School student and threatened him with a gun Oct. 13 a little after 1 p.m. as the student walked home from the Shaker Square rapid station.
Specifically, McCloud was charged with a single count of kidnapping and two counts of felonious assault.  If convicted of all three counts and sentenced to maximum consecutive terms, he would have gotten 26 years in prison. He'd been in the county jail for nearly 4 months when the jury returned its verdicts.  After a week of trial.
  • Not Guilty.
  • Not Guilty.
  • Not Guilty.
4 months in jail and an agonizing trial for something the jury said (and they reached their verdicts after only 30 minutes of deliberations) he didn't do.
But as Ron Popeil might say, Wait. There's more.
The jurors were so disgusted that at least three of them decided to donate their checks for serving on the jury to McCloud.
"It won't be a lot of money," said juror Ana Boe. "It's just a little carrot that goes to his future." 
His future, indeed.  He has to get a GED to earn the reward.  Trust, but verify.
I suppose that somewhere in this nation something like this might have happened before.  (I know there have been cases where jurors ended up marrying defendants.)  But it's damn sure rare.
Most of the jury could not be reached for comment, but three members complained of a "sheer lack of evidence."
They said the prosecution's case hinged on the victim identifying McCloud as an attacker. But the victim also had told police he was certain another boy -- later found to be in school at the time -- was one of the assailants.
As they were leaving the courthouse, jurors Ana de Freitas Boe, an English professor at Baldwin-Wallace College; Jeanne Knotek, an obstetrician and gynecologist; and alternate juror Richard Nagin discussed ways to help McCloud.
The three have committed to donating their jury stipend to a fund for McCloud. Boe said the amount is too small to compensate McCloud for his jail time, but the jurors intend it as a "show of support."
"He seemed like a decent kid who was falsely accused," Nagin said.
Boe said she will mail letters today to Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath and Fourth District Commander Deon McCaulley about the lack of a thorough investigation. Other jurors said they also will write to the police. 
There's a lesson about prosecutorial overreaching and about the smugness of prosecutors here.  And the sloppiness of both prosecutors and police. And there's a lot of positive stuff that should be said about Kevin Spellacy, McCloud's lawyer.
But mostly what I want to say is that this was one hell of a jury. 
And to remember that it could easily have gone the other way.  26 years.
Like I say, I don't know what happened.  But it's pretty clear that the jury didn't believe the prosecutor's version.  Not even a little.


  1. And to remember that it could easily have gone the other way.

    Not with a jury like that it couldn't. Do you know how bad a prosecutor's case has to be to get a result like that? The prosecution had no case. None. So, my question to you is: Given the complete and total lack of evidence, couldn't the judge have thrown the whole thing out?

  2. I wasn't there, but as I understand it from various press reports, the alleged victim said McCloud did those things but also said that one of the others who attacked him was a person who was, demonstrably, elsewhere. That is, the jury didn't believe the victim.

    Judges are supposed to (and allowed to) take the case away from the jury only when there's no evidence, not when the issue is whether the evidence is credible.