My client was sentenced to 45 years in prison yesterday. As sentences for the crime of murder go, it was lenient. After trial, most defendants are slapped with 50 or 60 years. The result troubled one of the jurors in the case. The juror will never have the chance to speak her conscience in a form that matters to my client.
He was charged with the point-blank shooting of another young man in the early hours one morning after Halloween. An eyewitness said she saw the two men arguing, and my client then walked over to a car, put on a mask and a glove, and returned with a pistol. He fired point blank into the decedent’s head, and then kept firing. Another witness told the jury my client acknowledged shooting the victim in the days following the murder, when my client was on the run.
It was a two-witness case. The eye witness at first denied seeing anything. Days later, she told police she recognized the shooter. She and her children were placed in the witness protection program and given a new place to live, away from a housing project known for the violence just outside the door.
The state’s offer by way of a plea was 30-plus years. My client, who was 20 at the time of the shooting, could not face that kind of time. We pleaded not guilty and went to trial. Our hope was that the jury would find reasons to doubt a woman who changed her tune depending on the day and the benefit, and that it would doubt the word of a man with a long criminal record. The jury did not find reason to doubt. It convicted.
The day after the verdict, I received an email from a juror complementing me on a job well done. She said I reminded her John Adams, high praise I hope, although I note Adams is long since dead. It was not the sort of testimonial I wanted. I wanted a not guilty verdict. The juror said she could not in good conscience give me that.
Last night, the juror contacted me again. Wasn’t my client to be sentenced this week? She wanted to know the outcome. The case still troubled her, she said.
I wrote her a note telling her that he was sentenced just yesterday afternoon to a period of 45 years in prison. She was incredulous. She told me she thought the sentence was "ridiculous." I asked her whether knowing the potential sentence would have changed the result of the verdict. She responded only by saying that she wished there were some other way to have resolved the case. As a matter of law there was not. There was no credible self-defense claim, nor was there a claim that a lesser offense, say manslaughter, fit the crime.
Juries in Connecticut are given no information about the sentencing consequences of a conviction. This jury did not know, apparently, that this young man faced a sentence of 60 years. One juror was troubled by the sentence imposed. This jury, representing the conscience of the community, was not permitted to make a conscientious response to the alleged crime.
Under Connecticut law, a trial judge has the discretion to sentence a person convicted of murder to a period ranging from 25 to 60 years. Why not tell juries what is being done in their name and give them a say in sentencing? In this case, I suspect the result would have been far different than what occurred. I suspect that the jury would still have convicted, based on what the juror who was written me tells me. But I doubt that the young man who committed this impulsive act would now be serving a 45 year sentence.
It is not just to keep fundamental truths from juries. This case offers potential proof of that, at least in the eyes of one juror who feels betrayed because she wasn’t permitted to learn the whole truth until it was too late.