Alan Riquelmy: A court of hard choices
The woman stood in the courthouse hallway screaming.
She’d just watched the man who killed her son get sentenced to eight years in prison. Even in Georgia, he likely wouldn’t serve the full sentence. It was only manslaughter, after all.
“What he did was murder,” the woman told the media. “He had intent.”
It was a case very similar to one just now starting in Nevada County Superior Court. In that case, six men are accused in the fatal shooting of a woman in a November pot deal gone wrong. Only one of them faces a murder charge, though. Only the shooter.
One car chasing another, a man fires a gun, striking a woman in the pursuing vehicle.
It’s almost a mirror image of what happened in Georgia over 10 years ago. Two vehicles on the road, one person shoots, a man is dead.
Despite what the mother said in the Georgia case, it wasn’t murder. She may have been convinced of the shooter’s intent, but prosecutors were more concerned about what 12 people sitting in the jury box thought.
And when faced with a choice between pleading to a lesser offense, or rolling the dice and maybe watching a defendant walk away, hard choices are made.
Add in multiple defendants and the difficulty level grows. In Georgia, be with the person firing the gun and you can get charged with murder. It used to be like that here, but no more. It’s why only the shooter in the November case faces a murder charge.
But each state has its own way of doing things. For example, prosecutors in another Georgia case involving a drug deal gone wrong charged three people with the murder of one man. Three men attempted to rob a drug dealer, shots were fired, one of the would-be robbers died. Prosecutors charged the drug dealer and the two remaining men with murder.
Many times prosecutors in cases like this, when trying defendants separately, go with their strongest case first. That was one of the would-be robbers. Jurors saw the video made during his police interview. At one point the cop left the room, and the man – now facing a murder charge – began weeping. He stood, banging his fist on the wall, crying over his dead friend.
You could feel his tension, his fear, evaporate when the jury acquitted him.
Did he intend for his friend to die? It’s easy to condemn when you’re watching from the outside, and much more difficult when you’re sitting in the jury box.
But I bet the mother of the deceased man knows. Mothers always know.
Prosecutors dropped the charges against the other two men. They’d lost their strongest case. Why try for a win in the others?
Whatever success the men might have had was short lived. The defendant who was acquitted died months later. His body was found in the area, not that far from the courthouse.
The second would-be robber returned to his hometown of New Orleans. A couple of years later he, too, was dead.
More meaningless violence, more graves. Then, years later, people come of age, pick up their own guns and take the places of those who came before them.
And another district attorney has to make a decision. Do they prosecute on a murder charge, trusting their evidence is strong enough to convict?
Or do they settle for something less, and wait for the wailing to begin?
Contact Editor Alan Riquelmy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4239.
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