“Disagreement can be both intelligent and honorable.”
I have just emerged from three weeks as a juror in a trial to impose a sentence–either life imprisonment or the death penalty–on a man convicted of murder. The victim was Deputy James McGrane, who was murdered in Tijeras, New Mexico, on March 22, 2006, while he was on duty. The defendant was Michael Astorga, who was convicted of the crime in 2010. Serving as juror in this matter has been the most intense and grueling experience of my life.
The salient facts are that, minutes after calling in a license plate that was traced to Astorga, Deputy McGrane was killed by a bullet from a 10 millimeter Glock. The bullet entered his jaw and severed his spine, and he died instantly. It was traumatic seeing all the photographs of the murder scene, and the horror deepened as the jurors learned more about how dedicated and well-liked McGrane had been. We repeatedly saw so many photographs of him in death; but finally at the end of the trial, his parents and sister shared pictures of how attractive and appealing he had been in life. Their testimony was heart-breaking.
During the course of two weeks, the jurors had gotten a major review of evidence from the previous trial, but additional material was brought in. The incriminating testimony that was presented from Astorga’s friends and acquaintances provided a glimpse of a reality that must have been pretty alien to all of us. His community was basically completely dysfunctional. Who can say all the reasons–poor parenting, lack of intelligence and education, psychological disorders, and poverty–but his circle seemed to be a collection of people living disordered lives based on mistakes that continually multiplied. They made matters worse by begetting children who would inevitably extend the reach of the disorder.
They did so many stupid things, and the first and foremost was to get involved in drugs in any way, shape, or form. The undertow of misdeeds included criminal records in some cases, tax evasion, irresponsible parenting, possible infidelity, drug running, and keeping drugs and equipment in the home. It all resulted in panic and vulnerability to police inquiry. Those who testified repeatedly contradicted themselves, compromising their credibility; and they all paid a price for even knowing Astorga. The undertow of misdeeds will get you. Read Full Post »