GETTING INSIDE THE MIND OF A JUROR-PART 2

Note: While working on Part 1 of this post, I used what turned out to be an incomplete list of mitigating factors. I discovered the existence of the remaining five factors today. To clarify: Part 1 is actually about mitigating factor #2. Factor #1 concerns Dzhokhar’s age at the time of the bombing.

I’ve been looking at the complete list of twenty-one mitigating factors and the corresponding number of jurors who agreed with each one for three days now. What I see is disturbing.

Choosing to assign validity and relevance to a list of mitigating factors is all about having compassion. It is a choice made by those who still believe in the concept that many who commit crimes can and should be rehabilitated.

Rehabilitation: as a country, we used to believe in that. After what I saw happen in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I am certain we no longer do.

Mitigating factors. Twenty-one statements summing up the life of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. If you are a person with empathy, you can’t read them and not feel pain.

But you can read them, set them aside, and sentence the person described therein to death if you are a juror. It is expected of you. They call it being “death qualified.”

When the list of mitigating factors was released with corresponding numbers indicating how many jurors agreed with each factor, I knew the numbers would tell me something. This is as simple as I know how to say what I have discovered:

You can’t get there from here.

Twelve people had already returned a guilty verdict. Having seen little in the way of actual evidence and none of it pointing to the accused, all that was left to guide them to condemn the accused was the strong emotion deliberately stirred by the prosecution.

In the end, these twelve people were simply no match for the gut-wrenching stories, tears, sights and sounds they were forced to bathe in day after day. It would have been difficult for most of us. The strategy adopted by the prosecution had its desired effect and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Now those same twelve had to decide his fate. The court should have cleared the deck and started with fresh eyes and cooler heads. The trauma the jury had just endured had not yet begun to heal. They were in no shape to decide Dzhokhar’s fate justly or rationally, and that’s just what the prosecution was counting on.

Maybe it would have helped them arrive at a different conclusion if the list had been reordered. Mitigating factors build upon one another. Many are if/then statements: if you agree with this one, you must agree with that one because of their inter-relatedness. That logic was not followed in the jury room.

I think I know why.

If Dzhokhar Tsarnaev needed a Jose Baez in the courtroom, as I tweeted the day Judy Clarke said “It was him,” then he needed a Katniss Everdeen on the jury. More about her later.

I have taken the liberty to rewrite the list of mitigating factors in a slightly different order and with a few changes to wording. First, I want to present them to you as they appeared on the jury form:

1. DT was 19 years old at the time of the offenses.
2. DT had no prior history of violent behavior.
3. DT acted under the influence of his older brother.
4. Whether because of Tamerlan’s age, size,
aggressiveness, domineering personality, privileged
status in the family, traditional authority as the
eldest brother, or other reasons, DT was particularly
susceptible to his older brother’s influence.
5. DT’s brother Tamerlan planned, led, and directed
the Marathon bombing.
6. DT’s brother Tamerlan was the person who shot &
killed Officer Sean Collier.
7. DT would not have committed the crimes but for
his older brother Tamerlan.
8. DT’s teachers in elementary school, middle school,
and high school knew him to be hardworking,
respectful, kind, and considerate.
9. DT’s friends in high school and college knew him
to be thoughtful, caring, and respectful of the rights and feelings of others.
10. DT’s teachers and friends still care for him.
11. DT’s aunts and cousins love and care for him.
12. Mental illness and brain damage disabled DT’s father.
13. DT was deprived of needed stability and guidance during his adolescence by his father’s mental illness and brain damage.
14. DT’s father’s illness and disability made Tamerlan the dominant male figure in Dzhokhar’s life.
15. DT was deprived of the stability and guidance he needed during his adolescence due to his mother’s emotional volatility and religious extremism.
16. DT’s mother facilitated his brother Tamerlan’s radicalization.
17. TT became radicalized first, and then encouraged his younger brother to follow him.
18. DT’s parents’ return to Russia in 2012 made Tamerlan the dominant adult in Dzhokhar’s life.
19. DT is highly unlikely to commit, incite or facilitate any acts of violence in the future while serving a life-without-release sentence in federal custody.
20. The government has the power to severely restrict DT’s communications with the outside world.
21. DT has expressed sorrow & remorse for what he did and for the suffering he caused.

Now I want to present them in a slightly different order and in some cases, with slightly different wording. I believe these changes would have had more of an impact on the jury.

1. DT’s aunts and cousins love and care for him.
2. DT’s teachers in elementary school, middle school and high school knew him to be hardworking, respectful, kind and considerate.
3. DT’s friends in high school and college knew him to be thoughtful, caring and respectful of the rights and feelings of others.
4. DT has expressed sorrow for the suffering endured by the victims of the bombing.
5. DT’s friends and teachers still care for him.
6. Mental illness and brain damage disabled DT’s father.
7. DT’s father’s illness and disability made Tamerlan the dominant male figure in Dzhokhar’s life.
8. DT’s mother facilitated his brother Tamerlan’s radicalization.
9. TT became radicalized first and then encouraged his younger brother to follow him.
10. DT’s parents’ return to Russia in 2012 reinforced Tamerlan as the dominant adult in Dzhokhar’s life.
11. DT was deprived of the stability and guidance HE needed during his adolescence due to his mother’s emotional volatility and religious extremism.
12. DT was deprived of the stability and guidance HE needed during his adolescence due to his father’s mental illness and brain damage.
13. DT’s brother Tamerlan planned, led and directed the Marathon bombing.
14. DT’s brother Tamerlan shot and killed Sean Collier.
15. Whether because of Tamerlan’s age, size, aggressiveness, domineering personality, privileged status in the family, traditional authority as the eldest brother or other reasons, DT was particularly susceptible to his older brother’s influence.
16. DT acted under the influence of his older brother.
17. DT would not have committed the crimes but for his older brother Tamerlan.
18. DT was 19 years old at the time of the offenses.
19. DT had no prior history of violent behavior.
20. DT is highly unlikely to commit, incite or facilitate any acts of violence in the future while serving a life-without-release sentence in federal custody.

Here are the changes I made and why:

DT has expressed sorrow for the suffering endured by the victims of the bombing.

1. I reworded #4 to more accurately reflect what Sr. Helen Prejean testified. It also avoids reinforcing the idea of DT’s guilt since the jury has already (incorrectly) decided that. This wording also emphasizes what factor #3 says about DT’s character: “DT’s friends in high school and college knew him to be thoughtful, caring and respectful of the rights and feelings of others.”

DT’s parents’ return to Russia in 2012 reinforced Tamerlan as the dominant adult in Dzhokhar’s life.

In #8 the word “reinforced” has been substituted for “made.” What made Tamerlan the dominant male figure in DT’s life was his father’s mental disability, which forced Anzor to vacate the parental role as stated in #11. Tamerlan’s position of authority over DT was simply reinforced when the parents left the country altogether.

DT was deprived of the stability and guidance HE needed during his adolescence due to his mother’s emotional volatility and religious extremism.

DT was deprived of the stability and guidance HE needed during his adolescence due to his father’s mental illness and brain damage.

I worded both #9 and #12 exactly the same to encourage acceptance on the part of the jurors. I bolded and capitalized the word “he” in each statement for a reason. Many people do not want to extend empathy to Dzhokhar based on how the above two events affected him simply because other kids his age have been able to endure what he did or worse and yet not get in serious trouble. I wanted to reinforce the point for the jury that this is about DT, not any other kid they may know or have heard a heart-warming story about.

DT’s brother Tamerlan shot and killed Sean Collier.

I removed the word “Officer” from this statement. Some people have a stronger emotional reaction to the thought of someone in uniform being killed and I didn’t want to play into that. Besides, at this point in the trial, everyone knew Sean Collier was the MIT campus security officer.

The government has the power to severely restrict DT’s communications with the outside world.

I left this one off completely. I think it is irrelevant and just gave the jury more to think and argue about when they already had enough to consider.

I have sat, hour after hour with the list of mitigating factors before me, trying to understand that which, quite possibly, cannot be understood: how a jury can believe some and discount other factors in the life of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, when these factors are so inter-related. I simply can find no path that takes me to the death penalty sentence they handed down. No wonder some of the jurors were crying as the sentence was being read.

I believe that emotion, fear and anger simply won out in the end. Only one juror had to disagree in order to spare Dzhokhar’s life. Eleven jurors believed Dzhokhar had no prior history of violence. That figure should have been twelve, as I discussed in part one of this post.

Three jurors agreed to the following:

1. Dzhokhar acted under the influence of his older brother.
2. Whatever the reason, Dzhokhar was particularly susceptible to his older brother’s influence.
3. Dzhokhar’s brother Tamerlan planned, led and directed the Marathon bombing.
4. Dzhokhar would not have committed the crimes but for his older brother Tamerlan.

Those points are the heart of the defense case. How can three people say they believe these things and still vote to end someone’s life? Even if each point was agreed with by a different group of three people, these are powerful statements.

So how did this happen? How did they get there from here? The short answer is that as a country we have stopped believing certain people deserve to be or can be rehabilitated. The long answer has to do with Katniss Everdeen.

Just prior to the start of the Boston Marathon bombing trial, I finally saw the movie The Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen is the main character. Each time I thought about the possible sentencing options if Dzhokhar were to be found guilty, I was reminded of the ending of that movie.

Allow me to explain.

For those of you unfamiliar with The Hunger Games, I offer the following excerpt from an on line article by Lily Rothman:

“Welcome to Panem, an ambiguously futuristic, post-apocalyptic North American totalitarian nation ruled by President Snow based in The Capitol. The rest of Panem comprises 12 Districts, each with a main industry but, to varying degrees, poorer than and subservient to The Capitol. Until about 75 years before the movie takes place, there was a District 13, but an attempted rebellion by the districts resulted in The Capitol’s destruction of that region.

After the aforementioned rebellion was put down, The Capitol instituted a system whereby one boy and one girl from each district would be chosen by lottery to compete as Tributes in the yearly Games, a complex, pageant-like fight to the death – broadcast for all to see. The system is meant to show the degree to which The Capitol is in charge. (Sounds like a good description of the reason this trial was manipulated doesn’t it?) In some districts, children train to be Careers, aiming to represent their districts, but for most regions it is not seen as an honor. Each year’s Victor is rewarded with wealth, including food – a scarce commodity in most districts.

First, all the Tributes go to The Capitol and are paraded around; it’s to their advantage to win crowd favor, as sponsors can help them out by sending things into the arena once the Games begin. The Games start off with each player equidistant from the Cornucopia, a large pile of weapons and survival tools, giving each the option to run for his or her life (without equipment) – or attempting to grab something (and risking the chance of being killed by another competitor). Each time a competitor dies, a cannon sounds; the identities of the dead are revealed at the end of each day. The Games end when only one survivor remains.

Katniss Everdeen volunteers for the Games after her younger sister Prim is selected as the female tribute in the lottery for District 12. The male tribute from that same district is Peeta Mellark.

Though there’s only one victor, Katniss and Peeta – who didn’t have much of a relationship prior to the Games – manage to save each other. First, they make it to the end. Then, pretending to be in love, they threaten to eat poison berries and commit suicide together, forcing the hand of The Capitol on live TV.

As a result, both are declared victors for the first time in the history of the Games. By daring to challenge what has never been challenged before, they live to see unbreakable rules broken in their favor.”

How I wish that could have happened in the jury room. If it had, how would that dramatic turn of events have played out?

At one point during deliberations, the jury wrote a question that really stumped the judge and attorneys for both sides. One swore. All scratched their heads, considering how to respond. I held my breath, remembering the movie.

Could it be? Were they asking for the rules to be changed? Had they decided, after studying the list of mitigating factors and the lack of evidence that the death penalty as well as life in solitary confinement without the possibility of parole were both way too harsh for this boy and were asking for another option?

No, they were not.

Your Honor,

We the jury, having analyzed the aggravating and mitigating factors in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev do find we can consider neither the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole for a nineteen-year-old boy with no prior history of violence. We believe Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be an ideal candidate for rehabilitation, finding him to have been deprived of stability and guidance by his mother’s emotional volatility and religious extremism as well as his father’s mental illness and brain damage and acting, as we believe he did, under the domination of his radicalized older brother, who we believe planned, led and directed the bombing. We unanimously and respectfully request to be provided with another sentencing option. We, the jury, will have to live with the decision we make here for the rest of our lives. We cannot do so given the current choices.

So say one, so say all.

If I had been there, I would have offered to write that note for them.

Published by: iwasleah10years

Winston Churchill said no crime is so great as daring to excel. I am ready to take that dare. An unexpected and somewhat unexplainable compassion for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has drawn me out of my comfort zone.

3 Comments

3 thoughts on “GETTING INSIDE THE MIND OF A JUROR-PART 2”

  1. Brilliant Lynn! Everything you say here is true and would have led to a different outcome, a better, humane and compassionate one. It seems it was a trial without any common sense or sense of decency, or goodness. It was all based on vengeance, self pride, hatred, emotions, and fear. So opposite of what true justice should be. A shameful stain on the United States, enough to make one cry. To think that so many grown adults involved in this trial believe it’s ok and just to plan the pre meditated murder of a young man in this day and age (regardless if he is innocent or guilty) is simply appalling and hard to fathom. This trial clearly shows that justice is not about doing the right thing, it’s about making a statement. It’s only about winning in a lop sided arena.

  2. Goosebumps…I loved it! You were the ‘Dream Team’ and the 13th Juror all in one Lynn. Except your version of the defense and the jury made more logical sense than the actual jury and defense. If you were up there fighting for Jahar’s life…he would be walking today!! BRAVO!!👏👏👏

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