Verdict in Joseph Bearden Murder Trial: Are Juries Beginning to Enforce the Standard of Proof?

CNN’s legal commentator, Jami Floyd attributes the jury’s verdict in the Joseph Bearden trial to a growing understanding of the presumption of innocence. That may be, and I hope it is true, but I wonder if the conviction on lesser charges might not have been due to the judge in the trial.

The jury instructions in the Bearden trial must have listed “lesser and included charges” other than first-degree murder and armed robbery, because the jury found Bearden guilty of second-degree murder and auto theft. In my opinion—and I am not a lawyer—justice is better served by leaving juries such options. Over-zealous prosecutors tend to over-charge offenses. In the trial in which I served as a juror, the judge clearly colluded with the prosecution to present us with an outrageous charge (kidnapping). Juries faced with no option but guilt or innocence in such situations are more likely to struggle with their verdict.

Over-charging is what freed Michael Jackson, in my opinion, and is what hung the jury in the first Phil Spector trial.

If judges and lawyers expect jurors to return appropriate verdicts, they need to do as the judge in this case did: give the jurors appropriate instructions and charges.

A Sidebar: I found an ad for this peculiar database today:

It appears to be a database primarily of civil verdicts with an emphasis on monies awarded. I’m interested in learning whether there’s a similar criminal verdict database. It would be useful for discovering trends such as the one Ms. Floyd suggested might be developing (namely, a greater respect for the presumption of innocence).

FBI’s Innocence Lost Project: Child Prostitution is Slavery

OK, I admit it. I’m addicted to CNN’s live video from the courtroom. And I’m very sorry that Court TV became TruTV, because they no longer broadcast past 2:00 PM CDT. (The programming after that is nothing but reruns of “true crime” programs, and it means that California trials are no longer covered—such as the second Phil Spector trial, which is in progress now.) I’ve also been puzzled by CNN’s choice of trials to cover. At first I was repelled by the Kathleen Hilton trial and was only drawn in when I realized the judge was forcing expert witnesses to explain things clearly to the jury. That struck me as unusual.

Now CNN is covering an uninteresting trial involving the brutal murder of a gay student. I can only guess that CNN finds the victim’s lifestyle sufficiently “sensational” to draw an audience. Unfortunately, in this situation the cameras in the courtroom, it seems to me, are exploiting the victim and his family and friends.

So—I’ve begun exploring the CNN “Crime” news. Much of what I’ve found there is far more interesting, important, and troubling than the current, live trial.

For example, today I found a story about a nationwide FBI roundup of pimps and rescue of more than 50 child prostitutes. This is part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost Project and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Why don’t cable channels cover the issue of child prostitution with the same zeal they cover stories in which they believe parents have murdered their children? The parents of Madeleine McCann were tried in the press; no one could believe that a stranger might kidnap a lovely little girl. The parents of JonBenet Ramsey were tried in the press (and we all know the weird twists in that case despite hints that there was a cat burglar in Boulder who had molested another little girl in her bed and hints that child pornographers were active in the area).

I believe Americans (and especially the press) are hypocritical with regard to child exploitation. Child abuse by parents is widely condemned, but most social workers will tell you that the courts are loathe to remove an abused child from an abusive environment, because it is considered to be the ultimate violation of a family’s rights to self-determination and privacy. A psychologist told me recently that in one local case of child abuse, the court permitted an infant to remain in a home after a serious child-abuse incident; then the father in the home put the infant in a dresser drawer and closed it when the baby cried. The baby suffocated.

Where do you think child prostitutes come from? I’d be willing to bet that they come from abusive homes. When a father or stepfather or Mom’s boyfriend sexually abuses (that is, rape) a young girl, she is likely to run away and start making a living on the street. Pimps kidnap them off the street “to take care of them.” This is slavery and rape. It isn’t an issue to be handled in family court or a juvenile court. If any crime should earn the maximum penalty, this is it.

And many child prostitutes are kidnapped south of the border and then shipped into the U.S. like farm produce—maybe underneath the farm produce in trucks. (Many women are also trafficked into this county, too. Don’t kid yourself.) It’s one of the most disgusting and violent byproducts of a porous border.

This is one of the reasons that borders are necessary: the laws of a nation only apply within its borders. International law is a very nice idea, but every nation (internationally) does not have a Bill of Rights, and international law cannot protect an individual when pirates and slavers are out there.

It’s naive to think that slavery was abolished by Abraham Lincoln. Back in the late 90s, after the Bosnian conflict (which, by the way, continues to this day) I learned that the Moslem Albanian “mafia” was kidnapping women in Kosovo and selling them to men in the West, including in this country as “wives.” I spoke to a UN forensic anthropologist who was excavating mass graves, and then I wrote a short story about the issue (“At the Foot,” which was posted on and is now available in my short-story collection The Evil That Men Do. See the sidebar.)

The UN has a division devoted to human trafficking (aka slavery), the UNODC. A recent documentary, Cargo, highlights the problem and specifically child prostitution (

Surely this is a story worthy of CNN live coverage—or Foxnews live coverage—or someone’s.

Lists of Reasonable Doubts

Because I’m strange and compulsive, awhile ago I went through an exercise involving “reasonable doubt”—just for the fun of it. I used Justia’s beta search function to see how often the phrase and related phrases occurred in Supreme Court decisions from about 1820 to 2006. I don’t promise this is an accurate count, only that this is what I counted late in 2006.

I used Justia’s proximity search function on the words “reasonable” and “doubt.” Then I examined the decisions in which the two words appeared in close proximity and derived 12 variations on the phrase, some of which were used only once and others that were used nearly 100 times. Because I have recently heard the phrase “shadow of a doubt” used disparagingly, I listed its use by year (see below).

Here’s what I found (roughly):

“beyond a reasonable doubt” about 38 = from 1895 to 2006 (this is the In Re Winship [1970] phrase)

“beyond reasonable doubt” = about 90 from 1835 to 1993 (This is the clear “winner,” and I would claim that it is more easily comprehensible by jurors than the currently popular “a reasonable doubt.”)

“beyond all reasonable doubt” = about 45 from 1820 (in the Amistad decision [I may be confused. I thought the Amistad trial in which John Quincy Adams participated was in the 1840s. Maybe this is a different Amistad?]) to 1993 (in the important “standard of proof” decision Victor v. Nebraska)

“beyond doubt” = about 4 from 1875 to 1950

“no doubt from the evidence” in 1881

“every reasonable doubt” in 1876

“some reasonable doubt” in 1930

“apart from and beyond the reasonable presumption” in 1875

“there can be no reasonable doubt” in 1876

“is a reasonable doubt” in 1955

“shadow of doubt” = about 10 in 1796, 1845, 1882, 1900, 1926, 1952, 1969, 1979, and 1984 (all in civil cases)

“shadow of a doubt” = about 20 in 1875, 1897, 1899, 1961, 1964, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1989, 1998, 2000 (some duplicates and both civil and criminal)

OK. So what? Well, I’ve heard several legal commentators say something to the effect that “reasonable doubt isn’t just any doubt or a shadow of a doubt.” But if this list is even approximately illustrative of the definition of “the standard of proof” in criminal trials, then it is clear that the Supreme Court’s 1970 In Re Winship “crystallization” of the phrase is far from “definitive” and has not been in general use since 1798 after all.

At least IMHO—and, remember, I am not a lawyer.

Wicca Kathleen Hilton Verdict, More than just a reasonable doubt—a solution to whodunit

What is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and did defense attorney Michael Natola (in the recent Kathleen Hilton trial) convince the jury there was something doubtful about the evidence that was “out there,” where ever “beyond a reasonable doubt” is?

  • Disclaimer: I’m not an attorney, and I’m sure that any lawyer who reads what I have to say about the definition of this concept groans and perhaps even writhes on the floor. I’m a writer and a scholar of the English language and literature. I’m also a juror who had to decide whether the state proved a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

It’s my belief that Mr. Natola convinced the jury not only that there was reasonable doubt about Ms. Hilton’s confession but also that there was a reasonable alternative culprit. (Elsewhere in this blog I’ve advocated that defense closing arguments should always do that. I don’t believe a case based only on reasonable doubt is anything but DOA.) In the first Phil Spector trial his attorneys argued that the alternative was suicide—producing a hung jury. In the Michael Jackson trial his attorney argued that the alternative was a money-grubbing mother—resulting in an acquittal.

Frankly, I think Mr. Natola’s closing argument was rhetorically brilliant! I wish he would post it on the web.

The Definition of Reasonable Doubt

One reason the Natola argument succeeded was that Judge Whitehead read a fairly well-conceived definition of reasonable doubt to the jury when they requested a clarification. It’s my understanding that a Supreme Court decision in 1970 determined that the standard of proof in a criminal trial is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” State courts are free to define this phrase in their pattern jury instructions. It appears that MA pattern jury instructions permit judges to define “reasonable doubt” in a clear, reasonable way. Judge Whitehead used an 1850 case called “The Commonwealth v. Webster.”

Many states have definitions that involve language such as that used in the recent trial of “Scooter Libby”: “Reasonable doubt is the kind of doubt that would cause a reasonable person after careful and thoughtful reflection to hesitate to act in the graver or more important matters of life.” I have heard judges state that such important matters include marriage and taking out a mortgage. Personally, I find this definition baffling. Does it mean that deciding which house to buy is similar to choosing a spouse? Or that you should weigh the pros and cons of guilt and decide which is sexier or cuter to you?

In California the “plain language” pattern jury pattern instructions are:

  • Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that leaves you with an
    abiding conviction that the charge is true. The evidence need not
    eliminate all possible doubt because everything in life is open to
    some possible or imaginary doubt.

This isn’t baffling so much as it is obscure and possibly inaccurate. In my opinion some things in life are not open to some possible or imaginary doubt: that night shall follow day is not open to doubt; that a person is dead is not subject to doubt. That a person is dead because he or she was murdered is subject to some doubt, but it isn’t some possible or imaginary doubt—it is a question subject to analysis of the evidence. The coroner has to find the cause and manner of death; the jury has to agree with the coroner’s opinion before finding a defendant guilty of murder.

Natola’s Stroke of Genius

Was attorney Natola’s successful argument in the Kathleen Hilton arson/murder trial the usual “reasonable doubt” case? Or did he also argue—as I believe defense attorneys always should—that there was a more reasonable theory of the crime than the prosecution’s?

Several times recently I have suggested that defense closing arguments should do more than simply poke holes in the prosecution. A good closing argument must do more than plead reasonable doubt.

Jurors want to know who really did it—just as we all do. And jurors need to know—at the very least—that someone else could have done it. And this is exactly what attorney Natola gave them, a reasonable alternative to his client’s guilt. A very reasonable alternative.

In his closing argument attorney Natola reminded the jury that Kathleen Hilton’s son, Charles Loayza actually threatened the victims with arson and actually said that he could burn the house “without getting his hands dirty.” Natola pointed out that this could reasonably be interpreted to mean that he was going to have someone else commit the crime for him while he set up an air-tight alibi.

Then, Natola went a step further (a step almost too far in my opinion, except that he won an acquittal), he pointed to two unidentified men with cell phones and a running car parked outside the burning house before 911 was called. He said they could have set the fire on Loayza’s behalf.

This was a masterful bit of rhetoric. Not only had Natola shredded the prosecution’s case (based on a very questionable confession and minimal evidence of arson), but he also gave the jury “a way out.” He gave them an alternative theory that was at least as reasonable as the prosecution’s.

The Boston Globe said:

  • Natola attributed her [Hilton’s] alleged statements to an effort to protect her son, Charles Loayza, who was in the middle of a custody fight with his girlfriend, Krystina Sutherland, and had threatened to burn down her house. He said Hilton fabricated her story because she believed her son, then 22 years old and a prime suspect, would go to prison. Police eliminated her son as a suspect after confirming his alibi.

I wonder if Natola’s approach would have worked in a state with a different definition of “reasonable doubt.” The jury was concerned enough about this definition to ask the judge to explain it to them during deliberations. A different definition might have caused them to react negatively to the “2 men in a car” theory, as I did initially. What I mean is, I found it improbable (unreasonable) that two men would commit an arson together and then stand in front of the building they had set on fire until someone saw them. I wondered if Natola might have gone a bit too far. Perhaps, I thought, he ought to have stopped with the accusation of Loayza of causing someone else to start the fire.

Of course, had he done so he would have risked having the jury say, “yes, he probably put his mother up to it.”

It was a clever—a brilliant—closing argument. But could he have made that same argument in California, for example, where the definition of reasonable doubt is different?

Aftermath of a Trial: A Juror’s Regrets

Yesterday  several CNN TruTV trial commentators interviewed jurors and witnesses in the Kathleen Hilton arson/murder trial. What these people said about the trial did not surprise me, even though commentator Jack Ford said many people were “stunned” by the verdict. In part, this is because I’ve been a juror on a panel whose verdict “stunned” someone (the judge); in part it’s because I know someone (at least one) who reminds me of Kathleen Hilton and I know other people who remind me of the prosecution witness whom commentators referred to as “the co-grandmother.”

Jurors in the Hilton case did not say they thought the defense proved Ms. Hilton’s innocence, only that the state did not prove her guilt. That is exactly as it should be.

Any conscientious juror hopes they will not live to regret their decision. Unfortunately the reality is that no verdict is regret-proof. If you reach a guilty verdict and have any nagging doubts—reasonable or not—you will forever wonder if you made a mistake and punished the wrong person. If you reach a not-guilty verdict, it means you do have reasonable doubts and you will forever wonder if you made a mistake and let a criminal go free. And if you can’t reach a verdict you will forever regret it—for many reasons.

I don’t think people understand this. Serving on a jury is highly stressful. Just look at the Hilton jury. During the trial, one juror expressed feeling as if she’d had enough, and she was dismissed. Another juror went to a bar where, over drinks, he expressed much the same feelings within hearing of the Clerk of the Court and so was called to the witness stand and questioned by the judge.

After the verdict, it was reported that Puerto Rican relatives of the victims of the fire blamed all of America for being racist because the jury was “all white,” as if the jury had no compassion for the dead. Imagine how stressful it must be to be called racist for reaching a verdict.

If I were a Hilton juror, I believe I would also have voted “not guilty” for several reasons: 1) the state failed to prove that the fire was in fact arson, 2) failed to prove that Ms. Hilton was the one who started the fire if it was arson, and 3) failed to prove that Ms. Hilton’s confession was not a false confession. (Frankly, I’m not sure Ms. Hilton knows truth from delusion and lies.)

I also believe that I would have serious regrets about sending Ms. Hilton out into the general population given her mental problems.

Here’s another disclaimer: I am not a psychologist (or a lawyer). I am a person who has known at least one person with a “schizoid personality” or a “borderline personality,” such as psychologists described Ms. Hilton as being. I have also known at least one person who has lived in fear of such individuals (as the so-called “co-grandmother” stated in the post-trial interview that her own daughter lives in fear of Ms. Hilton).

The law provides no shield from someone with severe mental problems. When restraining orders are available, they are no real shield. Such people don’t think the law applies to them. They can’t be restrained. The police may not even respond to a call to 911 to enforce a restraining order. In Ms. Hilton’s case, Findlaw seems to think that she should be entitled to grandparent visitation rights. If that is legally so, then the co-grandmother of Ms. Hilton’s grandchildren who were almost killed in the fire ten years ago has no recourse to protect her daughter and grandchildren from Ms. Hilton’s influence or contact.

The law provides no solutions for Ms. Hilton’s children, either. Apparently her oldest daughter and son-in-law have agreed to take in Ms. Hilton (who is indigent as well as mentally impaired) for awhile. I wonder if they might be able to take Ms. Hilton to court and have her declared incompetent. However, they would have to prove that she’s a danger to herself AND others: would the courts have to decide, though, that her acquittal disproves that?

And even if Ms. Hilton were declared incompetent and put into their guardianship, what would they do with her? Since a 1975 Supreme Court decision, it has been a violation of a person’s civil rights to confine them to a mental hospital against their will. Obviously, any involuntary confinement is a violation of civil rights—even confinement in a jail. However, it’s also a peculiar Catch 22. What I mean is that a mentally impaired individual does not have a “will” in the same way that a normal person does. A mentally impaired person may not want to be confined, but that doesn’t mean that confinement is inappropriate or even cruel. (Yes, I realize that confinement in mental institutions has sometimes been used maliciously.)

Ms. Hilton’s relatives and friends really have no options. She’s unlikely to want to remain in her daughter’s household forever—even if her daughter could afford to support her forever. She’s also unlikely to be able to make her way in the world. She’s near retirement age, but the Social Security System is unlikely to have much support to provide her, except basic Medicare and Medicaid. Even if she qualifies to live in a state-owned, Medicaid-supported nursing home, she probably won’t want to be confined there against her will. She might go back to “live in the woods,” as she reportedly did before she was arrested ten years ago.

I don’t have a solution. All I know is that Ms. Hilton’s angry, frightened “co-grandmother” has every right to feel that the justice system has failed her family, because they have no way to protect themselves from Ms. Hilton. However, it wasn’t the jury’s duty to solve the Kathleen Hilton problem. The jury’s duty was to make sure that the State of Massachusetts did not overstep its bounds in its desire to appear competent to identify the cause of a fire that killed five human beings.

I do not feel, though, that the justice system has failed the relatives of the murder victims, as they seem to think it did. Justice is blind, especially to victims and their families. Justice does not make right the wrongs that people do to each other. The justice system is designed to identify the most likely culprits in a crime, to ensure that the state has done due diligence in proving the identity of the culprits, and to remove criminals from society and punish them appropriately. Crime victims are on their own to come to terms with what has happened to them. As Pres. John F. Kennedy said, “Life isn’t fair.”

Kathleen Hilton Verdict: Massachusetts Reasonable Doubt

Judge Howard Whitehead gave the definition of “reasonable doubt” to the jurors in the Kathleen Hilton trial today, and the result was that the jury found that the state had not proved its case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In defining the term, the judge used the definition from “The Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Webster (1850).” (The wording is “modernized.”)

So, it sounds to me as if this MA definition is clear to jurors, whereas other definitions are, in my opinion, far from clear (such as the CA definition).

The use of the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt” was pretty much  “carved in stone” by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1970 “In Re Winship” decision. In that decision, Justice Brennan’s law clerk (whose identity I have not yet tracked down) cited McCormick’s textbook On Evidence as demonstrating that the phrase was in use and accepted in American courts by 1798.

I actually looked at McCormick’s On Evidence (the edition cited in the decision and earlier ones) and discovered that Prof. McCormick provides NO CITATIONS for his assertion that the phrase was in use by 1798.

Let me say this again: The phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt” is not documented to have been in general use in American courts by 1798.

So what? Well, the U.S. Supreme Court’s In Re Winship (1970) decision relies on the proximity of 1798 to the Constitution’s ratification as evidence of its Constitutional validity as the standard of proof.

Now—I’m not a lawyer and it’s not my job to correct the Supremes, but . . . –I sincerely hope that someone will look again at the “sanctity” of this phrase in jury instructions.

I have a lot more to say about the history of this phrase, including whether or not it was first used in the Boston Massacre Trial. But, for now, I am happy to know that Massachusetts, at least, has a definition of “beyond a reasonable doubt” that involves the phrase “a moral certainty” and “an abiding conviction.”

What Courts Think of Jurors: Why Do They Bother to Tell Us to “Not to Discuss” and to Withhold Judgment?

Today and yesterday in the Kathleen Hilton arson/murder trial jury issues have come up, as shown in CNN’s coverage. Yesterday, it was reported that the CNN soundman had engaged in a conversation with several jurors, and today the Clerk of the Court reported overhearing a conversation about the trial in a restaurant bar between a juror and two women.

In yesterday’s incident, Judge Howard Whitehead determined that the jurors had not discussed any opinions about the case. He was slightly concerned that the discussion (which referred to post-trial jury interviews and purchase of tapes of the proceedings) might suggest the jurors could be worried about the public perception of them.

In the end, the judge dismissed one juror because she did not seem to be feeling well enough to participate fully in the coming deliberations. She had been seen to nod off occasionally. He noted, though, that case law does not require a juror to be dismissed for nodding off during the proceedings. This struck me particularly, because I sat next to a juror who fell soundly asleep in the jury box and nearly fell on his face on the floor. I was shocked. I wondered if I should elbow him to wake him up. During a recess I asked the bailiff what I should have done. She told me to poke him, but I felt as if that wasn’t my responsibility and was possibly none of my business anyway.

In today’s incident, the judge referred to appellate decisions indicating the type of conversation the juror engaged in at the bar was not misconduct. Apparently, the MA appeals court once permitted a juror to post a note in an online forum with 900 members that he was ready to get it over with and find the defendant guilty. In the appeals case it was determined that “jurors are human” and some leeway must be allowed in pre-verdict statements.

I greatly admire Judge Howard Whitehead’s respectful treatment of the jury. He questions them with empathy. He trusts them to be objective. He also frequently asks questions of witnesses that I feel sure the jury must be wondering about. For example, he has expert witnesses clarify technical concepts.

What baffles me, though, is what is really considered to be juror misconduct. Judges constantly admonish jurors not to discuss the case with anyone under any circumstances until they go into deliberations. Judges also admonish jurors not to reach any conclusions until all the evidence has been presented. Why? Because a juror who has reached a conclusion by definition cannot deliberate. Yes, we’re human (an interesting fact of case law), and we decide who and what we believe at various times in a trial, but I thought a juror was supposed to be open to hearing the opinions of her fellow jurors. I thought we were supposed to withhold reaching a conclusion on guilt or innocence. It sounds as if, in MA at least, that isn’t true.

What Not to Wear for Jury Duty: Appropriate Attire and Bonding

Last month I came across a blogger who was headed to jury duty for the first time. She wrote a funny blog on courtroom fashion at DC Goodwill Fashion. (I wonder if she was selected for a jury.)

This issue of what not to wear for jury duty is quite interesting. A Google search of “blog what to wear for jury duty” produces 95,800 English listings, many of which focus on how to get out of jury duty by dressing inappropriately. The consensus seems to be that “business casual” is appropriate, so anything too casual or too formal or “fancy” is not.

However, these bloggers are jurors or prospective jurors. What really counts is what lawyers and judges think.

Anne Reed, an attorney in Milwaukee, posted this interesting take on the issue, including the (IMHO) “obnoxious” practice of jurors dressing alike as a sign of bonding. She also mentions some courts in which a specific dress code obtains.

Which leads me to this issue of jury bonding. One day in the jury deliberation room, one of the jurors described her real-life job, which was something like “keeping the stud book” for animals at a local zoo. This naturally led to some jokes and considerable laughter. Later, the bailiff came into the room and mentioned that our laughter could be heard in the courtroom, but that was OK because the judge liked it when “her jurors bonded.” OK, I know what is meant by that is that a copasetic group is more likely to reach a verdict than a fractured jury. 

But in the interests of justice, a fractured jury that reaches a verdict is more likely to have reached a consensus on the facts rather than based on common feelings and values. Shouldn’t the judge always be wary of too much bonding?

What do you think? I’d especially like to know what other lawyers, judges, and jury consultants think about both jury attire and jury bonding

Kathleen Hilton Trial: This Juror is Puzzled

CNN’s TruTV is broadcasting the arson trial of a grandmother named Kathleen Hilton. What I’ve seen of the broadcast puzzles me, and if I were a juror in this trial I would be dying to ask the judge some questions. The jury instructions in this case should be quite interesting.

1. How could this woman have been judged to be competent to assist in her own defense? In other words, why is she even on trial? Not only has she been said to have an I.Q. of only 71, but she also has been diagnosed as having a schizophrenic-type disorder. She is obviously disoriented in the courtroom. (Commentators say she sits cross-legged without shoes in her chair.)

2. Why did the prosecution charge this person with intentional homicide? Surely the jury instructions will emphasize “intent.” How can a jury find that she could form intent?

In 2004 the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the issue of I.Q. and capital crimes, in Tennard v. Dretke. This decision has long puzzled me. Apparently a 70 I.Q. is deemed “retarded.” In that case Tennard tested at 67. Given the unscientific nature of I.Q. testing, it seems to me that this line between retarded and normal is far from “bright.” Furthermore, even a relatively mentally retarded individual could be counseled to answer some questions incorrectly to make sure he or she “failed” the test. And a smart person could certainly intentionally fail the test.

Ms. Hilton, according to witness statements, has a 71 I.Q. How convenient for the prosecution that she has a 2 point “advantage” that permits her to be classified as normal!

This really seems to me to be a case that should never have come to court. If I were a juror, I would be perplexed and possibly irritated.

It’s another instance of the justice system failing American families. This case is all about families that can’t handle their most vulnerable and troubled members. Findlaw attributes this arson incident to a failure of grandparents’ rights! The defendant’s family seems to have a history of schizophrenia and abuse, criminal records, and poverty. Family courts and departments of family services have failed to solve this family’s problems or to provide them with the help they desperately needed.

Now a jury is being asked to make the Solomon-esque decision. I pity this jury.