Breaking news: “Chalk Ghost” makes “Editors Pick”

My story, "Chalk Ghost," has just been chosen as an "Editors’ Pick" on That means it will be displayed on the TextNovel home page. If you "vote" for it, you’ll help the story become a "Most Popular Story" (I’ve got a long way to go).

"Chalk Ghost" is a paranormal mystery featuring the Hmongs of Wisconsin. It’s my first attempt at writing a serial–and the challenges are great. But it’s also quite exciting to receive instantaneous feedback from readers.

If you aren’t familiar with TextNovel, it’s an English-language website that’s trying to do what the Japanese have been doing for a couple of years–use cell phones as ebook readers. To read a story (such as "Chalk Ghost" on a cell phone (yes, even one with a tiny screen), navigate to . Set up a free account (using a PC browser, rather than your cell)–no credit card numbers are required. Then use your cell to access the website. Select one of the stories listed on the home page (mine, I hope), and then start reading. Each story begins with a description, followed by all the chapters available. If you subscribe to the story, you’ll receive an email alert when new chapters are added.

You can also read the story on from your PC and browser, if the idea of teeny, tiny screens is too awful to contemplate. It’s also available on Google Blogspot.


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Jury Spaghetti: recipe courtesy “The Godfather”

If I were a juror in a mob trial, I would share my recipe for spaghetti sauce with my fellow jury-sufferers. This recipe was inspired by Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (and I’ve always assumed the recipe Clemenza uses is really the director’s), but the one below is my own. After a post-college tour of Italy, back home where I could never find pasta “red” sauce that tasted authentic, I spent years developing this ambrosia.

Catherine Mambretti’s Authentic Northern Italian Spaghetti Sauce (not to be confused with Sicilian or Roman—see below)

Ingredients (amounts don’t count—use your intuition)

  • Italian sausage (turkey is best IMHO, but pork works well, too)
  • “some” olive oil
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 1 large can of peeled, chopped tomatoes
  • 1 medium chopped white or yellow onion
  • 1 large squashed, diced clove of garlic
  • 1 cup Chianti (or your favorite dry red)
  • 1 tbl sugar (this from The Godfather—sugar cuts the acidity of the tomatoes and enhances the flavors)
  • herbs: heavy on the oregano, basil, and anise seed (relative proportions are your choice, but I favor the basil and anise)
  • minimal salt (it isn’t healthy or necessary with all these spices)
  • minimal black pepper—if you like a bite to what you bite, use red pepper flakes to taste

Sicilian foods tend to include black olives. Avoid them in sauce—they end up like little bits of rubber. Roman and other more-Frankish sauces might include mushrooms. I’ve included mushrooms in this sauce, but after years of production, I’ve decided the texture just isn’t right.


Start at least 2 hours before meal time, or make a huge batch and freeze it. This recipe improves with age.

  1. Relieve the sausages of their “casings,” aka “skins” (disgusting). Crumble the sausage. Try not to think of the movie Fargo.
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil (extra virgin, in honor of the Corleone business).
  3. Smash and dice the garlic—throw it gracefully into the hot oil.
  4. Dice the onion—avoid gruesome amputations of your pinkies at this point. Throw the onion gracefully into the hot oil BEFORE the garlic browns.
  5. Add the crumbled Italian sausage to the hot pan. “Gray” the meat (as opposed to browning it—seared meat won’t absorb the flavors of the garlic and onion).
  6. The sausage shouldn’t produce much grease, especially if it’s turkey sausage, but even well-made pork sausage won’t be greasy. If your skillet seems to be greasy (in lieu of abandoning the effort) drain the excess grease. Spaghetti sauce IS NOT GREASY.
  7. Add the herbs NOW. Do not wait for the tomatoes and fluids. First add the anise seed. Let it sizzle awhile to release its oil. Then add oregano and basil “to taste.” (Don’t you hate that phrase? What I mean is add about a tablespoon of both to start—dried form. Add more if fresh.) Stir and distribute the aromatic flavors. Do NOT actually taste the sauce at this pointl.
  8. Add a tad of sea salt and few shakes of red pepper. Stir and sauté briefly.
  9. Diced, watery tomatoes go next. Schmush them around.
  10. The tomato paste goes next. Clean the can by pouring in some of the Chianti and stirring. Then pour the mixture into the sauce.
  11. Stir thoroughly.
  12. Add the rest of the Chianti—or even more, if you wish. The alcohol burns off.
  13. Use a fork to break up the largest bits of sausage. (I think a real Italian cook might actually process the sauce in a food-processor at the end of this, but I’m lazy and I don’t mind a moderately chunky, slightly chewy sauce. Furthermore, the smaller the chunks of meat, the more apt they are to absorb the many flavors you’ve added.)
  14. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover.
  15. Periodically break up the sausage chunks and add your favorite flavorings: wine, herbs, spices.

As Alton Brown says, “Just walk away.” (Good advice for all prospective jurors, too.)

I would let this sauce simmer for at least an hour. During this hour, check it often. Taste it by dipping a chunk of bread into it. Add salt, sugar, and herbs if you long for some flavor that you aren’t detecting in the sauce. Add more wine—“to taste.”

Don’t let the liquid level fall too low. This isn’t “sausage on spaghetti,” it’s a sauce. You need a fair amount of “red sauce” to coat the spaghetti noodles when you serve the dish. You can simply add water occasionally and stir.

The sauce (throughout this process) should remain thick. If it gets watery, raise the heat and boil off the liquid. Do NOT add any thickener, such as corn starch or flour. No! Just say No.

The Noodles

This is tricky. The noodles MUST be “al dente.” That doesn’t mean “crunchy.” It means “not mushy.” Test frequently. The time required for cooking depends on the diameter of the spaghetti noodles. If you’re not Italian (or a novice), check the noodles after 4 minutes, 5 minutes, and no later than 8 minutes.

Add olive oil to the water pot before it boils, in order to coat the noodles and prevent them from clumping together. Also add salt to lower the boiling point and to flavor the noodles—but only a little. (Stop consuming so much salt! You’d be surprised how much better things taste with less than 2000 milligrams of salt per day.)

If you serve the noodles as soon as they are done, drain them. If you have to wait a few minutes, run cold water over them to cool them and prevent them from continuing to cook (the hot sauce will warm the servings). Some people feel compelled to toss the noodles in butter. OK, but the Italians don’t.

Express Yourself!

Spaghetti sauce is like an aria. Everyone sings it differently. My only advice is that you avoid the temptation to make the sauce taste like tomatoes or the noodles to “crunch” like worms. My mother made wormy spaghetti. I had to relearn what it means to eat spaghetti.

Twirl or Slurp?

The Roman style of spaghetti eating is to twirl the noodles on a fork and then consume the neat package. The rest of Italy lets it all hang out. They even slurp like the Asians. Both are “proper.” Just don’t break up the noodles with your fork and try to stab them. Why? My bias.

Slurping is good. Dangling the noodles into your mouth from on high is good. Laughing at yourself as you do it is best.

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Sandra Cantu and “Missing Children’s Day, May 25”

Ellen Furhman of Tracy, CA, contacted me after reading one of my blog posts about using the British approach to CCTV to help keep a watchful eye on children. She and a friend are organizing “Missing Children’s Day” and may pursue some of my ideas. Here is some of what she wrote:

  • “A friend of mine is organizing an event on Missing Children’s Day, May 25th, in a park in Tracy. Attending will be the Polly Klass Foundation, Sandra Levy’s dad, a couple of public office holders, search & rescue groups, search dogs, the police & fire departments, etc, speaking or having demonstrations (fingerprinting, dogs searching for kids throughout the day, search & rescue gear.) She will be writing to Governor Schwarzenneger and asking him to include a mention of our event when he makes a declaration about National Missing Children’s Day. It is not a money-making event, just informative, and a way for Tracyites to, again, show our support to the family and friends of Sandra Cantu, and the 17 year-old boy who was recently found held captive and tortured in Tracy for a year.”

I wish them great success. Please help spread the word.

One idea I suggested to Ms. Fuhrman was finding a way to enhance the Amber Alert systems already in place with what might be called a directory or database of privately owned surveillance cameras, which owners would permit local authorities to use during an Amber Alert crisis.

Here’s how it might work:

  1. Private citizens with surveillance cameras placed around their property (both residential and commercial) would voluntarily register their cameras for use in an alert.
  2. Local police stations would broadcast recorded phone messages to the community during an alert (as some already do). For example, a local police department recently robo-called my house when a child was reported missing, describing the child and where he was last seen, then giving the number to call if anyone had any information.
  3. When someone has a surveillance camera in the area where the child was last seen, they would contact the police and turn over relevant surveillance images.

I wonder if something like this might not already be available on toll roads and highways in some states. Currently in Illinois, roads with electronic signage display Amber Alert information about abductors’ vehicles and license plate numbers. In addition, the Illinois Dept. of Transportation (IDOT) is installing an extensive network of surveillance cameras to watch for accidents so emergency vehicles can be deployed rapidly. It should be possible to add these cameras to the Amber Alert system, too.

Let’s make little Sandra Cantu the last child we have to watch skipping happily into the off-camera arms of a monster.

Are All Black-Widow Killers Stupid?

Recently I saw an episode of “Snapped” on the Oxygen Channel that discussed a Tennessee nurse who was convicted of murder in the 1980s. I’m unclear about the details. I wasn’t paying much attention at the time. But I think she tried to poison her lover’s wife with an overdose of drugs, and when that didn’t work she staged the woman’s gunshot suicide.

This is extraordinarily reminiscent of the charges against Tennessee nurse, Raynella Dossett-Leath. Ms. Dossett-Leath is accused of plying her husband with barbiturates sufficient to kill most people and, failing that, of staging his gunshot suicide. She’s also under indictment for murdering her first husband by plying him with morphine and, I suppose failing that, of causing cattle to trample him to death.

And both cases are reminiscent of the Hope Schreiner case. Ms. Schreiner, as far as I know, wasn’t a nurse, but nonetheless she was convicted of murdering her husband. She was said to have tried to poison him with an overdose of some sort of sleeping pills and, failing that, she bludgeoned him to death with an unnamed garden tool that was never found.

My first question about the latter two cases is this: Why would anyone who was a potential beneficiary of a spouse’s life insurance stage the spouse’s suicide death? Life insurance does not pay off in the event of a suicide. In the Dossett-Leath case, the fact that the accused is a nurse suggests to me that she would have some familiarity with cases of suicide and the insurance problems associated with that manner of death. (In fact, the indictment for her first husband’s murder, I believe, is predicated on the idea that she wanted to collect on her husband’s accidental-death insurance.) In the Schreiner trial (recently replayed on TruTV) one of the prosecution witnesses testified that Schreiner told her she wanted her husband’s insurance money.

So, staging a suicide when you’re a beneficiary is pretty stupid.

My second question concerns the idea of murdering someone with an overdose of sleeping pills or barbiturates.  In the first nurse’s case, she must not have known much about dosages or her attempt at poisoning would have succeeded. In the Schreiner case, assuming she has no nursing training, it makes a little more sense that she would underestimate a fatal dose. But both indicate something missing of an intellectual nature.

The dosage in the Dossett-Leath case is equally puzzling, but apparently not stupid. According to the prosecution’s experts, the amount of barbiturates found in the victim’s blood was sufficient to kill a normal man. The medical examiner testified that, in fact, if he had consumed the dose the night before, he would never have woken up. If this is so, then why did Ms. Dossett-Leath decide to wake him up in the morning so she could shoot him?

Hmm. Something pretty dumb going on here.

Is it possible that none of these three women actually tried to poison anyone with prescription drugs? Could it be that all three victims took the drugs themselves? Is it possible that investigators and prosecutors really believe the ancient myth that “poison is a woman’s weapon”?

The Jury is Investigated in the “Black Widow” Dossett-Leath Trial

About two weeks ago, the prosecutor in the Raynella Dossett-Leath murder trial asked the judge to investigate one of the members of the jury that “hung.” I’ve written before about the issue of public perceptions of hung juries. I truly believe the term “hung” refers to what most people would like to do to a juror who votes against the majority in a high-profile murder trial.  I recommend that prospective jurors read this page from (Knoxville News Sentinel), if you doubt there are risks to serving on a jury.

I’m truly frightened by the public vitriol directed against both the defendant and the jury in this case. Take a look at the comments submitted to the above webpage. Doesn’t this sound like a “change of venue” situation?

Not only is the public convinced Ms. Dossett-Leath is guilty of murdering her second husband, they’re convinced she murdered her first husband, too. Then there’s the fact that the county prosecutor in this case had to step aside because of a conflict of interest. (Why didn’t his conflict of interest prohibit him from indicting this woman? Or maybe the same “special prosecutor” who handled the trial also led the grand jury, too.) Even a probate judge has prohibited Ms. Dossett-Leath from inheriting her husband’s estate on the grounds that you can’t profit from a crime (in this case a murder that may be a suicide and certainly is not a crime for which Ms. Dossett-Leath has been convicted).

Fortunately, last Thursday, Judge Baumgartner declared the jury investigation closed. He found there was no juror misconduct. It’s interesting to note that this WBIR blog post also states that Ms. Dossett-Leath is accused of killing two husbands and has what must be a mugshot as well. The rhetorical purpose is clear.

Jury Nullification or Just Bafflement

Lawyers and judges seem to worry a lot about “jury nullification.” From what I’ve read and heard, legal types think that not-guilty verdicts in some trials are a jury’s way of saying they either disagree with the law or they like the defendant and wish to excuse him. I wonder: did the jury excuse Brandon Craig because they liked him or because they had no reason to dislike him?

An example of the first sort of verdict might be (hypothetically) a federal prosecution of a cancer patient who distributes marijuana to fellow sufferers. Marijuana distribution is illegal in the United States, even though some states, such as California, have legalized it for medical purposes. If a federal jury in California found such a defendant not guilty, lawyers would call that “jury nullification” (of the federal law). In my opinion—and I am not a lawyer—this is a perfect example of a verdict that rightly ought to be called “jury nullification.”

An example of the second sort of verdict was O.J. Simpson’s acquittal in his 1995 murder trial. I, however, doubt that Simpson’s public persona as a good guy had much to do with the verdict, and even if it did I don’t think it’s right to categorize an acquittal of a sympathetic defendant as “jury nullification.” What would be “nullified”? Certainly not a law. I suppose it might be nullification of an indictment.

The O.J.Simpson verdict, in my non-legal opinion, was caused by prosecution failures (they baffled the jury with technical mumbo-jumbo and endless “prior bad acts”) and by the jury’s distrust of the witnesses (especially Vanatter and Furman).

Which leads me to my “recurring theme”—namely, that trial lawyers need to tell a good story to the jury. (Marcia Clark told a long-winded, confusing story in the Simpson murder trial.)

The prosecution in the Brandon Craig murder trial made the same mistake Marcia Clark did as regards the witnesses against Craig (they weren’t trustworthy), but they also made another mistake that I’ve been mulling over. I think I’ve finally put my finger on.

Brandon Craig was not the villain of the prosecution’s story. In fact, Brandon Craig was not even a character in the prosecution’s story.

“That’s ridiculous!” you say. “He was the defendant. He was named in the indictment. Three witnesses said they saw him pull the trigger.”

“Yes,” I respond. “But if you discount the three eye-witnesses as completely untrustworthy, then Brandon Craig was not present in the prosecution’s case.”

Compare this to the Simpson prosecution for a moment. Other than the police investigators who testified to the way they found blood evidence and a bloody glove, only one other witness had anything to say that might indicate Simpson was out roaming around in the dark that night—the limo driver. The defense destroyed the credibility of two of the detectives (Vanatter and Furman) by demonstrating not only their bias but that they had the opportunity to plant incriminating evidence. So, once the jury dismissed the blood evidence and the glove, all that remained of the prosecution’s story was a limo driver who said he had seen an African-American man enter the Simpson residence late that night. (That’s not exactly damning when the residence was O.J. Simpson’s).

In the Brandon Craig trial, if the jury decided the three eye-witnesses weren’t credible, what other evidence did the prosecution present that had anything whatsoever to do with Brandon Craig?

I can’t think of a single shred of evidence. No young people who attended a party that night recalled seeing Brandon Craig there. Many of them didn’t even know who he was. The defense presented several witnesses who said Craig was “absent” (my word) from various relationships and places involved in the crime. The prosecution didn’t even present biographical information about Craig (age at the time of the crime? high-school grad? planning for a career? part-time employment?).

What sort of evidence would I have wanted to hear, if I had been a juror in the Craig trial?

Evidence that:

  • he was a New Mexico resident and where he lived (close enough to the crime scene?)
  • he had graduated from a local high school and could have known any of the witnesses or victims
  • he was ever seen in the company of any of the witnesses or victims
  • he was part of the drug scene in the community
  • he was known to have guns
  • he sold drugs to anyone in the community even once
  • he had no visible means of support (other than alleged drug dealing)
  • he had friends or associates who were known to deal in illegal drugs or guns
  • he had any predisposition to violence, such as episodes in high school of bullying people

In fact, I can’t remember any character evidence about him of any kind. Since I’m not a lawyer I could be wrong about character evidence, but it seems to me that the prosecution can present witnesses who have publicly (as opposed to secretly) been threatened by a defendant.

But the prosecution focused exclusively on the three eye-witnesses and all their character flaws. For some reason, they did not subpoena the father of one of the eye-witnesses (“Rick”) who was alleged to have helped his son dispose of the murder weapon. This was only one of the many “narrative gaps” in the prosecution’s case.

One gap a storyteller can never leave up to the audience’s imagination is who the hero is and who the villain is. You don’t even have a story to tell if you don’t tell your audience something about the villain.

The prosecution of Brandon Craig forgot to tell the jury who he was.

Hate Crimes Legislation

Congress is preparing a federal hate-crimes bill—and as usual they’re going about it all wrong.

I realized why I’ve always had a bit of a problem with hate-crimes laws through watching parts of the Allen Andrade murder trial. Until then I was abulic about the issue (yes, that’s a real word, even though my spell-checker thinks it isn’t). On the one hand, I could have argued for hate-crime laws to protect minorities, or on the other I could have argued that laws don’t deter crimes, so hate-crime laws are useless and even possibly unenforceable (to the extent that a prosecution would have to prove motive when, in most cases, that isn’t necessary).

The Andrade trial showed me that hate-crimes legislation can have a purpose, however. At the very least such laws can see to it that the bad guys have no wiggle room in court and are severely punished for their crimes. However, the Andrade trial also showed that the way most hate-crime laws are written, they aren’t effective and they are also possibly a type of “thought police” legislation. (In other words, the types of victims are chosen for political rather than practical reasons. Children and women, for example, aren’t included. One Congressman wants the military to be included, and having lived through the aftermath of the Viet Nam War, I see some logic to that.)

So, before I stick my foot too far in my mouth, I’m going to explain how I think hate-crime laws ought to be constructed and used.

Categories of Victims and Victimizers

By their nature crimes against certain types of victims are more heinous than crimes against other types of victims, because certain types of victims are more vulnerable or completely helpless: children, the disabled, and the elderly. (I’m going to exclude women for the time being.)

By their nature, acts committed by certain types of victimizers are more heinous than acts committed by others. These acts are crimes. For example, a drunk driver who kills someone with his/her vehicle is a criminal, but a sober, careful driver who kills someone with his/hers is said to have been involved in an accident. The sober person may be liable but is not a criminal.

But Justice Is Blind

Traditionally, laws do not take into account the type of victim. Only a few aspects of law take into account the type of victimizer—for example, repeat offenders may be given harsher punishments than other criminals.

It seems to me that hate-crime laws are a way of recognizing the special-vulnerability of certain types of people. Certain types of victims are liable to be the targets of crime more often than other types of victims (and we can all become a victim—make no mistake of that). This is because of hatred directed against “what” they are rather than “who” they are.

For example, racial and religious minorities are apt to be targeted for crime.

Because these vulnerable types of people are more often targets of crime, hate-crime laws are rightly enacted to designate crimes against them as a special class of crime—”rightly” in most instances. Take vandalism as an example: as we approach high-school graduation season, some of my neighbors are going to have their yards vandalized with rolls of toilet paper. This is not a hate crime and shouldn’t be. It should be a simple misdemeanor, I suppose. But when a Jewish cemetery is desecrated, this is a hate crime and should be punished more harshly than any other sort of vandalism.

In other words, I think hate-crime laws should be designed to intensify the punishment, not to create a whole new class of laws, which is what Congress seems to be trying to do.

Consider the Seattle murder trial of Naveed Haq. Haq was charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder. His defense was insanity (in other words he was incapable of forming intent to kill because of insanity). The trial ended in a hung jury. In effect, the defense succeeded in convincing some jurors that Haq’s state of mind made it impossible for him to commit first-degree murder.

At the time, I wrote that he ought to have been charged with terrorism, because he was Moslem and targeted a Jewish group. Now I wonder if a hate-crime law that made second-degree bias-motivated murder the equivalent of first-degree murder for purposes of punishment would have produced a guilty verdict. No defendant could fall back on an insanity defense in a case where motivation and premeditation aren’t at issue.

Murder Is Always a Hate Crime

Hate-crime laws should provide an enhancement to the punishment available to judges in violence against persons.

Bias-motivated murder should be dealt with as second-degree murder punishable as first-degree murder so that no murderer (e.g., Andrade) can plead guilty to second-degree murder in order to avoid the most severe punishments. In other words, hate-crime laws should not cover murder, attempted murder, and assault in the way they cover other crimes.

Why? Mainly because I don’t think a jury should be asked to read minds and decide whether the type of hate a defendant evinced by committing a murder was biased hatred or just plain-old personal animus.

It isn’t fair to the jury—or to the defendant—or even to the victim. It’s actually rather dehumanizing to the victim. If I were the victim of a violent assault I wouldn’t want to have to go into court and claim I’m especially vulnerable or a minority or anyTHING but a human being.

Andrade Trial

The Colorado statute and the prosecutor charged Andrade with a hate crime in order to increase the chances of a first-degree murder conviction and a maximum sentence. I understand that. But if the hate-crime statute had been properly written, Andrade wouldn’t have had the luxury of claiming second-degree, unpremeditated murder in the first place. Here’s my logic: If the Colorado law defined bias-motivated, unpremeditated murder as first-degree murder (not simply premeditated), then Andrade couldn’t have claimed that it was second-degree, unpremeditated murder (as he did), without also claiming he had no bias against transgender people. Since he expressed bias against Zapata (by calling her “it”) he wouldn’t have had a case at all.

The Andrade case has so many possible combinations and permutations of the possible source(s) of Andrade’s rage that it’s impossible to know—IMHO—whether or not it was a bias-motivated crime. And I suppose that’s at the heart of my concerns about federal hate-crime legislation.

Bias is in the mind—and I cringe at the thought of Congress making any thoughts illegal.

Jury Duty: Too funny, too typical, too true

Thanks to the wonders of Google Alerts I found this highly amusing and just-a-tad too informative description of jury duty in New York City. Ever wonder why CNN and TruTV don’t cover NY trials live? This may be the reason: Hicks in New York (and I don’t think the “hicks” in the title refers to the blogger). Be sure to read all three day’s worth: Take 1, Take 2, Take 3.

Colorado Bias-Motivated Crimes

Colorado criminal statute 18-9-121 is “Bias-Motivated Crimes,” not “hate-crimes” and with good reason. Hate is an emotion that can be directed at a single individual as well as a group. A criminal may cause harm to an individual because of hatred and anger. And, frankly, I suspect it was individual hatred against Ms. Zapata that caused Allen Andrade to kill her—not bias.

The Colorado law reads in part: “A person commits a bias-motivated crime … with the intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation …

Evidence presented at the Andrade trial could be taken to show either that Andrade was biased against transgender persons or that he was simply enraged at the victim.

I believe Andrade’s public defenders made a mistake when they failed to present evidence of what Andrade knew or thought he knew about Zapata, instead of presenting incomplete and weak evidence that Andrade believed Zapata was female.

To clarify, the jury heard testimony about Andrade’s online activities. The jury knew that Andrade participated in the bisexual pages at a social networking site and that he attempted to delete all records of this. This left the jury to decide whether Andrade was stalking transgender and bisexual persons in order to harm them or that he was himself bisexual or that he was looking to hook up with a bisexual women in order to participate in some “alternative” sexual activity such as three-way sex with two women.

The defense completely failed to counter this evidence. When coupled with Andrade’s repeated references to his victim as “it” during jailhouse conversations, the jury was free to conclude that Andrade hated all transgender persons, was stalking Zapata, and was trying to cover up his crime, not his personal sexual interests.

Ironically, if Andrade’s defense had presented information that he was either bisexual or interested in sex with bisexual women they might have succeeded in convincing the jury that he “just snapped.”

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Swift versus Deliberate Justice

The Andrade verdict was reached in about two hours of deliberations. The verdict was appropriate, in my opinion. But aren’t deliberations supposed to be deliberate, that is, supposed to take a little time?

The deliberation process has puzzled me since I served on a criminal jury. Much like the Andrade trial, that trial involved a defendant who was obviously guilty of something. Unlike Andrade, though, he pled NOT GUILTY to everything. Like the Andrade jury, “my” jury knew from the moment we began that we were going to vote guilty on several counts. Unlike the Andrade jury, though, we agonized over one count. And even though we agonized, we still reached a verdict in only about two hours.

Is two hours long enough to deliberate about any important decision, let alone a person’s liberty?

The word “deliberate” means not only “consider” but also “to take care” and “be unhurried.” (I should also note that most legal definitions of first-degree murder do not use the word “deliberate” (as an adjective) but “knowingly” and “with intent” and sometimes with “forethought.” In other words, first-degree murder can be “hurried.” LexLaw’s definition uses “deliberately,” meaning “intentionally.” The length of time required to form intent “just depends,” though.)

In “my” case, I’ve been haunted by the realization that there were several issues about which we should have deliberated but did not. Why? And why did the Andrade jury, which had a much more complex case than we did, why did they conclude within two hours that the defendant not only committed first-degree murder but also a hate crime? I think I know (and it isn’t that they just wanted to go home).

Juries are instructed to deliberate but not how to deliberate.

The Andrade Verdict

I heard the judge read some of the instructions to the Andrade jury. What I heard sounded typical. The focus of jury instructions, such as those, is on the counts charged against the defendant, with the most-serious (harshest) listed first. If “lesser and included” charges are listed, they follow directly upon the charge from which they are derived.

So, in the Andrade trial, the written jury instructions listed the charges as something like this:

  • First-degree murder

    • Second-degree murder
    • Second-degree murder with provocation
    • Manslaughter

  • Hate-motivated crime
  • Grand theft auto
  • Identity theft (credit card theft)

Each of these counts, however, is spelled out in great deal, using language drawn from the state statutes, and written in legalese with numerous subordinate clauses. As a juror, you have to be able to “diagram the sentences” to figure out what the instructions mean.

Jury instructions are very explicit about the order in which these counts are to be considered. You have to begin at the top and work your way down. So, the Andrade jurors had to start with first-degree murder before they considered the hate-motivated crime charge.

This simply isn’t logical. How can you consider first-degree murder without believing there was a motive for the crime? If the crime were motive-less it would be impossible to form knowing intent (whether or not you were sane).

The evidence was overwhelming that it was first-degree murder. Remember: the jury saw the crime-scene photos. As I understand the evidence, it was clear from the victim’s head wounds that Andrade had intentionally killed her. He struck her repeatedly and smashed her skull extraordinarily brutally. The act took more than a few seconds. He had time to stop before he killed her. He also intentionally chose the heaviest object he could find to use as a weapon. This is a classic first-degree murder.

His actions after the murder also supported the first-degree murder count. He tried to evade capture—a sign that he knew he was guilty.

Even though a jury is instructed not to consider the punishment when reaching a verdict, in the Andrade case it was apparent that it was not a capital murder case. Jurors knew it. They were not “death-penalty qualified” during voir dire. This had the effect, I believe, of making it easier for them to reach a guilty verdict on first-degree murder: in other words, it was as if the judge and prosecutor were signaling to them that it would be OK to disregard the lesser charges.

Then, by the time the Andrade jury reached the hate-crime count, they had already decided that the crime was hate-motivated. Everything about the trial had been couched in sexual terms. Even the defense had said that sexuality was at the core of the defendant’s rage. What’s more, the tapes of the defendant after his arrest were filled with ugly remarks about the victim (the defense really ought to have kept those out of evidence; it was a mistake to think they supported second-degree murder).

Deliberations Should Be Deliberate

In “my” case, much the same thing happened. There were three charges: 1) aggravated kidnapping, 2) aggravated sexual assault, and 3) attempted sexual assault. We had to consider the kidnapping charge first (and this was what we agonized over). The other two charges were a foregone conclusion, which we felt no need to discuss (although these are the charges that now haunt me).

With no instruction on how to deliberate, we didn’t feel obliged to consider several important aspects of the evidence, especially a highly questionable confession in which a Spanish-speaking defendant confessed to aggravated sexual assault.

The tone of the whole trial, including statements of the public defender, led us to conclude we really were there to rubber-stamp the charges. No one seemed to expect us to take our time reaching a verdict. It was a Friday afternoon (I’m now convinced the judge planned it that way so we wouldn’t deliberate seriously). (The judge subsequently lost her endorsement by the Chicago Bar Association, BTW. So there is some justice in Chicago, after all.)

Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not criticizing the Andrade jury. They did the best they could under the circumstances, and they reflected the standards of their community—as juries are supposed to do.

However, I do think the hate-crime charge may not have been proven by the evidence presented in the trial. This may be simply my misunderstanding of the rationale behind hate-crimes legislation, or it may be that I didn’t hear all the testimony.

I plan to write more about this issue of deliberations. I’m inclined to think juries should be educated about how to deliberate. This could be accomplished through a better juror handbook than most states offer, or through a video. I realize the development of such materials could be highly problematic, but I spent many years developing training materials, and I know it can be done. I even know the effectiveness of such training materials can be reasonably well tested for efficacy.

To be continued . . . .