I’m still shaking off the stupor of a sunny weekend spent decompressing by the pool, and a Father’s Day filled with family, when the defense calls its last witness – the defendant himself. Dressed in an outfit that seems two sizes too large for his frame, he is all but swallowed up in a billowy white dress shirt, baggy khakis, and dress shoes in which he doesn’t seem the slightest bit comfortable. In such ill-fitting clothes he looks more like a boy playing dress-up than a young man, but it is a stipulated fact that he has killed someone. The only question that remains is to his intent.
After watching and studying his profile for a week, we finally get to hear him speak. For each answer, even a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, he leans forward to speak audibly into the microphone, the leather witness chair squeaking with every motion. It is the rest of his life on the line – he’s already taken the victim’s. We listen to determine what his motivation was. It is far from an exact science. There are few, if any, absolutes.
My mind jumps to the jury room and the deliberation ahead. I don’t know about anyone else, but this will not be an easy decision for me to make. The fact that New York State doesn’t employ a death penalty offers only the slightest of solace. I think of this as the defendant recounts his history with the victim.
Most of us grew up with a person or two we might consider an enemy or adversary – someone who rubbed us the wrong way, someone we knew we’d never get along with, no matter what. Some work to avoid that person at all costs, steering clear of any potential conflicts or run-ins by ignoring and leaving them alone. Some choose to engage and antagonize, poking and prodding at the problem until it comes to some sort of head. I’ve done a little of each over the years. It’s never ended in death.
Is that what happened here? Did it just get momentarily out of hand, at the entirely wrong moment? I don’t know. I will never know.Back to Blog