Larry Jordan

Everyone is related, and everything is connected.

A Life for a Life

Nov 05, 2022 by Larry Jordan, in Politics
Last month, I spent a week on a jury in a criminal trial. The charge was murder, and the jury rendered a guilty verdict and a life sentence.

I have had the privilege of serving on several juries, and whenever I serve, I come away with a better appreciation for our criminal justice system. Somehow, twelve people selected at random can engage in civil discussions and arrive at reasonable solutions. Most of the jury members take the job really seriously, and they are diligent, fair, and respectful. (I know that many people have had some bad experiences, but I have had several good experiences with juries.)

This trial had a lot of graphic evidence and sordid testimony -- addiction, domestic abuse, insurance fraud, prostitution, strangulation, wife-swapping, etc. These days, everything is documented with body cameras, electronic records, Facebook posts, phone records, text messages, and surveillance videos, so instead of hearing a lot of "he said, she said," the jury can "roll the tape." The defendant installed cameras in his house, so his actions were well-documented. 

The defendant was a serial abuser, and there were many people -- family, friends, medical professionals, police officers, psychiatrists, violence counselors -- who tried to protect the victim over a number of years. Many of them were young people who did not have the experience they needed to handle the situation. Still, they arranged escapes, filed police reports, requested welfare checks, and (ultimately) testified in a murder trial, despite some witness intimidation.

It was relatively easy to reach a verdict, because the evidence was overwhelming and the witnesses were credible. Surprisingly, it was relatively difficult to impose a sentence. The State did not seek the death penalty, so the sentencing range was five years to life, and parole could halve the time served.

We were asked to consider rehabilitation, punishment, and deterrence aspects, in imposing a sentence. In the end, the jury decided that this defendant was so opportunistic, so predatory, and so violent that he would be a threat to society at any age, at any time. Several jurors believed that the defendant would likely still wreak emotional and financial havoc on other women, even from prison, but he would not be able to kill any other women there.

There are not many times in our lives when we are faced with such momentous decisions. A good friend who recently read my book pointedly asked me, "What will you do when you come face-to-face with evil? Your book is all about connection and relationship, which is all well and good. Who would disagree, but what will you do when you meet a bad guy in a dark alley?" Great question. The murder trial was a good reality check.

Spirituality is all about head and heart. In the Buddhist tradition, that means compassion and wisdom. In the Christian tradition, that means justice and mercy. In the Hindu tradition, that means devotion and knowledge. From a "God's eye" view, where the broadest interests of the most people are considered, concepts like justice and mercy are murky in the abstract, but they are much clearer in the harsh light of reality.

Weeks after the trial, I still have nightmares about abusers and predators. I do not have any second thoughts about the sentence or the verdict, and I will never forget the victim or the many people who tried to save her or the many people who tried to see that justice was done for her.