To the editor:
Perspective and knowledge regarding the criminal justice system is generally limited to what the American public sees portrayed on television and at the movies. But when individuals or their loved ones are accused of or become victims of a violent crime, the reality of the system loses its Hollywood glamour in heartbreaking and frustrating inadequacies.Over the past week, I received my own firsthand experience with a system that promises "justice for all." As a jury member serving in the case of Utah vs. Edward Steven Deli, I walked out of the Coalville Courthouse on Tuesday evening frustrated, angry and disturbed that justice had not truly been served. Returning a verdict of guilty of murder in the second degree felt like a copout.
In seven felony counts, 12 jury members reviewed the instructions of the court and the evidence presented and came to a unanimous decision and found the defendant guilty of attempted murder, burglary, arson, theft, assault and two counts of kidnapping. But after hours of deliberation over two counts of first- degree murder, a disagreement regarding the interpretation of the court's instruction and regarding the validity and weight of the evidence against the defendant, the jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision of guilty or innocent.
But, instead of being declared a hung jury, the jury followed the court's instruction and examined evidence surrounding the lesser charge of second-degree murder. Jurors were immediately in agreement that the defendant participated in a felony that led to the deaths of Kaye Tiede and Beth Potts. But because many jury members still felt so strongly that the defendant was guilty not only of second-degree murder but also of first degree, the vote that would enable the jury to report to the court was delayed again and again in favor of further review of the evidence. After hours of discussion, it was clear that one juror would not find Deli guilty of first-degree murder regardless of how long the matter was reviewed and discussed. The vote was called. The verdicts on nine counts were delivered.
Deli was not found guilty of first-degree murder, but neither was he found innocent. I am increasingly disturbed that murder in the second degree was considered an alternative to murder in the first degree instead of a separate count. Deli should have been found either guilty or innocent of murder in the first degree. There must be a change in a law that requires a jury to accept an alternative to guilty or innocent.
There must also be a change in laws that allow one person to determine the outcome of the verdict. In the final phase of selecting a jury, both prosecution and defense are allowed to "strike" or "dismiss" a certain number of persons. A similar procedure should happen in the jury room. We live in a country where the voice of the people is to be heard. The requirement of a unanimous ruling belongs in another system of government. A democracy demands that the majority rule, not that one person should have the power to determine the verdict and thus overrule the judgment of 11 people.
The law says innocent until proven guilty. But I walked away from a trial this week knowing beyond a reasonable doubt that Deli was guilty of first-degree murder and that I had returned a verdict of a lesser charge.
Tamara D. Martinez