27 November 2006

Ramblings: The second degree

Excuse me while I ramble...

When you're driving to our place in South Huntington from the highway, you get off at the exit for route 110; the sign at the exit reads "Amityville|Huntington." I.e. when I'm going home, the inverse of my trip is that to Amityville. We're opposite sides of the spectrum. The strange thing about it is that "amity" means "peaceful relations, as between nations; friendship" and yet the town is best known for this. After last week, Amityville will now mean Terrell Gray shot Danielle Baker in what is probably just a drop in the bucket of senseless death in this universe and yet the one which I feel most closely bound to.

This was the case in which I served on the jury for in one of the more interesting and intense experiences I've had in my short adult life. The whole thing was so incredibly cinematic: the wildest reality show; a pedestrian episode of CSI: Suffolk County; courtroom drama. It was a drama born out of tension between class, race, generation and culture; where groups of people are easily bagged and tagged but individuals must be considered one at a time. Layers of persona unfolded over the course of the week and it was the small details that made some of the most memorable bits.

The gist of this case was that an 18-year-old "man" fired a gun through a window into a dark, crowded room, killing an innocent 14-year-old girl. It was the ultimate in random worlds colliding. The man was 20+ minutes from his own town of Ronkonkoma, a good 3 or 4 years too old for the kids at that party, guzzling Hennessey out of a coffee cup instead of Sierra Mist from a can, 9mm in his pocket. The girl was quintessential innocent victim -- smart, involved, well-liked, too good to ever, ever, ever be in a situation where random gunfire should find her neck, splitting her jugular on the way out her shoulder. Unfortunately for Mr Gray, despite his best efforts to run, to cover up the crime, going so far as to burn his clothing in a metal drum on the side of his house and to implore his no-less-shady friends not to be "snitches" the house where he committed this crime happened to be outfitted with surveillance cameras which caught the whole thing on videotape. Indeed, the case seemed over before it began as his defense was simply that he was too drunk for his actions to be described as "depraved" (necessary for the charge of Murder 2 to stick) and that manslaughter was the correct diagnosis. The fact of the matter was, there was no testimony to the effect that he was intoxicated. Sure, he was drinking, probably smoking weed as well, but there was little doubt, especially with the video evidence on hand, that he acted with a depraved indifference toward human life. He shot back into the crowded room from which he had just came. In fact, there were voices shouting at him through the window: "fuck the Browns" "you pussy" -- there was little doubt he was shooting at those voices.

Just who the fuck the Browns are is anyone's guess. Apparently some gang loosely related to the Bloods and the dudes and/or dudettes doing the shouting were affiliated or friendly with the Deuces who may or may not be loosely affiliated with the Crips. Like, WTF? Bloods vs. Crips. Layers. The trial never got around to fully exploring that space. There were 3 or 4 distinct clusters of witnesses who seemed loosely intertwined at best. We got intimately detailed glimpses of the law enforcement -- the officers, the detectives, the crime scene investigators, the medical examiner, the expert trace analysis guy, DNA testing, the video expert, and of course the Assistant District Attorneys plodding through each witness, putting all the pieces together.... Basically, they all served to describe the obvious since nothing was really in contention. Terrell Gray shot a bullet through that window. He killed a little girl. He ran. But, it was all in the details, always the beautiful details. This is the stuff that makes Law and Order a can't miss, CSI, CourtTV, etc. etc. etc. It was all there in real life and utterly fascinating.

The most interesting aspect were the witnesses at the party. A motley mix of 14, 15 and 16 year olds. Some obviously on the wrong side of moral clarity and perhaps the right side of the illicit drug economy. Each had their own perspective on the evening and their stories fit together like some ill-conceived jigsaw puzzle, contradicting each other while daintily pirouetting around any mention of gangs and/or gang members. The testimony was like Long Island's own Rashomon (never seen it? classic... Netflix that shit immediately) with the basic shell of the story intact from person to person, but those details!! At one point a witness came up that was quite obviously the twin brother of a previous witness... both convicted felons and both placing a distinct piece of the puzzle in its place. Tarantinoesque. You couldn't make this shit up!

In the end, all that really mattered was that there was no way this guy was drunk enough to get off. Of course, drunkenness is no excuse, but the NYState law permits the jury to consider it with regards to "depraved indifference." The best example would be drunk driving -- drinking will not get you off the manslaughter charge, the jury can't consider intoxication for a charge of recklessness -- rarely will a drunk driver be charged for murder because the law allows intoxication to be considered for "depraved indifference."

The final piece of this whole puzzle was us (were we?) the jury. Just as it was with each individual witness, each person needs to be considered on their own merits -- one at a time. If you threw twelve random people, they'd probably have little in common, but in the end each would probably be found to be decent, even kind, reasonable, even intelligent -- someone you could appreciate, if not grow fond of. We 16 folk (12 + 4 alternates) went one step further -- we hit it off wonderfully, joking around non-stop, delving into each other's personalities and personal lives. It wasn't like 4 groups of 4 either, it was nearly across the board, mix any subset and we had no trouble, nothing but amity. That probably explains why it took us less than 3 hours to come to the verdict... really the only verdict possible... despite not discussing the case one lick during the proceedings (as instructed by the judge ad infinitum). It was a group you wanted to go out and have a beer with and that's just what we did when it was all said and done.

Details, details, details... there were so many more, the types that make cinema more than characters and plot. Perhaps the most bizarre is that the defense attorney was Amy Fisher's attorney which means, amongst other things, that he's in the IMDB and here, too. This finally puts my degrees of separation from the Buttafuoco clan well under the requisite 6 degrees, not to mention Drew Barrymore.

1 comment:

Joe Gould's Secret said...

I'm a grad student in Columbia University's journalism program. I'm looking at gangs on Long Island, and I just stumbled over your post.

Could we chat?

Please email me at jmg2167@columbia.edu.