History-making case begins

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 20, 2003

In the coming weeks we all will be faced with the task of hearing about the one of the most horrific incidences in world history. Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad will literally be within minutes of travel from us and a trial will begin to determine his guilt or innocence in the murder of one of 10 lives lost in the Maryland/DC area.

Within minutes, an accused murderer will be bought before a jury of his peers to determine if he should live or die for the death of another. October 2nd marked the anniversary of the first shooting that occurred in the Maryland area. Within 27 hours, six people had been killed and then the horror spilled over to Virginia, where a 13-year-old boy was critically injured as he arrived at school.

When it was all over – 13 days later, 10 live were lost and four others were wounded and the country was in awe at how someone – anyone could senselessly take the lives of others without any regard. There was lots of talk at the time about the type of person that could do this thing and why. There were no apparent motives for the killings and they were done randomly at various locations across the area.

You have to wonder what is going through the mind of someone who would find themselves taking the life of another and then especially for someone such as the accused, who methodically planned, it appears, and sat in wait for their next victim.

The outcome of this case will be history in the making no matter what the verdict may be. Jurors who find themselves with the task of deciding the fate of Muhammad will have a lot of restless nights and find themselves doing a lot of soul searching as well.

I remember distinctly serving on a capital murder jury several years ago. The rules are clear. The defense and prosecution have a job to do. It is there responsible to make you see their side as it relates to the law and give you the evidence necessary to either convict or acquit. The judge outlines the law directly for you and what your responsibility is as a juror and what dictates quilt or innocence.

Many people think that this task is an easy one – that they could do it at the drop of a hat. The realization is that serving as a juror is hard and it’s no joke. You have a job to do that will determine the fate of many and you may not be ready for what you will see or hear. You just don’t know what situation you will find yourself in and how to handle it.

Every juror is faced with the task of making his or her decision as it relates to the law of the state and that information is cut and dry. You know what you have to do and there is no question about it. The information you receive is weighed against what the law says is quilt or innocence and your verdict is determined by that and that alone. It’s not all about you! It’s about whether the defense or prosecution has proven their case.

There is no room in the jury room for your opinion. The evidence which is given to you is what you use to make your decision and how a person looks or looks at you has nothing to do with whether they committed the crime or not.

Our nation was in disarray last year this time. People were afraid to go to the mall. They were afraid to stop at convenience stores to gas up their cars and they were even afraid to let their children go to school. This type of horror story is one that has been seen and heard many times in recent years and the lives that are destroyed can never be replaced.

As we listen to the reports of testimony given each night we know it won’t bring those who were lost back, but it is refreshing and satisfying to know that someone will be punished for the crimes committed. They say that a person is innocent until proven guilty and we all that this is the standard by which we live. But we also know that our criminal justice system works and that even though there have been some that have slipped through the cracks, that ultimately justice prevails.

The incidences of 2002 were tragic and there is nothing that will ever change that. Lives have been destroyed and changed in a matter of minutes. Loved ones are still grieving and trying to adjust and I know the realization of this trial and the one to come in November is only a reminder of the lost they have experienced.

My sincerest sympathy goes out to every family who was affected by the actions of those accused.