Saturday, August 18, 2007


It's been a wild and weird week, and an exhausting one. I don't know what's been going on TEC and AC-wise.

I covered a trial this week. A young man was charged with manslaughter with a firearm. That may be a more everyday trial in bigger cities, but this is a small town, and the victim was a well-loved member of the downtown community.

He was hit by a hollow-point bullet fired from a 9mm gun aimed down the sidewalk. The young man who fired the gun apparently always carried it with him. He had a concealed weapon permit.

What 22-year-old student needs to carry such a weapon with him? In my mind, drug dealers and gangsters carry around such weapons.

An argument started between this young man's cousin and another man in a bar, at a
pool table. The argument was aggravated by racial slurs hurled by the (white) cousin against the (black) men the cousin was arguing with.

Outside, the verbal threats and insults became more physical.

According to whose account you would believe, the fight consisted more of pushing and shoving (the version I believe), or the cousin was being beaten and his life was in danger, causing the young man on trial to whip out his 9mm and shoot down the sidewalk at one of the men in the other party.

The guys involved in the confrontation were about 15 feet away from the 22-year old shooter, who told police he saw one of the men's arm come down in a motion that made him think he had a knife.

People hearing the shouting had come outside a restaurant and were standing on the sidewalk, on the other side of the fight from the shooter. One of these bystanders was hit by the young man's bullet and died pretty much instantly on the scene, both lungs and his aorta pierced by the 9mm hollow-point bullet.

No one saw any weapon, until they saw this man's gun still pointing down the sidewalk, after he discharged it.

The defense was that the young man had the right to defend his cousin's life, as he would have the right to defend his own, making the accidental death justifiable.

The prosecutor argued, when one is the aggressor, the aggressor has to back down, and can't claim self-defense, so this variation of self-defense doesn't transfer to defending to someone who is acting as the aggressor. The cousin pulled his shirt off in the "let's fight" signal, and said he was gonna whup the other party (I'm using mild language; his was full of "F" words and "N" words), and after being wrestled into the car by the shooting cousin's car to leave at one point, got out and broke loose to go fight. "Confrontational" and "aggressive" and "wanting to fight" were the words witnesses used to describe him.

The prosecutor said firing down that sidewalk was reckless disregard for human life, and the taped police interview of the young shooter bore that out.

That disregard is what I find most disturbing about the shooting. He never showed the least feeling about taking the life of another. He never expressed any sorrow or dismay - absolutely nothing. He talked about thinking his cousin's life was in danger (which I might give him the benefit of the doubt on - maybe that was so in his perception) and telling the investigators what a good shot he was, and didn't need to use his sights as much as other people might.

When investigators asked him if he hadn't thought about the other people on the sidewalk, he said yes, but, “I thought the safety of my cousin’s life was more important.”

Even when the young man took the stand during the trial, he expressed no feeling about killing this man. The shooter said he hadn't known he'd shot and killed his victim when police interviewed him. This was a blatant lie; one witness testified to shouting, "You shot him! You killed him!" after the shooter fired.

The young shooter did dial 911 on his cell phone afterward. Too bad he didn't do that instead of shooting.

I heard something the jurors didn't, and that was the 911 tape from the incident. People filled the street after the shooting, and were screaming hysterically in the background about the victim being shot. The shooter was there on the scene as medics attended to the dead victim.

I don't know if jury reacted the same way I did to the tape, but they found the shooter guilty of manslaughter with a firearm.

They could have found him guilty of simple manslaughter or culpable negligence, both lesser charges, or innocent. Manslaughter with a firearm carries a penalty of up to 30 years in prison. The judge may not impose the maximum, given the shooter's youth and lack of criminal history; the won't hold that hearing until he gets the results of the pre-sentencing investigation.

Many people who used to feel safe going out in our neat little downtown don't any more. That's too bad.

I keep asking myself why. Why this young man, who described himself as a student who didn't go out to bars much, who didn't even drink because of medical problems, carried that gun with him everywhere.

If he hadn't been carrying it, no one would have died. A few people might have been arrested for disturbing the peace, and finished the night in jail.

If he hadn't fired that gun down the sidewalk, nobody would be dead. Wouldn't have firing the gun into the air put an effective stop to the brawl, if all he wanted to do was protect his cousin? Yet, he chose to shoot down the sidewalk, which had a number of people on it, including his cousin.

If he had shouted, "Stop! Or I'll shoot," and shown the gun,wouldn't that have put an end to it? He didn't. He seemed to want to shoot somebody.

Now, he's taken a life, ruined his life and the lives of his parents, who were there throughout the trial and wept at the verdict, and damaged all the people who cared about the victim, for whom he showed no regard.

He told police during the interview, "I'm a pretty smart kid."

I'd disagree with that assessment.


Bluebird said...

This is a tragedy indeed. My prayers arising for all concerned.

Saint Pat said...

It is a tragedy, and while the jury came to the correct verdict, imo, it brought comfort to no one.

Those who loved the victim and expected the conclusion of the trial to bring closure are finding it doesn't. They can find solace only through the Spirit.

Saint Pat said...

I'm fascinated with trials and the people involved in them - attorneys, judges, and the whole schmear. I've gotten very wrapped up in the ones I've covered. This one, while of great interest and emotional impact to the downtown community, registered as a small blip to those who didn't know any of the people invovled.

It was very weird last week - I went straight from the trial to my part-time evening job, where nobody was very interested in the trial. It was like two different universes. I was wrung out by the end of the trial.

Ann said...

We have an incident with similar echoes - a person tossed a basketball sized rock off a cliff - down the cliff a man was climbing - it hit him and killed him leaving a young daughter and wife and community stunned. No charges are filed yet.

Lisa said...

Pat, I understand a little of how you're feeling. I too am in a relatively small town. We had our first homicide last month, and it was a shock to the community.

Quite a contrast to the days when I lived in Atlanta, and they didn't even bother to cover all the murders.

Sadly, our state voted to allow the carrying of concealed weapons a couple years ago. I haven't read of anybody defending themselves with these guns. But plenty of events like the ones you describe.

I'm speechless to offer a thoughtful response. It just seems so senseless and stupid.