No Justice, No Peace

The attorney asked if I could be a fair juror. I said yes. What a sucker I was.

It wasn't until after the case was over that I found out it's extremely rare for a Minnesota jury to stay out this long. Perhaps that's because Minnesota, unlike other states, requires all juries in felony cases to be sequestered. Veteran criminal-defense attorney Ron Meshbesher says in most of his cases "you give them the case in the morning and they have a verdict by evening, before they ever end up going to the hotel."

The jury in the case of accused Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols isn't sequestered. At the end of every day they go home to their ordinary lives. I believe that by the time they reach their verdict, they will feel confident in their decision, not railroaded, browbeaten, and manipulated.

The Aftermath

Patrick Rolo

Feels like this is the part where I'm supposed to say: With all its flaws, it's still the best system on earth. But it doesn't feel that way to me, and I'm sure it doesn't feel that way to Keevin Hinton. The day after I got out I wrote a letter to the judge explaining what, why, and how things had gone horribly wrong. The letter was passed on to Hinton, Cohoes, and Tilsen. It delayed Hinton's sentencing by a few days, and, since this was simultaneous with Louise Woodward's sentencing in the nanny case, I held out some hope that Judge Cara Neville would declare the whole thing a mistrial.

But what holds for internationally famous cute white girls doesn't hold for unknown African American men. The judge sentenced Keevin Hinton to 15 years. He won't be eligible for parole for 10. David Cohoes, the public defender, would tell me later he's never been so surprised by a verdict. He thought the state's case was so pathetically weak no jury starting with a presumption of innocence could vote to convict.

Perhaps that's why Cohoes didn't tell us some of the other things I learned after the sentencing. About Keevin Hinton's three daughters, his fiancée, his role in raising his sister's children, and how he once saved a choking boy's life and was pictured as a hero in all the newspapers. About his lawsuit against that beat cop.

We were never told if Milton might be striking a deal for his testimony, but the day after Hinton was convicted, Milton went free. I can't help but think that Hinton would have gotten off if we had known those things, but I've noticed I like to grasp at straws nowadays.

After the sentencing Hinton's mom, his best friend, and Hinton himself called me, to thank me. To thank me. Not to blame me for capitulating and ruining a dozen lives, but to thank me for speaking up after it was over. I never knew how profound shame could be.

I'm ashamed of myself, of our judicial system, of a process that depends much more on fickle charisma and likability than any ex-high-school nerd would ever be comfortable with. I'm ashamed and angry that as a society we're entrusting our most important decisions to people who are locked up without warning and badgered until they break down.

People tell me all the things you'd expect them to: that I'll get over it, that I shouldn't feel responsible, that I played only a minor role, that I did all that was expected of me, that it's a blessing that I'm in a position to tell the story. I suppose they're all right, but I still feel like a sham. I know that when I got sprung I was hysterical, could hardly spend 10 minutes without crying, and was trying to figure out how to give half my income to Keevin Hinton's family. I've already justified my way out of that one, and I'm sure in another six months I'll hardly think about this appalling experience.

Before then, I think it's time to realize that we've been given a wake-up call with a series of high-profile judicial eyebrow-raisers--O.J., the Menendez brothers, Rodney King, Louise Woodward. If we don't recognize how fickle the justice system is and find a way to make it better, our grandchildren are going to look at us the same way we look at Minnesotans who participated in our great historical embarrassments--the Mankato Massacre, Depression-era anti-Semitism, World War II internment camps. Bad deeds by good people won't go unpunished.

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