Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 25, 2007

Jury duty

Filed under: racism — louisproyect @ 4:12 pm

John White: convicted for self-defense against racist mob

Today’s NY Times reported that two jury members were pressured into backing a guilty verdict for a Black man charged with manslaughter in a case that exposed racial fault lines in Long Island.

In fact, most of the jury — 10 members — had already concluded by then that the man, John H. White, 54, was guilty of second-degree manslaughter in the shooting of Daniel Cicciaro Jr., 17.

Daniel was shot point-blank in the face on August 9, 2006, after he and several friends arrived at Mr. White’s house and began using racial epithets in challenging Mr. White’s son, Aaron, then 19, to fight.

But there were two holdouts on the jury. And to one of them, François Larché, 46, of West Islip, Mr. White’s account of the night’s events — that the shooting was an accident and that he was protecting his family and home against a “lynch mob” of angry teenagers — resonated.

François Larché left South Africa in 1982 out of what the Times described as “his hatred of apartheid.” Jurors made it very clear from the beginning that they had no use for the defendant or this juror. For reasons I can’t quite pinpoint, the print edition of the Times has much more information on the pressure put on Larché than in the article that is available online.


François Larché: bulldozed into a guilty verdict

The shooting took place on August 9, 2006 when the defendant’s son Aaron was followed to his house by a gang of white teens who had picked a fight with him at a party in the area. As they gathered on his front lawn shouting racial epithets, White came outside armed with a revolver. For him, the incident was a throwback to life under Jim Crow:

Mr. White testified that Aaron woke him from a deep sleep the night of the shooting, yelling that that “some kids are coming here to kill me.” Mr. White said he considered the angry teenagers a “lynch mob.”

He said their racist language recalled the hatred he saw as a child visiting the segregated Deep South and stories of his grandfather’s being chased out of Alabama in the 1920s by the Ku Klux Klan.

Mr. White testified that his grandfather taught him how to shoot and bequeathed him the pistol he used.

A lawyer for Mr. White, Frederick K. Brewington, insisted in his summation that this was a “modern-day lynch mob” and that Mr. White considered it “history replaying itself.”

NY Times, December 23, 2007

There were two kinds of pressure put on the holdout jurors. They were constantly badgered by the others and after four weeks, Larché summed up his mental state: “You don’t sleep at night, your appetite is off, your mouth is dry from all the hostility.” Additionally, you are told that your fellow jurors are suffering financially because they are not getting paid by their employer during the deliberations. Those who do not get paid do receive a payment from the court but it more of a stipend than a living wage.

However, the real pressure that faced this jury was naked racism, even though nobody was likely to be throwing around terms like “nigger.” The print version of the Times reports that one juror thought that God had instructed him to find White guilty:

Other jurors, Mr. Larché said, including Juror No. 12, Richard Burke, frequently invoked religious imagery.

“Mr. Burke made a speech and said how this government was founded on the law of Moses,” Mr. Larché said. “He inferred that I’m on the side of the barbarians.”

Larché also told the Times that he felt that White was acting in accord with the property rights defense that has become so prevalent in a gun-dominated society: “You have the right to use deadly force if you believe your person or property is threatened. Does he have justification for that? I think he does.”

This might have made sense if the defendant was Caucasian and the attackers were African-American or some other minority as was the case this month in Houston, Texas. Joe Horn, a retired 61 year old white man, saw two burglars trying to break into his neighbor’s house. He picked up his shotgun and went out and shot the unarmed men in the back, even though the cops had warned him in a 911 phone call to stay put. You can listen to the 911 phone call here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7jqLie6-Y0. His victims were Miguel Antonio Dejesus and Diego Ortiz, two men without documents from Colombia. The rightwing is rallying around Joe Horn, who is likened to the Minutemen standing guard on the Texas-Mexico border. The trial is still pending.

Back in 1988 I went through an experience on jury duty that gives me an appreciation for what François Larché had to endure. I too was worn down by fellow jurors, even though I consider myself fairly stiff-necked. In a sense, defending socialist ideas in capitalist America is a bit like being a hold-out in a jury.

Back in 1988 I found myself selected for a jury assigned to a criminal case involving a Dominican man in his 60s who had been charged with selling crack cocaine to an undercover cop named Christopher Hoban on West 106th street.

Christopher Hoban: undercover cop killed in 1988

Hoban paid the defendant with marked bills but when he was arrested in the 106th street subway station, no bills could be found. The case boiled down to deciding whether the cop’s testimony was sufficient to prosecute. But the judge gave the jury strict instructions not to take the cop’s word over the defendant’s. They were equal before the law, at least that’s what we were instructed.

When I got into the jury room, a couple of other people agreed with me that the defendant should be found not guilty because of a lack of physical evidence. The judge’s instructions, however, were wasted on the rest of the jury that of course decided that a cop would not lie. I remember arguing that cops lied all the time, especially in cases like this. Only a month ago, the NY Daily News reported what I remembered occurring on a regular basis around that time:

AN NYPD captain was allegedly caught on tape ordering cops to meet arrest quotas and falsify crime reports, the Daily News has learned.

Kieran Creighton, commander of the NYPD Housing Police Service Area 8 in the northern Bronx, is under investigation for a tirade that went out over the police radio, sources said.

The incident allegedly occurred in the spring when Creighton ordered at least eight members of an undercover anti-crime team to a meeting in Pelham Bay Park to berate them about an alleged lack of arrests, sources said.

“You can’t make the nine collars a month, then we’ll all have to go our separate ways,” Creighton told the officers, according to an internal complaint obtained by The News.

Anything less than nine arrests would be a “personal slap in the face,” Creighton allegedly said.

Creighton then told the cops to “finagle” the times of arrests so any overtime was paid for by a federally funded anti-drug program, the complaint alleges.

After an hour or two, I was the only juror who held out for a not guilty verdict. While nobody was abusive, I began to weary over making the same arguments over and over again. Finally, the jury chairman reminded us that if we didn’t come to a unanimous decision that day, we’d have to stay overnight in a hotel and keep deliberating until then. Everybody understood that these hotels were not the Waldorf Astoria.

After 4 hours, I finally threw in the towel and told them that I would go along with a guilty verdict even though I didn’t agree with it. That didn’t seem to bother them one bit. This was the only time in my life that I had succumbed to peer pressure in such fashion, other than the times I was in the SWP and voted for resolutions that struck me as insane.

I have never forgiven myself for caving in to the jury’s pressure. I wish I could turn back the clock and stick to my guns. If a shitty hotel was in the offing, how would that compare to the poor defendant having to spend a month in the Rikers Island jail? I resolved to myself never to serve on a criminal case again.

I should add that the undercover cop came to an unhappy end himself within the year:

Two police officers – one an undercover officer negotiating a routine drug deal, the other in uniform and coming from the scene of a medical emergency – were shot and killed in upper Manhattan last night, the police said.

The two were believed to be the sixth and seventh police officers killed in New York City this year, including two housing police officers. Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward said it was the first time that he could remember that two officers were killed in separate shootings on the same day.

”It’s an enormous tragedy,” Mayor Koch said at a news conference after the first shooting.

The officer killed in that incident, at 7:11 P.M., was a 26-year-old undercover narcotics investigator, Christopher Hoban. He was bargaining for a gram of cocaine while an arrest team waited outside the city-owned building, at 19 West 105th Street, the police said.

–NY Times, October 19, 1988



  1. “but it more of a stipend than a living wage”…I wouldn’t even call it a stipend. In most cases it has the worth of a “Thank you” note. Good to be appreciated, but nothing to feed your family with.

    Comment by Erik Toren — December 25, 2007 @ 5:06 pm

  2. I once served on a jury about twenty-five years ago in a criminal case. In the case that I served on, a truck driver was accused of theft because a pallet that had been loaded in his truck before his departure, had gone missing by the time that his truck had been unloaded at his destination point. In this case, we had no problem in finding the truck driver not guilty. The prosecution’s case had so many holes, that you could. . . well, drive a truck through it. After the trial was over, a court officer told us that the Middlesex DA’s office had in effect been reluctant to bring this case to trial but the trucking company, which had been suffering significant shortages due to theft, had pressured them to bring the case forward against the their better judgment, since the company was eager to make an example of the truck driver.

    One take home lesson was that apparently if you are a sufficiently large business, you can have criminal cases brought forward to trial, even if they are lacking in merit (as I recall all of the jury members, including myself, had been left shaking our heads over the fact that such a weak case had actually gotten to trial in the first place). One question that I am left with is the truck driver in question was white, but what would have happened if he was African-American or Latino? Would the same jury have as speedily concluded that the prosecution’s case was worthless or would we have had jurors claiming that the guy must have been guilty of something or he would never been prosecuted in the first place?

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — December 25, 2007 @ 6:44 pm

  3. […] Read the rest… […]

    Pingback by Jury Experiences — December 26, 2007 @ 3:35 pm

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