Sitting in Judaics class almost 9 years ago, I listened to Ms. Giveon talking about a former student of hers who had been accused of murder. He was roughly the same age as my sister (she was 19 at the time) and I presumed that they had gone to I. Weiner at the same time. I didn’t know if he was guilty or not but I understood that the incident weighed heavily on the Jewish community.
Some time later he was convicted and incarcerated and I didn’t think much more about it.
A few years ago I realized that Ms. Giveon’s former student was actually the brother of a friend of mine. My friend and I have never talked about it and I am afraid to ask about it, as I’m sure it’s a very sensitive, raw subject.
Last night I came across a website** that details the injustices in the brother’s case (that is currently being appealed) and outlines why the man is innocent. Reading it, I could not believe that a jury could convict someone with such a lack of evidence! Innocent until proven guilty, I thought, and I didn’t see any proof.
I closed my laptop, turned off the lights, and tried to get some sleep. But I lay in bed thinking about my friend’s brother. I couldn’t relax. Sure, it’s serious, but why am I this torn up about it? And that’s when I realized that this is the second time in the past week when I’ve heard about someone my age being (in my opinion, wrongfully) convicted of murder.
In Italy last Friday, American study-abroad student Amanda Knox was found guilty of murdering her roommate. Another case in which there was not enough evidence to prove that she was guilty . Please read this New York Times blog for details: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/02/amanda-knox-revisited/.
What scares me about both of these cases is that both of the defendants were my age when they were convicted. It could have been me. It could have been me and that’s the point. Would I ever kill someone? I can say with almost certainty, no. But by some twist of fate our judicial system could still send me to jail for the rest of my life.
I often think of the stipulation that a jury must find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt as preventing many murderers, rapists, and thieves from getting the punishment they deserve. But that stipulation is there precisely to protect those of us who are innocent. That’s why the defendant is always innocent until proven otherwise. Because, in effect we believe that it’s better to let a guilty person go than to convict an innocent. The law has enough humility to understand that lawyers, policemen, and witnesses make mistakes, and when someone’s life is at stake, it’s better to give that person the benefit of the doubt.
As jury members, as friends, and as strangers we too should keep that humility and remember that there are few things that we can truly be certain about.
**To protect the identity of my friend I am not posting a link to the website.