The jurors screwed up. Yeah, I said it. Miami Jurors convicted 23 year old Eric Rivera of second degree murder for his role in the crimes that led to the death of famed Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor six years ago. Rivera was also found guilty of Armed Burglary. The six men and six women that comprised the jury could not find that Rivera actually fired the fatal shot that killed Taylor in spite of Rivera admitting in a videotaped confession to pulling the trigger.
Prosecutors wanted the jurors to come back with a first-degree murder conviction, which would have mandated a life sentence from Judge Dennis Murphy. Rivera who was 17 at the time he committed the crimes, still faces a possible life sentence on both charges for which he was convicted.
The reason why I chose to write about this jury verdict is because it speaks volumes. What it says, amongst other things, is that jurors can and will do whatever the hell they want, regardless of what the law dictates.
Let’s analyze their findings. Because they convicted Rivera of Armed Burglary, we know they believed, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Rivera was at least a principal to the crime. Like the Three Musketeers used to say, “All for one and one for all.” The jurors also found that he was a principal to murder, regardless of whether he pulled the trigger. That means that jurors believed that he played a role in both offenses. Now let’s do some basic legal arithmetic. If you add an Armed Burglary with a Murder, you should legally get a First Degree Murder Conviction. Legally, it matters not whether he was the trigger man or merely the guy who drove the getaway car. If a death occurs while an Armed Burglary is committed in the manner in which it did, then there’s only one verdict that makes any legal sense, First Degree Murder.
So what the jurors did was what we call in the business a “compromise.” There must have been at least one person who, after 16 hours of deliberations, still wouldn’t budge. He or she or they could not follow the law and find him guilty as charged. Maybe they knew it would have guaranteed a life sentence, which is not something they were supposed to consider. Perhaps they just didn’t understand the jury instructions. Maybe they felt sorry for him, after hearing his testimony from the witness stand. Regardless, I’m confident that the other jurors, in not wanting a mistrial declared, agreed to go along with the second degree murder conviction, in spite of it falling short of what Rivera actually committed.
This isn’t anything new. I’ve been trying cases for over two decades in Miami and surrounding cities and jurors routinely do what they want, with no recourse. Jurors have ignored the law in many cases for years. They often issue “jury pardons,” where they acquit defendants for crimes in spite of sufficient evidence of guilt. They have also bent over backwards for prosecutors to find defendants guilty even though the evidence was slightly lacking. It is what it is. Fortunately, jurors generally get it right. Our system is still the best one in the world. For Rivera, let’s be clear. The jurors compromised and he caught a break. Whether his sentence is any different as a result, is yet to be seen.