Life or death? Do juries compromise?

A Pasco county jury has recommended life in prison for John Ditullio.  You can read about their decision here.

I think that this conviction and recommendation is a compromise.  The compromise I suspect is that there were hold-outs for not guilty, and they may have been persuaded to change their vote in exchange for the other jurors voting for life.  

Death penalty cases have two phases:  guilt and penalty.  The guilt phase is the trial on the evidence (witnesses, exhibits, etc) – what has taken place in the last 2 weeks.  IF the jury convicts, then there is a penalty phase where the same jury is reconvened to listed to aggravating and mitigating factors, all presented to consider whether to recommend life in prison or death by lethal injection.  THE SAME JURY hears both parts, and they are told that from the very beginning.  In jury selection, both the State and the defense will question potential jurors about their views on the death penalty.  So, going into the guilt phase deliberations, the jury knows that deciding guilt is only one part, and that they will also have to decide whether to tell the judge to kill the defendant.

Let me explain why I have this sneaking suspicion, which is based solely on media reports of the trial.  I was not present for any testimony (although I did stop by last week long enough to see a defense attorney spill a cup of coffee all over the place – that’ll learn ya to bring drinks in the courtroom), and have not reviewed any transcripts or evidence.  But there are two issues that make me think this was a compromise.

FIRST:  It seems that the evidence in this case was close.  While there was an identification of Ditullio and DNA evidence, the identification was different from Ditullio and there was a contamination issue with the blood sample the DNA test used.  There was a suggestion of another perpetrator.  The jury deliberated 11 hours, which is a long time in any trial.  Either the evidence is there or it’s not; why they would take so long raises a question as to what they were really discussing.

SECOND:  The jury deliberated 30 minutes before recommending a life sentence.  Ditullio did not present much evidence other than him saying essentially “do what you gotta do” and some family members.  There was no presentation of psychiatric testimony, etc, that you normally see in a death case.  Ditullio was represented by two of the finest defense attorneys I know – Danny Hernandez and Bjorn Brundvand.  Their instincts may have raised the same suspicions that I have, which is why they limited the penalty phase presentation to virtually nothing.

But 30 minutes to reach a decision on whether someone lives or dies?  That’s pretty quick.  Inversely as to the length of the guilt phase deliberations, seems like they did not have much to discuss, as if the deal had already been worked out.

There is no way to know what the jury did, as its deliberations are secret.  Jurors enjoy the right to have their thoughts, arguments, negotiations, etc kept secret from the world.

But, whether it was a compromise or not, justice has been served.  So long as the process was correct, all the evidence was correctly admitted, and the defendant had a fair trial all the way around, the decision is sound.  I have no problem with that.  What bothers me is that the jurors are told to base their decision about guilt on the evidence, and nothing more.  So, if there was a compromise struck in the guilt phase deliberations in spite of that admonition, is the process tainted?  If the “right thing” has happened, is there really an issue of the integrity of the system?

I’d love to know your thoughts on this.  Feel free to comment below.

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