The Red Queen & the Knave of Hearts
Go for the jugular, come up empty
"Off with his head!" shouted state attorney Angela Corey, the Red Queen, after she declared she'd prosecute Michael Dunn a second time for Murder One. The first jury hung, or choked, on whether the rage triggered by raunchy rap and some "fuck you"s was sufficient to constitute premeditation in the shooting death of Jordan Davis.
"Off with his head!" echoed Seventh Circuit State Attorney R.J. Larizza. The Knave of Hearts, he stole Corey's tarts by charging Christopher Fries with Murder One after he shot Paul Crookshank in a beery brawl outside the Giggling Gator, a louche lounge somewhere between St. Augustine's Bridge of Lions and the Road to Perdition.
Corey's prosecution of Dunn was incompetent, as the learned Larizza's will be, because both are overcharging their defendants. Murder One requires premeditation, defined thusly by the Florida Supreme Court: " ‘Killing with premeditation' is killing after consciously deciding to do so. … The law does not fix the exact period of time that must pass between the formation of the premeditated intent to kill and the killing. The period of time must be long enough to allow reflection by the defendant."
Do prosecutors think enough time elapsed between the "fuck" and the "you" of the Dunn case to constitute premeditation? Do they think, in the Fries case, that the moment between the smack of the haymaker and the splat of butt on asphalt was long enough for any meditation, pre- or non-? In the vapor of law school seminars, where angels dance on pinheads splitting hairs, it's clever to argue the existence of "instantaneous premeditation." Try selling that to a jury.
As annoying as prosecutors' soap-operatic flourishes (weeping relatives, TV-camera indignation) is their practice of presenting a jury with a smorgasbord of frequently unappetizing charges. Corey indicted Dunn for first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, attempted manslaughter, launching a deadly missile ….
I don't know where the list ended. Expelling bad breath onto a law enforcement officer? Disrespecting an official shoeshine? No wonder the jury hung. They might have reasonably concluded that the prosecutor did not herself know which charge was appropriate.
Juries are usually sequestered during high-profile trials, which means they're locked away under guard in whichever scrofulous hostelry will accept late payment from stingy court clerks. Bailiffs confiscate every medium, printed or electronic, that might deliver news and views. Even Gideon Bibles, with their modicum of comfort, are taken, lest some juror detect divine hints as to innocence or guilt among the mysterious anagrams in Psalms.
Understandably, jurors often arrive in court less than chipper. They can get annoyed when prosecutors, who earn six figures, ask them to sort capital and non-capital charges, for their court-sanctioned $15 per day.
In these two cases, the Murder One charge offends a jury's common sense. Neither Dunn nor Fries is a cold-blooded murderer who plotted and planned. Both are hot-blooded fools who shot first and then pondered — briefly or never — what they were doing.
For these defendants, manslaughter is an appropriate charge because the state need prove only that the killing was intentional. Given that the accused pulled gats and squeezed triggers, intentionality is self-evident. Pistols are made for killing, not for gentle persuasion of discourteous youth or bumptious barflies.
The objective of outrageous prosecution is political, not judicial. Elliott Spitzer, ex-New York governor, showed the way to higher office. As attorney general, he indicted Wall Street titans before tangled microphones in hot network klieg lights, then diverted attention when defendants were acquitted or charges tossed by furious judges. He was headed for the White House until he was caught fornicating in knee socks with the luscious ladies of a Manhattan madam.
(Note to Larizza: That car-salesman moustache must go. What sells is a well-barbered chin thrust Spitzer-like toward the lens.)
Before the next election, we'll know if the voters, or the governor, have tired of the prosecutorial horseplay of the Red Queen and her Knave. Until then, appropriate prosecution of bloody killings will vanish, like the Cheshire Cat's smile, into the injusticiable chaos
Of Crime City.