Sacto 9-1-1
August 3, 2011
I voted to send another brother to prison

By Ed Fletcher
efletcher@sacbee.com
DG ED FLETCHER.JPG
For better or worse, television crime drama can not replicate the gut wrenching experience of sitting in a jury box.

On Tuesday, I concluded 10 days of jury service by reaching a guilty verdict, and in all likelihood sending another brother to an already overcrowded prison system.

We convicted Donnell Boyce, 31, for his role in the Jan. 16 robbery of two men outside of the 47th Avenue Valero gas station. Boyce was accused of using a semi-automatic handgun and firing as many as a dozen shots, most into the air.

Television crime dramas conclude with the warm satisfaction that the police and/or the DA got their man. My jury service ended with an infinite dissection of the phrase "reasonable doubt."

In the end, the 12 members of the jury, and I as the foreman, concluded that the leap in logic to conclude Boyce did not participate in the robbery or aid in the robber's escape was just too great.

It was not a conclusion I expected to make when the trial opened last week.

The first two witnesses presented by the prosecution - the victims - were described by one fellow juror as two of the most unreliable people they've ever seen.

The two men spoke limited English and one claimed to not know how to spell his name. They lied about talking to two women at the gas station, shifted their story about how much they had to drink the evening of the attack and were unable to identify their attackers.

Grainy convenience store footage stitching together a series of low resolution still images made identifying the robbery victims hard and their assailants impossible.

But the prosecution's case would get better. The gunshot residue was big, but no piece of evidence offered the clear cut satisfaction supplied by "CSI," "Bones," "The Closer," or "Criminal Minds." In our real world case, witnesses' views were obscured by darkness, the handgun had no incriminating finger prints and the footage was crap.

In the real world, sophisticated tests cost time and money; and in an environment where police, crime labs and district attorney resources' are scarce, not every bullet is found, the wiz-bang technology is absent and some doubt exists.

The defense did not offer any witnesses or put Boyce on the stand.

When I entered the deliberation room, my gut told me that we were headed for a hung jury. But as we kept reviewing evidence, re-reading the jury instructions on the law and talking about our positions, more of the jurors began to reach the same conclusion: Boyce fired the gun.

And since the law dictates that those helping with the getaway are just as culpable as people who went though the pockets of our unhelpful victims, we didn't need a video enhancement.

Tears began to steam down Boyce's face as the court clerk read the verdicts Tuesday. I nearly cried as well.

Today, I feel much better about our collective decision. Freed from court instructions not to do any research, I now know that Boyce's record stretches back to 1999 and includes a murder charge that was dropped in 2003, two separate plea deals on spousal abuse and a 2005 plea deal on an assault with a deadly weapon charge.

This was Boyce first jury trial -- mine as well. I hope we never meet again.

Ed Fletcher has been a Bee reporter since 2000 and currently covers Placer County.

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