by Ramona DeFelice Long
On a Tuesday night in a small town, three men plan a drug deal. For the purposes of this post, I will call the three men the Driver, the Passenger, and the Shooter.
The trio rendezvous with a dealer at McDonald’s, but the deal goes awry and a gun is fired. The local police get a 911 call. Two officers respond and there’s a chase through downtown. Finally, the getaway car pulls over.
The Driver sits alone in the front seat. The Passenger and the Shooter are in the back. As the police cruiser pulls alongside, the Shooter raises a 9mm pistol and fires one shot through the open side window. The bullet hits the face of the police officer in the passenger seat. A fragment hits the neck of the officer who is driving.
The Driver jumps out of the car, runs across the street and darts into the nearby woods.
The Shooter also runs. He takes the gun with him while the wounded second cop places a frantic officer down call.
The Passenger stays at the scene. He moves the getaway car forward, opens the door of the police cruiser and helps the badly bleeding officer out onto the grass.
Soon, the area is inundated with law enforcement and citizens drawn to the chaos. The town is surrounded and virtually shut down while a hunt for the Shooter and the Driver begins. Heavily armed officers knock on doors; a K-9 unit struggles in the dense woods while a state police helicopter with heat sensors flies overhead.
Before long, the Shooter is captured at a nearby residence—the home of strangers who allowed him to use their telephone. The 9mm is in his possession when the police find him. While handcuffed, the Shooter falls off the front porch of the house. In the mug shot taken that night, the Shooter’s face is bruised and swollen.
The manhunt for the Driver continues for days. He finally turns himself in at the urging of his mother.
At the scene of the shooting, the wounded first officer dies in the arms of a stranger.
This is not a work of fiction. This is a very simplistic account of September 1, 2009 in Georgetown, Delaware, and the killing of Patrolman Chad Spicer and the wounding of his partner, Shawn Brittingham.
Seventeen months have passed. The trial for this case began two weeks ago. The Shooter is charged with, among other things, capital murder. The Driver is charged with a slew of serious but lesser crimes. The Passenger is charged with nothing at all.
I am writing this on Tuesday morning. The case rested yesterday afternoon. Right now, the jury deciding the fate of the Shooter is—literally—still out.
Delaware is a small state. It would be hard to find anyone unfamiliar with blond, smiling, home town boy Chad Spicer, or his adorable three-year-old daughter Aubrey, or his distraught, devastated parents. Images of flowers, balloons and “Rest in Peace” notes near the spot where he died, and of Vice President Joe Biden covering his face and sobbing into his hands at the memorial service, are heart-rendering reminders of that night.
During the trial, graphic autopsy photos were shown. Expletive-filled text messages about drugs and money were read. Veteran police officers choked up on the witness stand. The Driver and the Passenger testified, as did the drug dealer. The Shooter did not.
Hard questions were asked about the Shooter’s bruises and the chain of custody for evidence. Gunshot residue found on both the Shooter and the Passenger was hashed over. The credibility of witnesses, the absence of charges, the making of deals in exchange for testimony were all discussed.
And through it all, the family of Patrolman Spicer sat in the courtroom.
I have followed this case closely, and one thing has become very, very clear.
I would not want to be on this jury.
Last year, I was called to jury duty. I blogged about the experience, which was both enlightening and encouraging. I assume the jurors in Georgetown want to do the right thing.
The title of this post references a famous play about a jury that tries a case in the deliberation room. That’s fiction. Jurors are not supposed to solve the crime. A real jury is only to consider the evidence presented.
As I read accounts of the Georgetown trial, I realized that the mystery writer in me would find that a challenge. How fairly could I weigh just the evidence when my day job requires me to look deeper and be creative and imaginative? Could I look at the defendant and believe only what is told to me? Could I not wonder about his motivation? Do I pretend I never heard the yuk-yuk “he fell down the courthouse steps, Your Honor”? Is it possible to turn all of that off?
A verdict may come at any time, and I cowardly admit that I’m glad I’m not deciding it.
Can a mystery writer be a fair juror? Could you? I never wondered this before, but the trial in the killing of Patrolman Chad Spicer has filled me with more than reasonable doubt about it.
Addendum: A short time after I finished writing this post, a verdict was delivered. The Shooter was found guilty.