The State of Texas v. JLC was bizarre. It was one of those cases that never should’ve made it before a jury. Even now, I don’t know what to think. JLC is either one dumb bunny, or one of the most brilliant criminals in Texas–not for the crime he committed, but for the way he manipulated the system.
The charge was burglary of a building–entering a building without permission and with the intent to steal. The defendant pleaded not guilty.
One by one, the officers from the scene described the shattered glass of the drive-through window of a convenience store; described the hole, which was large enough for an arm to go through the security bars and take whatever was in reach. They described a rock found inside the store near the window, cigarette packs found in the store and on the ground outside the window, and they described blood found on the inside of the window pane.
Another officer described collecting that blood. Others described the chain of possession of the blood sample from the city police to the forensic scientists in Houston. This is a very precise process, envelopes sealed in envelopes and stamped or signed by each individual who had contact with it. A phlebotomist was brought in who described taking a sample of accused’s blood, and the chain of possession of that sample was again described. The forensic scientist herself came in and declared that the possibility that someone other than the defendant left the blood behind was one in some sort of ridiculous number that is larger than Earth’s population. In other words, to a scientific certainty, the blood found on the inside of the window pane belonged to the defendant.
The prosecutor meticulously presented her case, point by boring point sometimes, and the evidence was clear. The window had been broken, cigarettes and other goods had been removed, the only evidence left behind was blood, the blood belonged to the defendant. She didn’t prove that he was the one who broke the window, but then, she didn’t have to–only that he had entered, and by legal definition, sticking a hand inside is “entering.” The perpetrator doesn’t have to move his entire body inside. She didn’t prove that he stole anything, but again, she didn’t have to. All she had to prove was intent. So, unless the defendant’s intent was to stick his arm through the broken window of a closed store so he could leave DNA evidence behind and be falsely accused, I really couldn’t figure out why his blood would be there. To me, the prosecutor had proved intent.
During the entire case presented by the State, the defense never objected to a thing. Actually, the attorney asked only two inconsequential questions during the entire four-hour procedure.
The State rested their case.
All eyes turned to the defense attorney.
The Defense rested.
We, the jury, who were dismissed for the day, picked our jaws up off the floor and filed out of the courthouse, diligently obeying the charge not to talk about the case with anyone.
The next morning, we listened to the judge’s orders and the attorneys’ closing remarks. The prosecutor went over the evidence, which was the DNA evidence. The defense attorney said something about how DNA evidence isn’t accurate. Then, we were sent to the jury room to deliberate.
The entire process took ten minutes, but we took forty-five so we could have a cup of coffee and/or a bathroom break. We talked a little about the case and how, really, it should’ve been plea-bargained away. It never should have made it to a jury, never should have cost the state this much money and us this much time.
We returned to the courtroom, the judge read the verdict, the defendant showed no emotion.
Next came the sentencing phase. After a delay, we were brought back into the courtroom and listened as the prosecutor announced to the judge that the defendant had at least two prior convictions. The judge asked the defendant if this was true or not true.
“Not true,” he said.
So we listened as the prosecutor introduced a fingerprint expert. She presented fingerprints from two earlier cases and a fresh fingerprint page. She asked the expert about the most recent set of prints. They were the defendant’s prints, taken not twenty minutes before by the expert himself.
“And in your opinion, do they match the prints from the two earlier cases?”
The defendant took the stand. His attorney said, “You have a statement for the jury?”
“Yeah, I do.” And from there, the defendant went on to tell us that he had always taken a plea bargain before, and this time he wanted a jury trial. His attorney kept trying to prompt him into saying more–something remorseful perhaps?–but the defendant didn’t seem to catch on. Basically, he just wanted us to know that he had wanted a jury trial.
Which was brilliant.
The fact that the defendant had prior convictions made a difference in the legally prescribed sentencing. Without priors, the convicted can be sentenced from 180 days to two years, with or without a fine of up to $10,000. With priors, the sentencing changes to a range of two to twenty years, with or without a fine of up to $10,000.
It took us no time at all to determine the guy had prior convictions. The longest sentence assessed to his crimes was twelve years, although we didn’t know whether he’d ever served a full term or if he’d ever been paroled. None of the crimes were violent–some would even consider them minor, even though each was a felony.
The problem came with determining whether to give a previously convicted felon two years for what boiled down to shoving his hand through a broken window, or twenty years for being a repeat offender. The argument that ensued was passionate. Twelve people brought the core of their beliefs into it and argued fervently until the extremes in the range were taken out of consideration: we wouldn’t sentence him to twenty years, nor would we sentence him to two.
So, what then? We needed a number, and after more debate, landed on eight years. Everyone agreed, and the foreman signed the form quickly before another argument could erupt. The bailiff announced to the judge that the jury had a sentencing recommendation, and we were called into the courtroom.
I kept my gaze locked on the defendant during the entire reading. We, the jury, sentence you to eight years in a State of Texas penitentiary for the crime of burglary.
The defendant celebrated. Literally.
Grinning bigger than Dallas. All but high-fiving his attorney. Flashing two thumbs-up to someone behind him. He was one happy camper.
Later, we had an opportunity to ask the judge questions about the case, and I asked the one that had been bugging me. “How did this thing come to trial?”
“The defendant refused the plea.”
That’s the brilliant part. Remember, the sentence range for a defendant with priors was two to twenty years. Although we don’t know–and will never know–what the plea offer was, I can imagine it was at least fifteen years since the last sentence given the defendant was twelve.
By giving him eight years, we, the jury, just saved the defendant roughly seven years on his sentence.
He’ll be eligible for parole in two years.