Jury duty: Seeking truth in a drunken fight

It's a lousy job, but someone's got to do it

February 27, 2011|By Dan Rodricks

They picked me for a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore, Judge John Carroll Byrnes presiding. It was an attempted murder case: A young fellow named Bradley, also known as Doo Wop, allegedly stabbed another young fellow named Massey in a drunken fight over a woman named Jones, supposedly the "baby mother" of the defendant. This happened early on Friday, March 26 last year, on East 34th Street near Ellerslie Avenue in northeast Baltimore.

Only one witness to the incident testified during the trial, and that was Mr. Massey, the victim. That turned out to be a problem for some members of the jury. One at first didn't believe anything Mr. Massey said; another wanted corroboration of what he said.

But there was no corroboration. No video. No DNA. No big crowd of onlookers enthusiastically testifying for the state. No "baby mother" on the witness stand. All we had was Mr. Massey, the 27-year-old victim who had shown up at Union Memorial Hospital with a small knife wound to his chest — not to mention a blood-alcohol level of twice what the state considers intoxicated, and the narcotic Percocet in his system, according to a nurse's report.

On the night of the drama, Mr. Massey said, he had been hanging out with Miss Jones. Then Mr. Bradley arrived and this Miss Jones got upset. "She was terrified and jumped in the closet," Mr. Massey said.

Now look, this story gets fuzzy here, partly because Mr. Massey spoke in run-on sentences and mumbled and because the prosecutor — never got her full name because she never introduced herself to the jury — didn't ask him to slow down and repeat anything. Judge Byrnes did, from time to time, but the mumbles continued.

Still, I can tell you this: Whatever was going on that night, the atmosphere must not have been wholly antagonistic, because Mr. Massey and Mr. Bradley hit it off pretty well. Though they had never met before, they hung out together and did some drinking of Colt 45 and New Amsterdam gin. In fact, their fight didn't break out until a few hours later when Mr. Bradley tried to get into Miss Jones' house and Mr. Massey tried to stop him.

That's when the knife came out, according to Mr. Massey, and Mr. Bradley stabbed him once in the chest.

Though Mr. Massey's one-inch wound was considered "non life threatening," he said, "I felt I was on my death bed for the second time in my life."

While Mr. Massey lived to testify against Mr. Bradley, Mr. Bradley never spoke a word at trial. He shuffled and reshuffled papers while his attorney, a public defender named Rowland, raised reasonable doubt: No weapon was ever recovered, she said, and the victim had been intoxicated and gave police no description of his assailant on the night of the drama. Plus, it was 19 days before Mr. Massey identified "Doo Wop" as Cory Bradley in an array of mug shots presented by Det. William E. Nickles.

The three hours of jury deliberations were civil and thoughtful. Everyone had something to offer — points that others might have missed, recollections of testimony that opened minds to plausible explanations for Mr. Massey's behavior. While he hadn't identified his attacker until April 14, he had provided Mr. Bradley's nickname much sooner, and it had taken Detective Nickles some time to track down the suspect known as Doo Wop. Plus, jurors believed Mr. Massey had been initially uncooperative with police because he was inebriated or because he had ideas about personally retaliating for the attack. We all seemed to appreciate that cops and prosecutors must often make cases out of almost nothing: uncooperative witnesses, or only one witness and not a great one.

In the end, all 12 jurors believed Mr. Massey had been attacked by Corey "Doo Wop" Bradley but that Mr. Bradley had not intended to kill him. Our verdicts: Not guilty of attempted murder, not guilty of first-degree assault, guilty of second-degree assault and guilty of carrying a dangerous weapon with intent to injure. We'd have added, "Guilty of stupidity and lucky he didn't kill someone," but there wasn't a line for that on the verdict sheet.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday on WYPR, 88.1 FM. His e-mail is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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