Saturday, August 18, 2012

Emotional Deliberations

It is 11 PM, so the air conditioner in the 4th District Court House had been off for hours.  It is hot, slightly sweaty and muggy, and reminds me of my days covering stories in the Greene County Mississippi Court House.  The Antebellum architecture is beautiful, but the antiquated HVAC system always put a fine sheen on the judge and attorneys in rolled up sleeves as they discussed the minutia of state law, in a poorly ventilated, yet historically and architecturally significant court room.

The Courthouse in Spanish Fork is new, modern and state of the art, but the moist heat and raw emotions and tensions inside it makes the place feel primal.

Pat Finlinson, is the prosecuting attorney of  Millard County.  A hardscrabble place of about 12,000 who have worked the fields for generations.

Finlinson has toiled for two and a half excruciating years to put Roberto Ramon behind bars for the murder of Millard County Sheriff's deputy Josie Fox.

Ramon had admitted to shooting and killing the deputy after she pulled him over near Delta, Utah January 5th, 2010.  This seemed like, to borrow a cliche, "an open and shut case," but in a piece of court room drama, Ramon takes the stand and accuses the deputy's brother, Ryan Greathouse of shooting Fox.

Greathouse and Ramon had been together earlier in the evening of her murder.  Ramon claims Greathouse was in his car when the pair was pulled over by Fox, Ramon says Greathouse fired the fatal shot.  The deputy's brother would later be found dead of a drug overdose in a Las Vegas hotel room.

The longer the jury deliberates, generally speaking, the better it is for a defendant, and Finlinson, is wearing the stress of that fact openly on his face.  He sits quietly, gazing at the earth tone tile that lines the hall of the courthouse.  He buries his thumbs into his eyes, and burrows his head into the palms of his hands.

I can hear him mutter to the attorney next to him, "this is agony."   A woman he knows, a tough gal, likely hardened by running a plow or tending the crops, asks him, "Well, do you wish you woulda been a farmer?"

Finlinson went to high school with Josie Fox, and probably knows her dad, her mother, and all of her siblings.  On the streets of Delta, he is likely stopped by weather-worn men in John Deere baseball caps and work soaked blue jeans, who ask, "How's your daddy?"

 Stephen McCaughey, is a defense attorney of some note.  You can often  see him strolling to the Matheson Court House in Salt Lake City with a white Fedora placed jauntily on his head.

When I chat with him as we wait for the verdict, I notice his bright, patterned tie, it is finely handcrafted, and probably cost more than I  would be willing to pay for 6 ties.   McCaughey says in his long career, he has put a defendant on the stand maybe 3 times, as a rule it doesn't do them any good, but tonight as the jury deliberation creak towards 8 hours, it is clear, these city slickers may have made the right decision for their client.  

The muttering around the court house seems to suggest we may have a hung jury,  for Finlinson this would be a monumental pain, because he would have to try Ramon again, but at least, for the prosecuting attorney, it's not acquittal.

You could tell the jury agonized over the decision to acquit Ramon, as they are polled by the judge who asks if they are in agreement on the verdict each one, labors out a painful, "yes."

Ramon will likely serve 10 years in prison for other charges including tampering with evidence and possession of a weapon by a restricted person, but for Fox's family, and for the prosecuting attorney, it appeared as if they had been gut-punched by the decision.

I watch as McCaughey, heads to his car, he elevated his white hat onto his head with a confident toss.

As Finlinson clumps down the stairs of the ultra modern 4th District Court House, he politely declines to comment.  Despite the modern air of the architecture, the building is filled with the ancient, hot emotion of despair that dates back to the beginning.

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