Chris Green, chosen to be a juror in a non-death capital murder case in the 338th District Court of Harris County, Texas, googled “capital murder” before opening statements began, and didn’t like what he found. He decided that there was a “very real danger of retribution” if the jury convicted Amezquita of capital murder and he got the automatic life sentence that is mandatory when the State is not seeking death.
Never mind that the danger of retribution is not “very real,” but rather entirely imaginary. I don’t know when there was last retribution against someone for his jury verdict in Harris County. It may have happened somewhere sometime, but that doesn’t make the danger real. (The prosecutor appears to have had no concerns, and the defendant is accused of murdering his business partner, so there’s no organized-crime angle.)
I see Green as a typical twenty-first century American, hooked by television on drama and fear, and looking for his fix. After scaring himself, Green reached out to Roger Bridgwater, a former prosecutor, former judge, and former (?) defense lawyer, for advice. Then he wrote a letter to Judge Maria Jackson asking that the jurors’ identities be concealed, and got the other eleven jurors and the alternate to sign it.
Judge Jackson properly dismissed the jury; the parties will have to pick a new jury.
What the hell just happened?
Hypothesis One: Roger Bridgwater told Green to write a letter to Judge Jackson asking to be anonymized, and get the other jurors to sign it, because Bridgwater is stupid. This hypothesis satisfies Hanlon’s Razor (“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”).
The problem with Hypothesis One is that Bridgwater is not a stupid guy. He’s got experience on both sides (“defense” and “prosecution / bench”) of the Harris County criminal justice system, and he knew what effect such a letter would have.
Hypothesis Two: Roger Bridgwater told Green to write the letter to Jackson to deliberately undermine the prosecution of a capital murder case. There was a jury picked, and now the parties will have to pick another jury, delaying a resolution of the case. As Percy Foreman would say, a continuance is as good as an acquittal—for as long as it lasts. Motive? Upset at losing his place on the government teat.
One problem with Hypothesis Two is that if Green had not brought his illicit research to Judge Jackson’s attention he would have served on the jury with a reason (other than the law and the facts) to acquit the defendant, so saying nothing, as Murray Newman suggests, would have harmed the State more.
Another problem with Hypothesis Two is that the news coverage of Green’s conduct has poisoned the jury pool further against the defendant.
Hypothesis Three: Roger Bridgwater deliberately undermined the defense of a capital murder case. The juror’s concerns—”possible fallout, including violence, if Amezquita were convicted and automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole”—might tend to bias the juror against the State. By advising the juror to bring his concerns to the judge’s attention, Bridgwater ensured that this juror would not serve. Motive? Bridgwater was “part of the leadership team that had overseen the case since 2008.”
The two problems with Hypothesis Two favor Hypothesis Three.
The problem with Hypothesis Three is that there are many better ways for Bridgwater to have sabotaged the defense. For example, he could have reassured Green that there was zero danger of retribution. He could have told Green that the defendant needed to be convicted. He could have played on Green’s fear.
Maybe Bridgwater thought Green was inherently a bad prosecution juror, regardless of the irrational fear of retribution? Unlikely. Jurors with irrational fears are generally pro-prosecution jurors. On general principle, prosecutors seek to make jurors afraid.
Hypothesis Four: Roger Bridgwater, with no intent to help either party, deliberately undermined the functioning of the criminal justice system. That seems to be the theory that Newman is leaning toward. Motive? None. Pure chaos from a lawful guy.
Hypothesis Five: The story is not exactly as reported. Green did his online research, then called up his friend Bridgwater:
“Judge Bridgwater, I need some legal advice. I’m on this jury, and I’m scared of retaliation because I did this online research—”
“Whoa, whoa, Mr. Green. You did online research about the case?”
“Well, I googled capital murder and I—”
“Stop. You can’t serve on this jury. You have got to tell the judge on the case about this. Do it in writing.”
“How do I do that?”
“Just write a letter to the judge explaining. You can’t serve on this jury.”
“What should I say?”
“Wait a second. Who’s the defendant?”
“A guy named Amezquita.”
“I really can’t talk to you any more about this. Just tell the judge the best you can, and she’ll figure it out.”
From there, Green improvised, and brought his twelve friends in the jury in on it because if he shouldn’t have to serve then they shouldn’t have to either.
Bridgwater wouldn’t discuss the matter with Brian Rogers, which is as it should be. In court “Green revealed that he had reached out to Roger Bridgwater, a former judge and official in the Lykos administration, for advice.” Going to a lawyer (such as Bridgwater) for legal advice makes the communication privileged. Bridgwater doesn’t need to defend himself against the inference that Newman would draw, and shouldn’t.
The only other piece of information the article gives about the interaction between Green and Bridgwater is this:
On the stand, Green admitted that he wrote the letter, then testified that he did so on the advice of a family friend who happened to be a former felony court judge and top lieutenant of Pat Lykos, the former Harris County district attorney.
Trial lawyers know how often what is said on the stand only impressionistically represents what really happened. Hypothesis Five fits all of the facts as we know them, and has the added benefit of making more sense than any of the other four hypotheses.
I’m not a Bridgwater fan but, as much as I love to report a good scandal in the Palace of Injustice (Newman loves this story), I’m going with Hypothesis Five.