Friday, May 8, 2015
15-year-old avoids murder conviction | Last Word
A jury in New Braunfels – hardly a liberal bastion -- this week added to evidence that Texas can be mature in the way we treat our children.
The case involved a horrible tragedy.
A 15-year-old boy was harassed by chemistry classmate Logan Davidson for two days.
According to witnesses, Davidson had thrown objects – erasers, pencils, ice and spitballs -- at him during class, despite warnings to stop.
According to both the accused boy and a witness, Davidson had also kicked him in the groin.
And when the boy threatened to punch the classmate if he didn’t stop the harassment, the boy testified Davidson mocked him in front of others.
Of such annoyances and provocations are schoolyard fights born.
But the fight never happened.
Instead, the 15-year-old waited for his provocateur to come out of the classroom and lunged at him, landing two punches to his head.
The classmate hit his head on the wall, fell to the ground and died.
An autopsy showed he had suffered a broken jaw, but what killed him was a torn artery in the back of his neck – an injury most of us have never heard of.
Prosecutors charged the 15-year-old with murder, but included the lesser offense of manslaughter for the jury’s consideration.
Nobody suggested that the 15-year-old, who was not named in news coverage because he is a minor, meant to kill Davidson.
But under Texas law, intent to kill is not necessary for a murder conviction.
Someone can be convicted if he kills someone in the course of committing another felony – if “he commits or attempts to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.”
The other felony cited by prosecutors was aggravated assault.
For unexplained reasons, the prosecutors didn’t include aggravated assault as a lesser offense for consideration by the jury.
It would have seemed to be an easy conviction, requiring only that the perpetrator “causes serious bodily injury to another.”
And some jurors said they would have convicted the boy of that charge had it been available to them.
Aggravated assault is a felony, but apparently the prosecutors wanted a higher level of felony, such as murder with a sentence of up to 40 years or manslaughter with a sentence of up to 20 years.
What’s more, prosecutors vigorously objected when Judge Charles Stephens granted defense lawyer Joseph Garcia’s request to include the lesser charge of simple assault, a Class A misdemeanor.
In a rare move, prosecutors interrupted the trial to appeal the judge’s decision.
A state appeals court ruled 2-1 in favor of the judge.
The majority wrote that a jury could reasonably conclude that “punching someone in the face twice is not an act that is inherently dangerous to human life, i.e. it is not an act that objectively creates a substantial risk of death.”
This, of course, is the common-sense issue.
Few of us think one 15-year-old punching another 15-year-old is likely to kill him.
And no evidence was presented that the teenager had either a history of fighting or any training in boxing or the martial arts.
The boy was guilty of assault, even if provoked.
The criminal level of the assault is a legitimate discussion.
But as the jury clearly concluded, the boy is not a murderer, and should not carry that label for the rest of his life.
Logan Davidson’s parents understandably disapproved of the verdict.
Their son is dead.
They will miss him forever, and it has been ruled a misdemeanor.
“We feel it sends the wrong message to the young people in our community, and beyond, that a child’s life is worth nothing more than a misdemeanor,” they said in a statement.
Their words are justified by their pain.
But I hope the verdict sends a different message – a message to prosecutors.
The message is that Texans want to hold youths accountable for their actions, but we don’t want to ruin their lives for adolescent misbehavior.