Kathy Layton wanted Mohammad Ali Behzadian prosecuted for murder. Most of us thought that was irrational.
Prosecutors tried him for first-degree vehicular homicide, accusing him of driving impaired and recklessly on the wrong side of River Watch Parkway on Feb. 28, 2003, killing Layton's son, 18-year-old Brandon. Most of us thought that charge was reasonable.
This past week, Augusta jurors found Behzadian guilty only of misdemeanor driving offenses. Most of us find that inexplicable.
It's hard to argue with our jury system, even when the conclusions it reaches are, to most people, so obviously wrong. Most of the rest of us believe the evidence and testimony at the trial shows that Behzadian had drugs and alcohol in his system, was driving erratically, and was driving down the wrong side of a divided highway when he plowed into Brandon's car.
Accordingly, most of us believe Behzadian is guilty of more than just a couple of misdemeanor driving offenses. Not murder, certainly; there's no doubt Behzadian wasn't criminally intent on killing anyone. But whether impaired or simply disoriented, Behzadian shouldn't have been behind the wheel that night; as a doctor, of all people, he knows that. As soon as he started driving he was responsible for the outcome.
While most of us may indeed believe Behzadian is guilty of at least a felony or two, the 12 jurors didn't see it that way. And for our criminal justice system, that's what counts.
One of the more overused phrases in our criminal justice system is "innocent until proven guilty." Specifically, that doctrine applies only to jurors and the judge in a criminal proceeding; the rest of us can feel free to pass judgment and believe a person's guilt, because we're not empowered to do anything with that judgment.
Because jurors do hold that power, perhaps the burden can weigh a little too heavily on them. Thus, just as Brandon's mother understandably can believe Behzadian is guilty of murdering her son, jurors can likewise allow emotional appeals - such as Behzadian's sorrowful testimony - to sway them to pity even when the evidence, to most of the rest of us, doesn't seem to merit it.
No, Mohammad Ali Behzadian didn't murder Brandon Layton. But a tremendously promising and gifted young man is just as dead. Yet for taking a life, the most he gets from 12 jurors is to be found guilty of a crime that is no worse than stealing a TV from Wal-Mart?
That doesn't seem rational to me, either. But then they didn't ask me, or most of the rest of us, to sit on that jury.
Off to jail
Speaking of criminals, there are just two weeks of freedom left for former state school superintendent Linda Schrenko. She is due on Sept. 11 to begin serving her eight-year sentence.
The fact that it falls on Patriots Day could be symbolic. Some people see prosecution for public corruption as a cause for increased cynicism, but I have a more optimistic view: Our system of government is one of laws, not of people, and it should reinforce our faith in it - and, thus, our patriotism - when we see those laws enforced against the people who break them even when they are part of the government.
Schrenko's attorney has asked that she be sent to the federal prison in Tallahassee, Fla., where officials recently uncovered a ring of guards having sex with inmates in return for drugs, alcohol and money.
Schrenko, who was having an affair with co-conspirator and as-yet-unsentenced deputy superintendent Merle Temple while stealing $600,000 in federal education money, should feel right at home.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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