A Life Sentence

20 Jun

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, when a defendant is up on murder charges, the decision has to be handed down by a jury of 12 unique peers, with three alternate jurors outside of the deliberation room, should anything happen. As with any case, the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Never in my life did I think I’d have to take part in such a process as I did in the last week and a half at the Norfolk Superior Courthouse in Dedham, MA.

As Juror #10, I was part of a jury on the case in The Commonwealth v. Carlos Seino. The state was alleging that on August 2, 2002, Seino robbed and killed Quincy City Hall custodian Daniel DeCosta. Seino wasn’t named as a suspect until 2006, when he was arrested on an unrelated felony, and his DNA was matched to blood found on DeCosta’s shirt.

There are many gory details and facts that I could get into about the case, but I don’t want to. People have been asking me what it was like to be on a murder trial, the only other source of information for them being Hollywood. I think it’s safe to say that at times it was interesting, extremely boring, and overall has been one of the most miserable experiences of my life. Hollywood takes many liberties when it comes to courtroom dramas, and it’s almost a let down to see the difference firsthand.

No one jumps out of their chairs and yells, “OBJECTION!” No one unleashes a bombshell that leaves the spectators gasping in shock. And no matter how good an actor is, there’s no comparison to the feeling of shame you get when you look at a man who is on trial for his life.

After two and a half days of deliberation, in which most of the jurors changed their stances at least once, we voted unanimously on the charges. Carlos Seino was guilty of Armed Robbery, Not Guilty of Premeditated First Degree Murder, and Guilty of Felony Murder in the First Degree. Felony Murder carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Coming to this decision was not easy.

I came into the deliberation not sure if he’d done the deed, but positive that the state hadn’t given us enough evidence to convict. The first half day of deliberation was simply presenting the facts and theories. The second day was intense, as we worked through the time line and went through every fact in great detail. Through discussion, we were able to work from the facts and testimony we had, and determine through inferences that Seino was lying on the stand, which ultimately put him in the alley with DeCosta.

Seino had motive, and were it not for a drop of blood on the victim’s shirt and his DNA in the front left pocket of the victim’s jeans, it would have been the perfect crime. Back on that day in 2002, Seino had cut his hand at work, and instead of getting it patched up at the hospital, he simply put a band aid on it. That day, Daniel DeCosta was given a $500 check from the City of Quincy for a uniform allowance. DeCosta cashed that check, as well as a $103 disability check at Sully’s Bar, where he was a regular. Throughout the night, DeCosta drank and played Keno with the other regulars.

At some point in the night, Seino stopped in for 10-20 minutes to talk to his ex-girlfriend, where he claims he gave a friend of his a hug. Though he doesn’t know how, he explained that’s the only way his blood could have gotten on the victim’s shirt. However, from expert testimony from the State Police, it was determined that the blood spatter pattern had to come when DeCosta was lying prone on his back, which would be unlikely in a bar.

This is how we discerned that Seino had to be standing over him in the alley, among other facts. Seino was habitually late on his rent, and was threatened by his roommates with eviction if he didn’t pay up soon. On the stand, under pains of perjury, his former roommate testified that Seino had given him about $400 that day, then woke him up around 1:30 am to give him the rest of the money, which he’d never done before. Seino claimed that never happened, so we knew one of them had to be lying. We thought about it, and concluded that his roommate had no reason to perjure himself, whereas Seino was on trial for his life, and was sticking to his story.

And so we came to the conclusion that Seino was guilty, though we didn’t think he intentionally tried to kill DeCosta. A weapon was never recovered, but wounds on the victim’s head indicate he was beaten with one. However, though he died of blunt force trauma, if DeCosta hadn’t been so drunk that night, he could have survived. Blood patterns on his face indicated that he choked on his own blood after he couldn’t roll over on his side.

There are more details and facts that aren’t worth getting into. But when we walked into the courtroom yesterday, I was a wreck. I know that when I voted guilty, I was sure of it. But voting from another room and reading it in court, with everyone watching you intently, are very different things. My legs were shaking, hands trembling, heart beat going crazy, sweat coming from the forehead, and feeling lightheaded, like I might pass out. I can only imagine what he was going through.

The entire week, we’d been holding the trial in a huge, historic courtroom, but yesterday we were kicked out to a different, smaller room. The juror bench was now right next to the defendant’s desk. We had to remain standing as our foreman read the verdict, and when “Guilty” was pronounced sadly and regretfully, Seino leaned over and moaned. I couldn’t look at him or his lawyer. Then, as if to further drill it home, the Magistrate had us all say guilty one by one.

“To the charge of Armed Robbery, how do you find the defendant?”
“Guilty.”
“To the charge of Premeditated First Degree Murder, how do you find the defendant?”
“Not Guilty.”
“To the charge of Felony Murder in the First Degree, how do you find the defendant?”
“Guilty.”

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Knowing that you’re sending a man away for the rest of his life. And though I know that we decided that he committed a crime and killed a man, there will always be that doubt in my heart, of what if we got it wrong?

As we walked out of the room, Seino said, “You just sent a innocent man to jail.”

The judge came in to talk to us and said he was sentencing him to life in prison, and I later found out it was life without parole. Though I think I did the right thing, and served justice to Daniel DeCosta’s family and friends, it still doesn’t feel right. No one ever wants to be put in this position, but at least I have a better appreciation of the justice system. I hope every jury goes through this much torment. And though Seino’s face and words will be burned into my memory for the rest of my life, I have to move on and think that we did the right thing. But that’s my life sentence. To have to know we put a man in jail for the rest of his life. I’ll always live with it. As the youngest juror at 21, I have a long way to go.

You can read more about the trial from the Patriot Ledger.

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