Burden of proof

Judgement, common sense still key requirement for juries

One of the most commented-upon criminal cases in Milam County ended last week when a 20th District Court jury found a 19-year-old Bryan man "not guilty" of aggravated robbery in connection with the Nov. 6, 2006, holdup of Sunny Food Mart in Rockdale.

Rockdale police expressed frustration and bewilderment when Justin Tiger Thomas was acquitted of charges that he participated in the offense when a pistol was pointed at a female clerk and $2,000 taken from the convenience store.

It's not hard to see why. Police had DNA evidence linking Thomas to a pair of gloves, believed to have been used in the holdup and found in a vehicle which crashed in College Station one day after the robbery. Both the other occupants of that vehicle have been convicted of aggravated robbery and drew prison terms.

The prosecution also presented evidence linking shoes worn by one of the robbers, visible in surveillance film, and those worn by Thomas at the time of his arrest, according to the sworn testimony of a Brazos County officer who testified at the trial.

And the state also had the testimony of Damion Jackson, 23, who turned state's evidence, admitted his part in the holdup, and another three days earlier at Gill's Stop-N-Go, and told jurors Thomas also participated.

And yet he was acquitted. The easy explanation is that the burden of proof in criminal cases falls, as it should, on the state and the jurors simply didn't believe the prosecution's case. But that begs another question. Why not?

It seems that jurors would have had to believe at least three things, that Damion Jackson was lying, that the Brazos County officer was lying and that the DNA glove evidence was irrelevant.

Some jurors said they would like to have seen more evidence, DNA evidence on the shoes, for instance. But, as Police Chief Thomas Harris, noted, there's a difference between proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and answering every single doubt by every single juror.

The case is over. There's no double jeopardy, nor should there be. Thomas is not guilty, period. Of course, "not guilty" isn't quite the same as "innocent."

And it's interesting that during the next week Thomas pleaded "guilty" to the Gill's robbery and accepted a probated sentence.—M.B.

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2009-07-09 digital edition

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