Grand Jury Somehow Fails To Indict Man Who Shot Deputy During No-Knock, Pre-Dawn Raid For Capital Murder
from the the-system-forgets-to-work dept
This originally was a story I only mentioned in passing while discussing the law enforcement community’s growing embrace of no-knock warrants.
On December 19, eight members of Texas’s Burleson County Sheriff’s Department banged open the door of the double-wide trailer rented by 28-year-old Henry Magee and his girlfriend. It was between five and six AM and the deputies, who were there to search for marijuana and stolen weapons, set off at least two flashbang grenades in an attempt to surprise and disorient Magee, their suspect. The leader of the team, Sergeant Adam Sowders, a seven-year veteran of the department, had requested the warrant be “no-knock,” meaning the police could enter the residence without announcing themselves. But it was possibly do to the confusion caused by the sudden entrance of the cops that led to Magee opening fire with a semi-automatic weapon and hitting Sowders. The cop later died, and Magee has been charged with capital murder, which can bring the death penalty in Texas.
A squad of officers smash through a person’s door (possibly unannounced) pre-dawn and are greeted by gunfire. The surprising thing is that this doesn’t happen more often, especially in a state like Texas, where a man’s home is often his well-armed castle. But the prosecutor didn’t see the deputy’s fault in this incident and pursued capital murder charges. Keep in mind, part of what was being sought in the raid was an ultra-dangerous drug that is currently legal in two states. Also keep in mind that the guns they found weren’t stolen, but because of the marijuana Magee possessed, the previously legal weapons were now illegal.
In a surprising decision, a Texas grand jury has decided not to indict Henry Magee on capital murder charges.
“This was a terrible tragedy that a deputy sheriff was killed, but Hank Magee believed that he and his pregnant girlfriend were being robbed,” Magee’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, told A.P. “He did what a lot of people would have done. He defended himself and his girlfriend and his home.”
DeGuerin, a well-known defense attorney who has been practicing for half a century, said “he could not immediately remember another example of a Texas grand jury declining to indict a defendant in the death of a law enforcement officer.”
The district attorney who pursued the capital murder charges against Magee even admitted the evidence against him wasn’t solid.
“I believe the evidence also shows that an announcement was made,” Renken said. “However, there is not enough evidence that Mr. Magee knew that day that Peace Officers were entering his home.”
Despite this lack of evidence, Julie Renken went ahead and pursued capital murder charges in front of a grand jury, an entity most notable for its willingness to “indict a ham sandwich.” The fact that Magee was able to walk away from that charge still remains the exception to the rule. As far as grand juries go, indicting is what they do best. They have it down to a science, as Gideon at A Public Defender points out.
During a single four-hour workday last week, a Mecklenburg County grand jury heard 276 cases and handed down 276 indictments.
That means the 18 jurors heard evidence, asked questions, weighed whether the charges merit a trial, then voted on the indictments – all at the average rate of one case every 52 seconds.
276 indictments, all in under a half-day. Not a single one of the 276 accused were found not guilty. This is the grand jury system running on all cylinders.
You read something like that and you just have to laugh. You have to laugh because it’s so improbable and so absurd that it must be true and that it can only happen here, in these United States of America, the best country in the world with the best justice system in the world, because by God, we hate criminals.
A grand jury rings up a 276-0 shutout in less time than it takes the average officer worker to get to their lunch break, but when people question whether a true justice system should be giving this much power to an entity that only hears one side of the case (the prosecution’s), the supporters point out the rarities, like the one above, that supposedly prove the system (and its 52-second indictments) works.
The biggest obstacle to curbing grand juries (much less eliminating them) is the government itself.
The appeal of the grand jury to the government is obvious: you get to present your allegations to a group of civilians who aren’t in any way equipped to determine the veracity of the charges and who are most likely to side with you.
If that description doesn’t seem too far removed from the rubber stamp of the FISA court with its non-adversarial approach, there’s a good reason for that. Political figures harness voters by vowing to be tough on crime — and there’s no greater crime than terrorism. The best way to pitch a shutout and satisfy constituents demanding a “safer” country/city/neighborhood is to remove the batter from the equation.