A Presque Isle County hung jury

There is a saying among trial lawyers: “If you have the facts, argue the facts. If you have the law, argue the law. If you have neither — pound the table.”

But there are other ways.

The bartender had listened to the arguments long enough. He put the lot of them out into a heavy snow, it’s big flakes falling slowly on State Street in Onaway, Michigan. There, two groups of young men, “squared off.”

My client was frantic over his concern for his brother – one of the group’s leading protagonists. He was doing all he could to stop the altercation for his brother recently had a metal plate inserted in his skull — a hard blow could kill him.

Alcohol, abundantly supplied, had mixed thoroughly with testosterone by the time Presque Isle Deputy Sheriff Ed Smith arrived on the scene. “Ed” (not his real name) was semi-retired — a bailiff. He hadn’t worked road patrol for nearly a decade but a short handed department had put him out there.

Ed drove his squad car between the two warring factions but when he exited his vehicle he left the squad car’s door fully open revealing the presence of a holstered sawed off shotgun. My client saw that gun, reached for it, and brought it to bear on the leader of the group threatening harm to his brother. On the main street of Onaway — everything stopped.

But down the sidewalk a man kept walking.

He was a soldier, home. A tall, lanky young fellow proceeding with a purposeful stride from a party where they had run out of beer. This soldier was on a mission.

He was dressed appropriately, but uniquely, in a full length fur coat; he sported hurriedly laced combat boots. When the soldier came upon the scene it didn’t take him long to appraise the situation and determine a course of action.

My client, a short fellow, was positioned with his back to the soldier. It took only a couple strides for the soldier — employing an overarching reach – to extend himself above my client, grab the shotgun with both hands and lift it skyward – defusing the situation. But it was observed by those assembled that when the soldier’s arms were thus extended, his fur coat opened wide allowing those big snowflakes to fall — on bare flesh!

Beneath his fur coat, the soldier was naked.

They threw the book at my client. No plea bargain was offered.

Presque Isle juries tend to the stern side. Hard working stone quarriers, merchant mariners, and farmers, they don’t truck with a lot of nonsense. It was such men who sat in judgment of my client that day. Only one woman was on the panel.

With the prosecutor having both the law and the facts, the trial unfolded as expected. But I made sure the jury understood my client’s motivation and when the lanky young soldier testified I had him describe all that had been revealed. The men on the jury were not amused but the lady smiled, then she chuckled. It was a chuckle that forged an opening into a broader reality revealing more clearly where my client fit – she hung that jury.

The prosecutor didn’t want to try the case again. The Sheriff’s Department concluded enough embarrassing publicity had been generated. My client plead to a misdemeanor; served 90 days in the Presque Isle county jail, went home.

David Foster Wallace, one of my favorite authors, told this story:

“Two young fish were swimming along when they met an older fish who nodded and said: ‘Morning boys, how’s the water?’ After they swam on a while, one young fish asked the other: ‘What’s water?'”

That lady juror — she knew what water was.

Doug Pugh’s Vignettes run bi-weekly on Tuesdays. He can be reached via email at pughda@gmail.com.