When I got to the studio this dreary grey morning, my coat and tote bags were sopping wet. Looking up from the building’s entrance on Washington Street, I saw that the Manhattan Bridge was barely visible in the rain, and the street was, for once, absent of wedding photographers, brides, grooms, and selfie-stick wielding tourists. Earlier, as I left the apartment, Jonathan, out walking the dogs, yelled after me crossing the street that I should go back and get an umbrella, but I was eager to get going so that I’d have time to stop at 100 Centre Street, home to the New York State Criminal Court, where I had recently served as an alternate juror on a gritty crime-drama of a trial.
The heartbreaking scenario concerned a twenty-two-year old defendant who, until two years ago when he was sent up to Rikers, was a resident in one of the city’s largest public housing complexes. He looked as if he could have been one of my students, and he wrote (or drew?) obsessively throughout the trial. In other words, the young defendant seemed innocent enough, but he was charged with numerous serious and disturbing crimes, including murder, attempted murder (different victim, different day), assault with a deadly weapon, and more. During the trial, the Assistant District Attorney called witness after witness, each testifying to the validity of the evidence, from cell phone records, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, and surveillance footage, to DNA, eye-witness reports, and bullet casings. I was struck throughout the proceedings that none of the defendant’s family ever came to support him—not his mother, brother, girlfriend, aunt, or uncle.
Anyway, a few days ago, after seven days of detailed testimony, the trial ended. Getting to the court by 9:30 each morning, showered and presentably dressed, had been a challenge (I usually get up when I feel like it), so I was pleased, after final summations, to be put on “extended recess,” which meant I didn’t have to return to the courthouse during deliberations. As an alternate juror, I still wasn’t allowed to talk about the details of the case or Google anything about it until the jurors had reached a verdict, because, after all, one might come down with food poisoning, say, and I would be called to substitute. The judge, a short, affable man who would have fit right in on an episode of Law & Order, advised me not to leave the tri-state area.
On Tuesday, I got the call. After less than a day of deliberations, the jurors came to the conclusion that the kid was guilty on all charges. I immediately Googled the defendant, the victims, the witnesses, and everyone else whose names I could remember. During the trial, the murder victim, a 33-year-old man with two young kids, had been characterized as a neighborhood crack dealer, but I learned that he was also an up-and-coming rapper who had been in talks with a prestigious record label. In one article, I was surprised to learn that the cops called the defendant, who looked very mild-mannered in the courtroom, a “fucking terror.” Apparently he had a long juvenile record.
I stopped by the courthouse this morning to see if anyone connected with the case was around. How did the defendant react when the verdict was read? Did any of his family show up for the announcement? I stood in the long line to go through the metal detectors, then went up to the courtroom. The only person I found who had been connected to the trial was a clerk, who told me that the sentencing has been scheduled for later in the spring. The defendant may get up to two twenty-five-year sentences, he told me. If he’s lucky, the sentences will run concurrently.
I left the courthouse and headed over to the studio on the A train. An Uber driver cut in front of me at the crosswalk, spraying a sheet of dirty puddle water at my feet. Once inside, I found my mailbox full of exhibition announcements and it held a particularly fine catalog for Thomas Berding’s recent show at the Oakland University Art Gallery. I remembered that he has an exhibition on view at The Painting Center for the next few weeks that I promised I’d write about. Oh, art world, I thought to myself, how lucky we are.
“Thomas Berding: Paintings from the Surplus Mound,” The Painting Center, Chelsea, New York, NY. Through April 22, 2017.
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Tags: Sharon Butler