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I Sentenced a Man to Life in Prison

My last summer in Detroit

By Blake A SwanPublished about a year ago 10 min read
I Sentenced a Man to Life in Prison
Photo by Emiliano Bar on Unsplash

It was my last summer home.

I had spent the last 7 months in Philadelphia making up credits after switching majors. Only 2 weeks left of life as it used to be. Hanging out with my brothers. Being the baby of the family. After graduation, I’d start my forever career... or some silly shit like that. What they used to sell to college kids. What we used to believe.

A lot of things we used to believe seem ridiculous now. For instance, two weeks doesn’t sound like a long enough time to decide if we should send someone to prison for life. How about being exempt because of being in college out of state?

To be fair, they had been trying to get me for years. Notice after notice for jury duty, despite repeatedly telling them, “Sorry, I’m in Philly for college.” Maybe they thought I was lying? Who knows?

Everyone loves the idea of being on a jury but hates jury duty. A daunting process, considering the odds of being called in, is slim. Being selected and serving is even slimmer. The odds that you get a noteworthy case - highly unlikely. The odds that two members of the same family are in a jury for a murder case?

0.09 percent of U.S. adults were called to serve on trial juries in 2014, and 0.02 percent ended up serving.

My mother only got jury duty one time. A story that was enough to make me want to stay far away from jury duty. Would it happen to me too? The court informed me that only being in the state for 2 weeks wasn’t an excuse. She tried to assure me it was highly unlikely. It happened one time. She was never selected again.

I reluctantly reported for jury duty. Watched waves of people get sent home. Exchanging that look of relief with strangers in what today seems like an archaic bonding experience.

Young and old. Elbow to elbow. Working for the common goal... to make it home without serving... sounds strange when you put it like that.

For those who don’t know, I am a large person. NFL sized body since I was 15 and, of course, the top conversation piece is sports. The middle-aged man next to me spent much of his stay talking sports. It was a pleasant reprieve. He, too, assured me I had nothing to worry about as a student and joked that I should try out for the Lions someday. “Lord knows they can use all the help they can get.”

I felt good... until my number was selected.

“Just tell them you’re a college student. You only have 2 weeks in Michigan before school starts.” I rehearsed that in my head over and over. Until I discovered I was only an alternate.

Civic duty over

Time to head on home. A dozen people were in front of me and there was nothing to worry about... and then it started.

“I can’t be here. I have to go to the casino.” The first juror to disqualify themselves was making their case. “My son has to get me and drive me to the casino.” Now, this was coming from a woman in her late 40s. The unaccustomed exchanged looks and controlled laughter.

Our judge was basically Morgan Freeman. Like, he went to school to be a Morgan Freeman impersonator, but his parents wanted him to get an actual job, so he became a judge.

“Ma’am. Do you honestly believe that is more important than your civic duty?”

She didn’t even flinch. Her bag was clinched and ready to go. “I have work, and the casino. My son has to drive me.”

“Do you work at the casino?”

After several more incoherent statements about going to work, the casino, and working around the casino, she was let go. Taking off out of the courtroom and placed back on a docket.

The next juror was selected to fill her place. It finally hit me. There’s still a chance to get selected. I looked at the lawyers and the young man next to one of them. He didn’t even seem that old. In fact, we could be the same age. What could he possibly be on trial for?

Now, this may shock you. The judge, both lawyers, and the defendant were all black men. It didn’t seem like anything unusual. I grew up the child of well-educated parents with impressive family friends in education, mental health, business, and even a lawyer. To see black people in these positions wasn’t anything special. Only later in life would I realize this concept is unique or unheard of in places around the country.

Another college kid being oblivious to the world around me. Perhaps then I would’ve realized that I was one of three black people selected in the jury pool. Hindsight this was all making more sense.

I’ll never forget the juror in front of me. After several more classic excuses, this one was the boldest or even most offensive statement to make. Not knowing the man, there is some reservation of judgement. When the defense attorney asked him a question, he responded, “He’s guilty.”

“But you haven’t even heard the case?” the defense attorney replied.

“Yea, but he looks guilty to me.” the man said with enough conviction to make me look twice. Now, the defendant showed absolutely zero emotion during the entire trial process. It was super strange. However, does that make the man guilty? He was dismissed. Except he wasn’t put back in the docket.

I was up. They asked about my age, family affiliations, and siblings. There were already several cards played out today. It really works. “I’m only here for two weeks.” The judge, who I will just call Judge Freeman from now on, replied quickly.

“Don’t worry, it shouldn’t take that long.”

The chosen one

After they finished selecting the jury the Judge Freeman began. “This defendant has been charged with murder in the first.”


WTF! Murder in the first! This guy? My head swung back to look at the defendant. Trying to make sense of things. Especially considering they said it would only take 2 weeks. This young man was facing life in prison.

The Trial

I will have to write a full depth review of this work of art. It was better than any drama series I’ve ever seen. Mainly because the main characters resembled movie stars, or they had so much character a few sentences wouldn’t do it justice.

Long story short, the defendant created an insurance scheme and killed his childhood best friend for money. I have two older brothers. Trevor, the middle brother, is same age as the defendant. The victim would have been my age if he were alive. It was as if my brother had killed me for money.

Fortunately, there was a mistake during the process. When the defendant didn’t receive the money, it set off a red flag when he requested a new check.

The star of the show, named “Willy”, took the stand and revealed that he was not involved. Despite the defendant trying to set him up for a murder, he continued to run errands for him. The defendant stole his wallet and forged his signatures on legal documents, which led to us connecting more charges and solidifying his intent.

The deliberation didn’t take very long. All the free Subway in the world wasn’t motivation enough to delay the court process. I do distinctly remember reminding members of the jury that there were things we didn’t have to do.

After a 15-minute discussion on signatures, I made the comment that the “g’s” didn’t match. I’ll never forget, this woman in her 20s who kept asking to look at evidence and commented on the document responded, “we aren’t professionals, we can’t tell.”

Before we moved on, I looked at her and replied, “I said that the whole time, but since you all insisted.” Another man echoed, “yes, we aren’t professionals. Can we take a vote?” Another reason I feel bad for some people in this process. If this case didn’t have enough evidence, I’d probably still be on that jury.

The Aftermath

An unsatisfactory end to deliberation brought the reality of the trial to the forefront. He could’ve been my older brother. He could’ve been a successful entrepreneur with so many side hustles that came out of his young mind. Instead, he tried to take a shortcut at the cost of his best friend’s life.

Standing in the jury box, having to wait my turn to affirm my guilty vote, made it even more real. Looking at the defendant... no emotion as he hears the verdict. At that moment, it appeared less harsh and unaffected. That was the moment I recognized what it really was. A child pouting. Upset that they had been caught. Standing defiantly against any form of punishment. Completely detached from the deed.

My mother’s a social worker. The benefits of the exposures from being around her and helping with some of her programs were monumental in understanding other people. People that society may cast away as monsters. Yes, he was a monster. However, we assume monsters are big, bad, and evil. Perhaps they aren’t as sophisticated and challenging as we have been led to believe.

Instead, they are just grown people behaving like children. Impulsively seeking solutions without a care for the consequence. An age where their actions and impulses have significant consequences.

Judge Freeman talked to those who stayed behind to meet with him. Each one of us requested a copy of the judge’s instructions. We were denied, but honestly, who was going to believe we got Morgan Freeman to be our judge.

“You made the right choice. It was an open and shut case.” Even hearing this from Judge Freeman didn’t take away the gravity of the decision. I just sent a young man to jail for life. With all the charges, he would die before he had the chance of parole.

Did it make his family happy? It didn’t bring back their son. Tragically, I had heard about this family before. During the summer before, the news was all over local stations. An innocent bystander was struck by a bullet at a high school dance. It was the victim’s younger sister. She was killed the summer after her older brother had been murdered. (I’ll revisit these details in time.)

The family eventually got the money from the insurance policy. Little consolation compared to the loss of young life. The only justice that came out of this case. They had a long road ahead of them to get full retribution. I’ll add it to my next post as well.

Summer was over. Getting back to school, all I could think about was that what I did was justified. Tried not to think about my role. Going back to school in North Philadelphia with students who had a normal summer. People who may never have to be in that situation themselves. Never know the details of betrayal, greed, and corruption. The tragedies life can throw at a family in the cruelest way.

We’re supposed to grow up in college. Supposed to have time to transition into the real world. Life decided that idea was a facade that needed to be ripped away from me. At any moment, you may be put in a position to impact your own life or the life of others.

I sent a man to jail for life. No matter how many people I help or lives, I’ve been fortunate to save that thought creeps back in my head. According to the evidence, it was justified. Doesn’t change the fact that I took away a human’s freedom...

I pray it made a difference.


About the Creator

Blake A Swan

NCSA Strength and Conditioning Professional certified as a CSCS, TSAC-F, and CPT. I have my FMS Certification as well, and spent over a decade working with athletes in various sports. Including youth, high school, college, Olympic and Pro.

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