Yesterday, the jury came back in the Kemar Johnston case.  They had already found Mr. Johnston guilty of murder, now they were deliberating whether or not Kemar Johnston should die as punishment for the crime. 

The jury recommended life in prison for Kemar Johnston.  In doing so, the jury voted AGAINST the death penalty in this case.

Mercy over judgment.  Mercy — it’s one of the clear themes of this blog, as is bringing attention to the variety of mitigating factors that come into play in every case where the sentence of death is at issue. 

We argued that there were mitigating factors in Kemar Johnston’s situation where it would be unjust to impose the death penalty.  Among the evidence presented, clinical psychologist Hyman Eisenstein testified that he found Kemar to suffer from brain damage.  Specifically, permanent damage to the frontal lobe had occurred which compromised Kemar’s ability to make decisions as well as his ability to grasp the consequences of what he might choose to do, or not do. 

Mitigating Factors and Aggravating Circumstances.  We’ve discussed the process of capital punishment imposition before, generally describing the prosecutor’s advancing of circumstances and the defense’s propounding of mitigation issues.  The sentencing phase of any capital trial follows set protocols established by statute.

The trial of Kemar Johnston brings this home as a prime example of how the sentencing phase works.  State attorneys argued four aggravating circumstances.  We argued 100 mitigating factors that should form a barrier between Kemar Johnston and execution by the State of Florida for the crimes of which he had been found guilty.

There are those that are all too ready to say that when one citizen takes a life, he should give his own in return.  However, an eye for an eye is not what our society considers as justice.

This was a 20 year old boy whose birthday celebration – fueled with drugs and alcohol — went horribly wrong and now, he will spend the rest of his life behind bars.   Judgment was had: the jury found him guilty of murder.

Mercy was then imposed.  A mentally challenged young man who is loved by many —so loved, that his sister, sobbing on the stand during the sentencing phase brought the entire courtroom to a halt as Kemar broke down, too — was spared from the penalty of death. 

A victory in this case, yes – but it’s also a victory in the fight against Capital Punishment. 

This is a victory for us all, not just for LenamonLaw (though we are celebrating this weekend).  Until the death penalty is removed as a legal alternative, the fight to keep the government from killing its citizens must be fought a case at a time, in courtrooms across the country, just like we did this month for Kemar Johnston.

We can only hope that our spouses, and our children, understand the contributions that they make to this fight in their sacrifices — and now, we’ll be taking a bit of time to focus upon them, sharing our appreciation for their efforts as part of this team.