Confessions of a Biased Juror

On Monday morning I drove to the LA County Courthouse to fulfill my civic obligation of jury duty. Don’t you assume that jury duty will turn out to be a traffic violation, petty crime or some marital dispute? I never imagined it would be something substantive, let alone a case and a victim with whom I was familiar.
In April 2010, a 13 year-old girl from Malibu named Emily Shane was struck and killed by a reckless driver as she walked along the Pacific Coast Highway. The driver, 28 year-old Sina Khankhanian, had recently lost his job and was driving maniacally down PCH in an attempt to take his own life. His car spun out of control, eventually crashing into a pole, but along the way he hit young Emily. It is alleged, but unclear, whether he targeted her intentionally.
As a parent I can’t think of a more heart-wrenching scenario. I don’t know the Shane family personally, but share many of their dear friends through my husband’s work in the Palisades. It was a widely discussed event and we commiserated with those who knew her …each of us expressing our deepest heartfelt sympathies – but shuddering at the mere thought. Her story touches everyone regardless of familiarity because it’s so horrific, so unimaginable, that we always think “that will never happen to me.” But clearly it does happen.
I’ve started a file recently titled “What the fuck, universe?”  Emily’s story goes in there.
After several hours in the juror lobby, our numbers were called and we filed into the courtroom. We took our oaths and settled in. The judge warned us that the case was controversial, and may take several weeks to conclude, but that we would find it “interesting”. Interested we were. The courtroom got pretty quiet.
The DA glanced my way as the judge began describing the case …my eyes wide as saucers and and jaw dropping to the floor. The defendant Mr. Khankhanian had his back to the panel of potential jurors, staring straight ahead the entire time. I strained to get a look at him face-on, in shock that this was the man who had killed the Shanes’ daughter.
The defense lawyer rose to tell his 60-second version of the story. I despised him instantly, wanted to stand and cry “bullshit”! He told us that Mr. Khankhanian is autistic and “developmentally disabled”, that he was incapable of understanding the potential consequences of his actions. He will ask the court to reduce the sentence from 2nd degree murder to gross vehicular manslaughter.
I’d like to remind the defense attorney that a moving vehicle is a loaded weapon. A weapon which his defendant treated as casually as a bouncey ball.
So it would seem, that we’re granting licenses to operate loaded weapons, to people who lack the ability to understand right and wrong. And then we’re excusing them of horrific behavior when they make a tragic choice. I have a really hard time accepting that. Adult people should be held responsible for their actions. And if they can’t be, they should have restricted rights like children do. No drinking, no voting, no guns and certainly no driving.
What do you think – does inability to understand consequence excuse someone from fatal crimes against another person? Does allowing this excuse open the door to abuse by suspected criminals for whom it doesn’t truthfully apply? I’d love to hear others’ thoughts, this conundrum is making my brain spin.
I know there is no good answer, no resolution that will make this ok for anyone.  But I do hope for peace for the Shane family, whatever that will mean.
P.S. I almost forgot to mention, the judge excused me from duty due to my Dad’s perilous condition – but I’m pretty sure they would have booted me on bias anyway.

6 thoughts on “Confessions of a Biased Juror

  1. i agree aut. no license, drinking, voting or guns. we shouldn't give licenses to people who could endanger others simply by driving.

    everyone should be entitled to a fair defense. but mr. Khankhanian doesn't seem interested in a fair, responsible defense. hiding his crime behind a legal vail, dastardly described as “developmentally disabled,” is disgraceful.

    the irony: if that were your picture above this note when you were 13, that man's life would assuredly hang in a Big C balance. now mr. Khankhanian receives a dubious 2nd chance from 12 other citizens not knowing that his #13, who most assuredly would have been fair and yet resolute in her resolve, resigned her service to be with her Big C who's life hangs in the balance…

    so… what the fuck, universe?

    (anonymous, but you'll get me…)

  2. Thank for this and you are correct. We finished day two of hell today with many more to go…But I know that the truth will prevail because Emily would not let anything else
    come to fruition.
    The loss of a child is not anything anyone would want for even their worse enemy…There is no cure or feeling better, but just learning to live with a hole in your heart..
    I hope your Dad gets better, as there is no more special bond than a father and his daughter(s) I know with my other two daughters and of course my precious angel
    So remember someone else, and do something good for another….go to
    Thank you for this
    Michel Shane

  3. Michael my heart goes out to you and your family, I can only imagine the pain you're all going through right now. Thank you for this note, you've been in my thoughts since last week. It's obvious Emily was a special girl who touched a lot of people. I'll keep hope for a swift and true verdict.

    All our love,

  4. The issue of competency in trials is an interesting one, especially when it comes to assertions based on developmental disability. It sounds like they're making a plea for a lesser sentence, perhaps IST (incompetent to stand trial) or NGI (not guilty by reason of insanity). In either case, he would/should be hospitalized. I have worked with defendants such as this and can shed some light on things if you'd like to discuss… 🙂

  5. First of all I like to say that my heart sincerely goes out to Michel and everyone affected by this horrible, tragic accident. Emily was obviously a very special and amazing young lady who touched the hearts of so many. I hope that this accident will truly lead to a better consciousness that we should treat each other with compassion and understanding.

    That being said, this was an ACCIDENT NOT A MURDER; and they happen. I pray that everyone can live up to the principles that Emily was, and can heal enough to be better human beings towards one another.

    And Tara, they weren't going for NGI nor IST. He's is Autistic and there has been a MAJOR misunderstanding with his “lack” of emotion for what happened. Simply put, Sina had no intent to harm ANYONE, especially Emily, but admitted that he was driving like an a**hole and caused a wonderful young lady to lose her life and feels horrible about what he did. I have actually seen him cry over it. And if you have an understanding of Autism then you realize that is a really big thing.

    By the way, there are reports that he was drinking and on a bunch of pills, well that's not true AT ALL. Sober, driving like a dumb**S, and lost control.

    Once again, my heart goes out to ALL people who have been affected and I personally will try to live my life remembering someone else and doing good for another as much as possible. One way is remembering that two loving families have been affected here, both Emily's and Sina's.

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