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.