In a federal murder trial that is nearing completion in Tennessee, the combining of words from separate sentences has created a storm of controversy and may lead to a mistrial for the Defendant. Any attorney reading this blog will understand that a mistrial does not mean the Defendant walks free of the charge, but for any possible non-lawyer reading this, a mistrial merely means the process would be repeated with a new jury at a later time.
So what were the words that were used to create this controversy? The inflammatory statement made by the prosecutor, Steve Neff, was "racist rednecks". Mr. Neff attributed this comment to the jury and credited the accused, Rejon Taylor for saying it.
But, what Mr. Taylor actually said was in a couple of different sentences in a telephone call that was recorded. Mr. Taylor did refer to the jury as "little redneck-looking folks" and to the verdict as "racist". When these words are combined, I do not think it reaches the conclusion of "racist redneck".
Now, why would the prosecution do this? Well, he wants to get the jury to sentence Mr. Taylor to death for his crime. But, shouldn’t the evidence support that, assuming that someone is to be put to death? Having to reach into a conversation and twist the evidence strikes me as desperate. Part of reaching a death penalty verdict is to determine that the accused has no remorse for the crime, but using his descriptions of the verdict to do it seems out of the contrary and highly unprofessional.
I sincerely hope that this judge grants the mistrial and does not just use an "instruction" to the jury to "cure" the problem. If in fact the jurors are "little redneck-looking folks" they probably will not see beyond the inflammatory nature of the comment… but, not knowing them, I will give them credit for getting there if this is where the court goes.
Bottom line, all of us need to pay closer attention to what we say and how we say it. So many times people are hurt by the words that are used, even if it was not the intention of the speaking party. I have learned this through encounters with many people but a couple of my dearest friends (you know who you are). We are only responsible for our own actions and words, and cannot control (nor should we try to control) how those actions and words are perceived.
So, think before you speak and act. And Mr. Neff, please be more professional. You could have used the transcript exactly as it was stated to achieve the same result without stooping to this level of desperation.
For more details on this article, please read the article in the Chattanooga Times.