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The Legal Brief on CNN for 10/5/19

The Legal Brief is a regular feature on CNN New Day Saturday. The show is broadcast from the CNN center in Atlanta, and Trial Attorney Page Pate is a regular guest.

On this edition of the show, Page was invited to discuss the case involving the shooting of Botham Jean by his neighbor, Amber Guyger, as well as the shooting of Anthony Hill by Robert “Chip” Olson, a police officer in Georgia.

Amber Guyger, a former Dallas Police Officer, received a 10 year prison sentence for the death of Mr. Jean. At the conclusion of the case, the brother of the victim gave Ms. Guyger a hug in the courtroom. Page discusses the unusualness of this action and says “I mean, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in a courtroom when juries come back with a verdict, the judge is going to sentence the defendant. The judge allows the victim’s family to testify for sentencing purposes. Sometimes, you’ll hear from the defendant. It tends to be a cold, methodical process. Somebody will get up and read a statement, “Well, this is how this crime has impacted my family.” The victim will say, “Well, maybe things would be different. I wish I could have my brother back, my wife back,” whatever the case may be.” Page further explains that “what we saw in this courtroom was pure, raw human emotion, and that is frankly missing from courtrooms too much, in my opinion. We do a great job of processing people through the system, but a very poor job of trying to rebuild lives, of trying to put redemption back into a victim’s family….I can see the controversy, but that is exactly the type of thing that’s missing in courtrooms — that healing, the starting of the process. Send her to prison. That’s fine. That’s where she’s going. But how is that gonna help him or his family? It’s really not. So, I applaud him for doing it.”

After Ms. Guyger’s sentencing, the Judge presiding over the case gave Ms. Guyger a bible and a hug as well. When asked about the technicality of such contact in the courtroom, and whether it is a violation of the Texas code of judicial conduct, Page says that he does not believe it is, and explains that “ a judge is not supposed to hand anything to a defendant in that situation. I know it wasn’t planned. I guess the judge — who appeared to be emotional as well, as we were listening to the brother’s testimony — just felt compelled to do this. And it wasn’t like the judge interrupted the proceedings and said, “Now, let’s all pray together.” I don’t think she brought religion into the courtroom. It was a simple act of what the judge thought was kindness, by giving her a bible and wishing her well. “

Page is also asked about the actions of a police officer in the shooting of an unarmed, naked, black man in Georgia, named Anthony Hill. Mr. Hill was shot by Robert “Chip” Olson, a Dekalb County Police Officer, and is currently on trial. Page explains that “Apparently, there were some mental health issues. But it’s also clear that the person is not armed. And so, the question for the jury is, was it appropriate? Was it reasonable for the officer to pull his firearm and shoot this individual, who was clearly not armed when he had his baton, when he had other ways perhaps to deal with the situation? The defense is saying, “Look. Maybe so, in hindsight. But he had six to seven seconds to make the decision, and you gotta give him the benefit of the doubt…Now, as we know, it is very difficult to convict police officers in cases of excessive force. But this is a close case. Now, the officer did not testify. That surprised me. He didn’t speak to the jury and say, “This is what I was thinking at the time. This is why I did what I did.” And that may come back to hurt him at the end of the day because the jury never heard his side of the story from him directly.”

TRANSCRIPT:

Christi: So, what you’re seeing there, that hug, had a lot of people talking about forgiveness, about race — a big debate going on. Remember, Guyger is a former Dallas police officer. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison for shooting his brother, Botham Jean, inside Jean’s own home. Guyger said she mistook his apartment for her.

It’s Criminal Defense and Constitutional Attorney Page Pate with us now. Why do you think… We know that Brandt Jean, by the way, was on Dr. Phil yesterday and said that he thought the cameras were off of him when he asked for that hug. His mother, who has called for a renewed focus on police training, said she was shocked by what he did. And there’s a religious group that filed a complaint against the judge in the case after she gave Guyger a bible in the courtroom and hugged her. We’re gonna get to that in a minute, but I wanna ask you why you think this hug has…it’s actually…it’s upset people.

Atty. Pate: Well, it’s certainly unusual. I mean, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in a courtroom when juries come back with a verdict, the judge is going to sentence the defendant. The judge allows the victim’s family to testify for sentencing purposes. Sometimes, you’ll hear from the defendant. It tends to be a cold, methodical process. Somebody will get up and read a statement, “Well, this is how this crime has impacted my family.” The victim will say, “Well, maybe things would be different. I wish I could have my brother back, my wife back,” whatever the case may be.

What we saw in this courtroom was pure, raw human emotion, and that is frankly missing from courtrooms too much, in my opinion. We do a great job of processing people through the system, but a very poor job of trying to rebuild lives, of trying to put redemption back into a victim’s family.

So, if he was motivated at that moment to do something out of the ordinary, I think it’s great that he did it. I understand that it’s unusual. I can see the controversy, but that is exactly the type of thing that’s missing in courtrooms — that healing, the starting of the process. Send her to prison. That’s fine. That’s where she’s going. But how is that gonna help him or his family? It’s really not. So, I applaud him for doing it.

Christi: Yeah. Yeah.

Atty. Pate: I know it was unusual. And I applaud the judge for allowing him to do it even though it was out of the ordinary.

Christi: Yeah. No doubt. And speaking of the judge, here’s the complaint that we were talking about, a part of the complaint that we were talking about that says, “We, too, believe our criminal justice system needs more compassion on judges and prosecutors, but here, compassion crossed the line into coercion. And there can be few relationships more coercive than a sentencing judge in a criminal trial, and a citizen accused and convicted of a crime.”

Is it a violation under the Texas code of judicial conduct here?

Atty. Pate: Not that I’m aware of, no. You know, a judge is not supposed to hand anything to a defendant in that situation. I know it wasn’t planned. I guess the judge — who appeared to be emotional as well, as we were listening to the brother’s testimony — just felt compelled to do this. And it wasn’t like the judge interrupted the proceedings and said, “Now, let’s all pray together.” I don’t think she brought religion into the courtroom. It was a simple act of what the judge thought was kindness, by giving her a bible and wishing her well.

Christi: All right. There’s another trial underway right now that we need to talk about. This is a case of a former police officer charged with murder for killing an unarmed black man. This happened here in Georgia.

Atty. Pate: Right.

Christi: Robert “Chip” Olsen is accused of murder for killing 26-year-old Air Force veteran, Anthony Hill. Hill was…he was naked, he was unarmed at the time when Olsen shot him in the chest, in the neck. Jury deliberations resume on Monday. They’ve already been deliberating, I think, about five hours yesterday. But I wanted to ask you about whether this was excessive force. I mean, the 911 call stated that people were calling because they saw an erratic man, who had no clothes on, knocking on doors, running around. He was running toward the officer. Should the officer have done something other than shoot him?

Atty. Pate: Well, that’s what the jury is trying to determine. This officer apparently had no prior disciplinary issues like this. He had never been accused of excessive force. He’s a, I think, six-, seven-year veteran of the…

Christi: Seven.

Atty. Pate: Seven-year veteran of DeKalb County Police Department. He arrives on the scene having heard that somebody there is acting erratically. He sees the person, who appears to be acting erratically. Apparently, there were some mental health issues. But it’s also clear that the person is not armed. And so, the question for the jury is, was it appropriate? Was it reasonable for the officer to pull his firearm and shoot this individual, who was clearly not armed when he had his baton, when he had other ways perhaps to deal with the situation? The defense is saying, “Look. Maybe so, in hindsight. But he had six to seven seconds to make the decision, and you gotta give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Now, as we know, it is very difficult to convict police officers in cases of excessive force. But this is a close case. Now, the officer did not testify. That surprised me. He didn’t speak to the jury and say, “This is what I was thinking at the time. This is why I did what I did.” And that may come back to hurt him at the end of the day because the jury never heard his side of the story from him directly.

Christi: All right. I wanna talk about, too, this gang-related murder case in Chicago. This is stomach turning. Corey Morgan and Dwright Doty were found guilty of first-degree murder for planning the killing of nine-year-old Tyshawn Lee, that little boy right there. This murder was in retaliation for the killing of Morgan’s brother, one of the suspect’s brothers. The two suspected that the gang that Tyshawn’s father belonged to, was behind the killing.

So, here’s what is part of so disturbing…is so disturbing. There are recordings of Boone-Doty, who pulled the trigger here, allegedly confessing. He boasted about the killing. He’s described as laughing as he shot him. He wrote a rap song about it. When he was asked if he ever thinks he shouldn’t have done it, Boone-Doty responds, “No. I don’t got that in my head, not even a little bit. Ain’t no age, period. Age 8 to 80.” Essentially saying, “You know what? I’d kill them all.”

Atty. Pate: Yeah.

Christi: So, he gets first-degree murder because he’s the one that pulled the trigger.

Atty. Pate: Pulled the trigger. Right.

Christi: Morgan sat in a car the whole time. He got first-degree murder as well.

Atty. Pate: And potentially facing the same punishment because…

Christi: Punishment. So, people… And is that because he planned the killing?

Atty. Pate: He was involved in the killing in some material way. I mean, there have been people, even here in Georgia, who have been executed, who never pulled the trigger, never actually killed anyone, but were involved in the planning, were involved in allowing it to go forward.

And so, first-degree murder, although people may think, what’s gotta be more serious if you’re the actual person that pulls the trigger, if you’re the gunman?

Christi: Right.

Atty. Pate: Not necessarily, not under the law. And I will tell you, Illinois state cases, there’s no death penalty anymore there. If that case were tried here, it almost certainly would have been a death penalty.

Christi: For both of them.

Atty. Pate: I think so. Yeah.

Christi: Wow. All right. Page Pate, we appreciate it so much.

Atty. Pate: Thank you, Christi.

Christi: Thank you. Always good to have you here.

Atty. Pate: Good to be here.

Christi: Absolutely.