In a surprise development, nine of the 12 jurors who on Monday voted unanimously to convict Cecily McMillan of felony assault of a police officer for elbowing him in the eye as he grabbed her to arrest her during a clearing of Zuccotti Park near Wall Street have written a letter to the trial judge, Ronald Zwiebel. In it they petition him not to sentence her to jail time.
The letter was reported by the US edition of the British Guardian newspaper, which has done a far better job of reporting on this ugly case than any of the city’s three daily newspapers, including the New York Times (which has yet to report, much less comment on the verdict).
The Guardian had reported earlier on the day jurors were released from duty after rendering their verdict, that they had all rushed out to read about the case. Several said they were dismayed to learn about details that had been withheld from them by the trial judge at the request of the obsessed prosecutor — details such as the history of brutality by the officer who had grabbed McMillan from behind by the breast, causing her to throw up an elbow in defense, hitting his eye, a brutal act by the same cop later after he had arrested her, or the officer’s reported involvement in “fixing” tickets, something which might well have raised questions among jurors about the integrity of his testimony about the McMillan “assault.” Also barred during the trial were details about the general violence used by the NYPD in clearing the group, of which Mcmillan was a part, from the Zuccotti Park public space.
In its earlier report, the Guardian had quoted jurors as saying they were also shocked and upset to learn, after having voted to convict her, that she faced up to seven years in jail. They said they thought she would be given some punishment like probation. Instead, they witnessed her being led out of the courtroom in cuffs to be held on Rikers Island until her sentencing hearing several weeks later, with no bail set during the interim — a stark contrast from the way convicted business executives get treated while awaiting sentencing, or during their months of appeals.
It will be instructive to see how the judge responds — if at all — to the call by a large majority of the jurors in the case for no jail time for McMillan, as well as to see, if he does respond, how hard DA Vance and his prosecutor in the case object to any leniency in sentencing.
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).