February 16, 2015: Judging Jake
I’m no lawyer or judge but I think what we did with Jake was fair. We’re all still coming to terms, I think, with what the new normal means, though. What we did was difficult but it needed to be done. My family members seem to be letting go of the way things were and grasping what the new normal means beyond our day-to-day survival.
Sure, we’re still dealing with “normal” stuff like the toilet paper shortage. My proposal on that issue was not popular, I can tell you that. The women, in particular, were dead set against individual rations. Their premise was that they required more toilet paper than men. I pushed back – gently. Did they really need more toilet paper than men or was that simply a remnant of the past burned into their brains?
The toilet paper discussion was interesting and … telling. It demonstrated the extent to which most of us still hold onto what I’ll call the old ways. None of the women wanted to talk about why they needed more toilet paper. That was not a subject for polite company.
Are we still polite company these days? I mean, we regularly take the lives of people around us. We pass sentence on people we’ve known for years. Is there still room for politeness in the new normal? I guess there’s not need to be impolite … until there’s a need to be impolite.
In the end, we agreed on individual toilet paper rations. The women and female children were allotted a ration one and a half times that of the men and D.J. We also agreed that toilet paper trade or barter would be allowed. Finally, we discussed alternatives to toilet paper. Eventually, it will run out. Eventually, we will have to go back to doing what our ancestors did before the invention of toilet paper.
I can remember when I was a kid. We used the outhouse that still sits behind the farm house here on this property. In the outhouse there were always several newspapers and a bucket of corn cobs – not as comfy or absorbent as toilet paper, but adequate for the most part.
I brought up the fact that, in the Middle East, it is quite common to use your left hand to clean up after you’ve finished your toilet business. That comment drew a lot of “ewww’s” and “yuck’s” and “nasty’s”.
We conducted Jake’s trial as much like a pre-crash trial as we could. He was offered a defense “lawyer”. He declined and chose to represent himself. My father-in-law was appointed the judge. My brother, Joseph, was appointed as the prosecuting attorney. Every adult, over the age of eighteen, was a part of the jury – including Jake’s wife and daughter, Jamie, who had recently turned eighteen. I think we gave Jake every opportunity for a fair trial that we could.
Mutiny is typically a military crime. The Uniform Code of Military Justice says that a person found guilty of mutiny shall be punished by death.
The primary question to be answered was, “Did Jake commit mutiny?”
Joseph gave opening arguments for the prosecution. His argument was brief. Regardless of how informal our structure of authority was, Jake had attempted to usurp it by force. That constituted mutiny. Virtually everyone present in the room had directly witnessed Jake’s attempt to take control by force and the resulting deaths of four individuals. There was no question of fact. Jake was guilty. Furthermore, if Jake was found guilty of mutiny, he should also be tried for murder in the deaths of his fellow mutineers.
Of course, Jake argued that he did not commit mutiny. As he read from a note pad, Jake argued that I had assumed my position of authority without proper authorization. (There had been no election.) Therefore, his attempt to remove me from authority was not mutiny but rather, for the good of the group. I had demonstrated a predilection for violence. I had committed crimes of torture and murder. Jake argued that he was simply doing what the American Colonists had done when they revolted against the tyrant, King George. He was a revolutionary and I deserved to be overthrown.
Jake had nothing to say about the deaths of his accomplices. I honestly don’t think he anticipated that argument from Joseph.
As much as I dislike Jake, I have to admit that it was a good argument. In fact, it was probably the only argument that made any sense. Whether that was what was actually going through his head when he marched into the yard with four Mexican gang members or not … hard to say.
Joseph called those present in the yard when Jake arrived with the four Mexicans as witnesses. The witnesses included my brothers Levi and Sam, Terry, my dad, Miriam and me. Each of us agreed upon the key facts of what happened on the fourteenth. Joseph also asked us, based on Jake’s opening statement, about our authority structure. The views were interesting to say the least.
Everyone agreed that we didn’t need elections to establish leadership within a family.
Most also agreed that, in the event that the group grew larger, there might come a point at which elections would be required. Almost no one agreed on the group size or make-up that would require elections.
Some thought that elections might be necessary once non-family members were brought into the group. I didn’t like the sound of that since Jake could argue that our family had brought his family into the group, thus necessitating elections to establish leadership.
More of us thought that, in addition to bringing in non-family members, the group would need to grow to a certain size before elections would be necessary.
Joseph was smart enough to ask whether or not we had included the Gunters in the decision-making process. We had only allowed the Gunters to participate in our decision-making process twice – once when we decided what to do with Daniel (one of the members of their group) and once when we decided to attack the National Guard armory (because we asked Jake to join us). I think this helped establish that the Gunters truly were not a part of our group. They lived on property that we didn’t own. They did not participate in our day-to-day decision-making. They were our neighbors. We helped them. But, they were not a part of our authority structure. We only allowed them a say in our decisions when our decisions directly involved them.
Jake, of course, tried to turn everything around in his cross-examination. He tried to play up the fact that we had “taken them in” and involved them, to an extent, in our democratic decision-making process. He led the witnesses but Joseph didn’t know enough to object. I’m not sure Anders would have known exactly where the line between fair questions and leading questions was either. None of us are legal experts.
After Jake’s cross-examination was finished, Joseph rested his case.
Jake’s only witnesses were his wife and two daughters. Since they were not present when Jake marched into our yard, they could not dispute the facts established by Joseph’s witnesses. Instead of trying to dispute the facts, Jake continued down the line of questioning that he had started in his cross-examination. He also asked them about my leadership capabilities and the “crimes” that I had committed.
It was obvious that the Gunter women were uncomfortable as witnesses. They loved their husband and father and wanted to protect him but they knew he was a hot-head and had probably crossed the line marching into our yard with four other armed men. They squirmed in the witness chair. They apologized with their eyes. But, in the end, they toed Jake’s line.
Joseph is a pretty smart guy. He drew things out of the Gunter women that they may never have acknowledged to themselves. It became obvious that Jake abused the women in his family – at least emotionally, if not physically – and that his temper and hatred for me were really at the root of his desire to overthrow our “authority structure”.
I’m really glad Joseph and I spent all the time that we did debating. It was really kind of fun to watch him question the Gunters.
Every one of the Gunter women ended up crying by the end of their cross-examination. Most of it didn’t seem staged. Although, I remembered Karla’s ability to use her eyes ….
It was a little strange having witnesses who also were a part of the jury. We thought it was the only fair way to decide Jake’s fate, though. We thought it was fair to have everyone, of the age of majority, involved in making such a major decision.
Deliberation was painful. The Gunter women knew the likely penalty if Jake was found guilty. I think they also knew in their heart-of-hearts that he was guilty. It was gut-wrenching to watch them struggle with the dilemma of protecting their husband or father or doing what they knew was right.
Because virtually every member of the jury had some level of personal involvement in the case, we decided that a unanimous vote was not required to convict. At the outset of deliberations, we established 80% as the number that would decide between a conviction and an acquittal. Joseph and Anders both abstained from participating in the jury. We, of course, did not allow Jake to participate in the jury either.
You may have already done the math. We had nine Johnsons and two Gunters on the jury. After we deliberated for about an hour, we took a vote. Nine-to-two to convict. Not really a surprise but a very somber moment, nonetheless. As I looked around the table, I was confident everyone else had the same feeling in the pit of their stomach that I had.
We were about to cross a line … about to pass judgment on a man who some of us had known for decades. In all likelihood, we were about to sentence him to death. There were no extenuating circumstances to excuse Jake’s behavior. He was motivated by nothing more than a deep-seated loathing for me and a confrontational nature.
It seems odd that a man more than fifty years of age would allow his baser instincts to drive him to the point where he would try to “take over” a family – not even his own – with threats of violence. It seems odd that he would involve strangers … gang members who had nothing to do with the situation … who were nothing more than mercenaries.
Then again, much the same thing has happened on larger and smaller scales since the beginning of time. In the Bible’s first recorded murder, Cain killed his own brother Abel motivated by nothing more than jealousy. Brutus killed his close friend, Caesar, motivated by nothing more than the fear that Caesar would declare himself king, ending Rome’s democracy. (OK, it’s a fictional work but the principle applies.) Hitler attempted to eradicate an entire race primarily because he misunderstood Social Darwinism. Hitler felt that the Jews were inferior and represented a risk to the survival of his own race as a result. Why didn’t anyone stop him before it was too late?
Why have men allowed their fears, their hatred or their confusion to move them to horrible acts throughout history? Why have we, as a human race, failed to learn and apply the lessons of those acts? Why did we so recently sit idly by as humanity’s baser instincts of greed and jealousy drove the whole world over a cliff like so many lemmings? Why did we never clear the monkey cage, so to speak, and start afresh and anew? Was it ignorance? Was it laziness? Was it the fear of change or of the unknown?
Why did we place Jake in front of a firing squad and take his life for attempting an insurrection? Was it simply because we didn’t know any better?
Did we make Jake’s wife a widow because we, as humans, just couldn’t come up with a better way to deal with a problem? Are we that simple?
I have so little hope for the future.