Letters for the week of June 8-14, 2005 

Sympathy for the juror. Sympathy for the abortionist. Sympathy for the actress. No sympathy for Chris Thompson.

"Left Hanging," Feature, 5/11

Your boss is a jerk
Thank you, Brian Kluepfel, juror, for "Left Hanging." Character really is choice. And you all revealed yours to be of the right stuff. I still think those goons are guilty, and I may not have been as willing to split hairs on the moment of "careful thought and weighing of considerations," but I hope if I'm ever on a jury I'll take the responsibility as seriously and as carefully as you did yours. It couldn't have been easy.

Sorry about your job. Your boss is a jerk.
Susan Nunes Fadley, Berkeley

Justice is a process
A friend gave me a copy of your article on the murder trial for which you recently served as juror. I am a pre-op transgendered woman and I have heard too many stories like Gwen's or like Brandon Teena's similar murder in Texas.

Thank you for serving on Gwen's jury and for putting the intense care and effort into the matter that is evident in your well-thought-out opinions. It is clear that you served on that jury not only because you were chosen by the court, but also because you chose to rise to the occasion rather than to avoid serving on the jury as others did.

I think it is terrible that you have been attacked by both the religious antigay/trans groups and equally ignorantly by the pro-transgender/gay-rights groups for following your conscience in this trial. I wish the Human Rights Commission, of which I am a member, had limited their comments; as you illustrate in your article, justice is a long process in a case this complicated.

I also want to thank you for serving on the jury despite the consequence of losing your job. You did what you knew was right despite many negative consequences you have faced for serving. Please feel free to pass my gratitude to the other members of the jury.

After reading your excellent article, I agree that the prosecutor was very unwise to seek first-degree murder charges. Second-degree murder sounds much more appropriate. I understand that he was probably under great pressure politically to produce a dramatic first-degree conviction; but the consequence is that the informant, who had every reason to lie and probably directly participated in the murder, has escaped on lesser manslaughter charges when he too deserved a second-degree murder conviction. Unlike you and your fellow jurors, the prosecutor put his personal and political needs before justice.

I appreciated your excellent interpretation of the law and jury instructions, and all the details you brought to the case. Thank you again for serving on that jury and for the well-written article. I hope justice will eventually be served in the case; I think that will happen when the process is allowed to fully run its course without so much interference from people with their own agendas.
Nicole, Columbus, Ohio

Trials don't happen in a vacuum
When I read "Hanging in the Balance" by juror Brian Kluepfel, I couldn't get over his inability to understand why the public and the LGBT community would be outraged by the hung jury. He seems to forget that trials do not happen in a vacuum and they carry serious societal implications, especially when it comes to traditionally marginalized groups.

This trial was the most recent in a history of cases where gays, lesbians, and transgenders were murdered once their "true selves" were revealed, and the perpetrators have consistently gotten away with it or received a lesser sentence. That's why LGBT activists looked to this case as a barometer for how far they have come in achieving equality, and rightly so.

The fact that the jury could not convict these men of first-degree murder points to the LGBT community's continued struggle for equality. Furthermore, hearing Kluepfel's own rationalizations that being drunk might have impaired the men enough to discount first-degree murder is disconcerting, especially living in a post-Twinkie-defense world.
Rebecca Guyon, Berkeley

Brian Kluepfel responds
Drunkenness was one example, of several, that could have reduced the charges from first- to second-degree murder. It was legally defined in our jury instructions as something that could preclude reasonable thought (thus clouding premeditation). Twinkies were not, and it's silly to equate the two.

I don't believe that anyone should be vilified or physically harmed because of who they are. Yet the LGBT's adoption of Gwen Araujo as a symbol may be problematic if you examine her actions leading up to the night of her death. How and when transgender persons should reveal themselves is something I can't answer to. But if you're still biologically male, and choose to have sex with men and not tell them, obviously there are issues.

"ESL Students Sitting in a Tree," City of Warts, 5/11

Why so flip?
Chris Thompson's "ESL Students Sitting in a Tree" is smarmy and condescending -- but even worse, it's bad journalism. People will find exactly (and only) what they are looking for; but journalists are, or ought to be, obliged to walk into a setting without preconceived notions. Chris Thompson had already decided he was going to write about romance in adult-education classes before he entered Ms. Ortiz' classroom. The resulting article renders a program for which I have taught for fifteen years virtually unrecognizable.

Adult education in Oakland is not primarily English-language instruction -- it is that, and more: computer classes, and book-keeping classes, job readiness and GED and Basic Subjects classes. We don't prepare "immigrants for the service and restaurant industries" -- we prepare every adult for all sorts of jobs -- not for the sort of work that Mr. Thompson seems content to consign to "others."

Ms. Ortiz does not "ostensibly" teach English: it is what she teaches, along with survival skills which Thompson conflates with socialization skills -- which are also not the same as social skills. Maybe Thompson thinks adult students of color are cute or mentally retarded; it is the only way I can account for the flippancy of his article.


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