After publishing Gothamist's first long-form feature last week, Confessions of a "Rape Cop" Juror by Patrick Kirkland, we received many comments and questions about the piece. Confessions is Patrick's account as a juror in the trial of two NYPD officers charged with raping a young woman in her East Village apartment. The rape acquittals in this case sparked widespread outrage—many New Yorkers felt the defendants should have been convicted of more than just official misconduct. However, the jury, which listened to weeks of testimony, felt differently. We posed some of your questions to Patrick:
Why did you want to write about the trial? Didn't you have enough of it, after three months? Good question. After almost a three month trial, you'd think I would have had enough of it, and in a way I guess I did. I was definitely ready to get out of that jury room. The problem, and why I wanted to frame the story like I did, I think, was that there was only one side of the conversation being told. A few people were speaking for the majority, and the story that had gotten out there was, as a panel, we wanted to convict but there wasn't enough evidence.
I still concede that there wasn't enough evidence to prove a rape, but I don't think the panel as a whole felt like we "wanted" to do anything. Being on a trial and a jury like this has to be more than your own personal desires, it has to be about the weight of what you're doing.The presumption of innocence and the burden of proof are huge factors. I felt that it was important to tell another side of the conversation—a side that I knew several of us jurors had felt.
As a writer, I felt it was my job to both tell an interesting story, and also to bring up several questions that hadn't been asked. What if there was consent? What if these two men are actually innocent? And what if we the jury were flat out wrong? I wanted people to see that there are several sides to an extremely fascinating story, and then let them form their own opinions.
Some readers described the piece as "rape apologia"—an attempt by you to justify acquitting the cops even though you seemed to believe there was a real possibility Officer Moreno raped the victim. Do you feel any guilt over letting the defendants go? I don't believe the piece is trying to justify anything, I feel like it's bringing another voice to the story. First, one of the major themes of the piece is there is just as much of a possibility that there wasn't a rape, as there is that there was a rape.
Second, we, as a jury, were not the ones on trial. I don't feel like I need to apologize for anything. As Twelve said in the piece, and in my interview with him, "I've stopped apologizing, we did our job." Which was a very, very tough job, and I'm aware that it's hard to understand that when you haven't been in that kind of situation. And third, I think there is so much more to the feature than just the accusation of rape.
I don't feel any guilt at all about our verdict. I think it was the right decision. I wrote the piece because I felt like it was an interesting story that needed to be told. Writing these types of stories will always bring criticism, good and bad.
Can you tell us how your wife reacted when you came home after the verdict? My wife and most of my friends were very supportive of the verdict, even the ones that didn't agree with it. I really struggled throughout the trial with wanting to make the right decision, and my wife saw that, even if she didn't know what was going on with the day-to-day. After the trial, as I started talking to her about it, and researching and writing the feature, she became even more supportive. This overall really changed both of our perspectives on trials and how we view the stories that are told, and those who are accused.
Didn't the jury know that intoxicated people can't consent? I can't necessarily speak for the whole jury, but I can speak for myself. I think people with varying levels of intoxication consent to things every day. Some people function extremely well when they are intoxicated, and having consensual sex while intoxicated is not an unheard of thing. But I don't feel like that's the right question. After all, I still don't know whether something consensual happened or not, or if that's just what I personally pieced together in my own head. I think the question I present in the piece is whether or not the other person knows the level to which someone is intoxicated. As the feature says, it's the argument of blacked out vs. passed out. There's a very real and distinct difference.
Why did you agree to go to dinner with the defendants, Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata? Oh, man. That was a wild split-second decision I made during a casual debriefing with the defense attorneys. It wasn't a formal invite, as it may have sounded. Several days after the trial, a few jurors met with the defense attorneys to discuss the acquittal—what arguments swayed our opinions and what didn't. Our intention was to meet with both sides, but the DA's office never extended the invitation.
I think we all felt like we needed a little debriefing after spending so long thinking about nothing else but the trial. What you don't realize is that once the trial is over, it's over. You announce the verdict, walk back into the jury room, and then grab your things and speed out the door. Ethically, I had no idea how this worked—a juror meeting the defendants. As the offer was presented it just felt... well, "icky."
Personally, I was scared to death that the scene would turn into Act 5 of Macbeth, ending with my head on a stick. But as a writer and a storyteller, I had to say yes. Ultimately, the invitation was just too much for my own curiosity. And I don't regret that decision at all. It was one of the most fascinating nights of my life. I knew at that point that this was something I had to write about, and I immediately knew how to frame the story.
Do you have any regrets about how you framed your story? Not at all. However, I want to be clear on this point. This is my personal account of those weeks of my life, from my point of view. I can't speak for everyone else on the jury, as we come from all walks of life, all have differing experiences, and all have differing views on what exactly happened. For example, where I voiced the possibility of consent, another voices that possibility of rape, and another voices the possibility that nothing happened at all. I'm open to all of these possibilities. And while the dinner with Moreno and Mata might be hard for some to comprehend, it was such interesting moment that I felt it needed to be told. When a writer walks into a moment like that, it's his job to tell about it.
How has reaction been these past few days? Pretty wild. I think this piece has made quite a splash in the conversation, which I think is exactly what it was meant to do. The major themes stretch to all walks of life, not just this case, and not just New York. I saw a review from someone who was a juror down in Florida, and even the UK, that have appreciated the read and the insights. Some really love it, and some really don't—and that's okay. As a writer, it's not my job to change anyone's mind, it's simply to tell the story as best I know how. I think I did exactly that.
How do you feel when people accuse you of profiting off the victim? Well, that's an easy accusation, and one that I was expecting. I know that several are frustrated that it's a paid-for product on a site that's known for free news aggregation. But Gothamist has really broken new ground here, and I applaud them for that. This piece is way more than the normal 300-word posts that makes up most of the site. The stipend was a set price that Gothamist offered up to any writer who pitched them, and I pitched them a solid story during their open call for long form narratives. I make my living as a writer, and so I don't feel like I profited off of a victim, or the Accuser.
I think anything I make off of this feature is not because of the trial, but because of my experience, and the work I put into feature. I spent a long time researching court transcripts, doing interviews with other jurors, attorneys, and law professors, outlining the events of the story, building up the major themes, writing several drafts, and editing and rewriting even more. Thirteen thousand words takes a long time to put together, and overall, this feature was about six to eight weeks of solid work between myself and the people at Gothamist.
Also, if something really did happen, then my heart goes out to the Accuser. But with the acquittal, we don't know if she's a victim or not. And since she has not gone public, it's impossible for me to include her side in the story.
Did any of your fellow jurors read the feature yet? What do they think? I know a few have, yes, but I haven't talked to everyone. My guess is that reactions are mixed. Several jurors helped me during the writing of it, whether it was to give an interview, add a comment (such a Juror Five's emailed response), or even jog my memory of certain events. Several have come back to me with positive reviews, and said that they thought it was an accurate and fair description of what happened behind closed doors. Actually, even in the jury room, people were aware that I made my living as a writer, and it was probable even then that I would write about this. For those I haven't talked to, I hope they feel that this was an accurate portrayal for the rest of them, even if this is only from my point of view. I respect every one of them, and together I think we came to a tough, but right, decision.
The feature is available via direct PDF download ($1.99), via Kindle platform ($2.99) or via iBooks platform ($1.99). It is about 13,000 words long, which is about 20 pages printed in single-space magazine style, or about 60 pages double spaced.
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