Saturday, May 03, 2014

False consensus: the witness

On January 30, 2014 near Lehi, Utah, an all-too familiar tragedy played out with guns and death. It began when Utah County Deputy Sheriff Cory Wride pulled over a Toyota Tundra pick-up truck driven by 17-year-old Meagan Grunwald. With her in the truck was her boyfriend, 27-year-old José Angel Garcia-Jauregui. When Wride was in his patrol car checking out information that Garcia-Jauregui had given him, the man parted the rear window of the truck and fired 7 shots. Two went through the officer’s windshield and killed him. Grunwald drove the truck during a police chase in which another officer, Utah County sheriff's Deputy Greg Sherwood, was wounded by a bullet also fired by Garcia-Jauregui. The couple ditched the truck and carjacked a car.

A trio for tragedy: the victim, the underage girl, the murderer

The getaway vehicle was stopped by spike strips on Interstate 15, and the couple attempted to run. Garcia-Jauregui was shot; he died the next day. Grunwald was arrested, and later charged as an adult on a variety of criminal charges, including aggravated murder, three counts of felony discharge of a firearm, two counts of criminal mischief, aggravated robbery...and the list goes on to include possession of methamphetamine.

Meagan Grunwald is represented by defense attorney Dean Zabriskie, who told reporters after an April 17, 2014 hearing that Grunwald is a victim who will testify that her boyfriend, Garcia-Jauregui, forced her to run from police. “Her choices were reduced to either comply or give up her own life,” Zabriskie said.

But there was a civilian witness, who with his family drove up just after the shooting of the perpetrator, and he disputes the defense attorney’s account that she was an unwilling participant. In a copyrighted story from the Salt Lake Tribune reporter Jessica Miller tells Clarken’s version:
“[Jim] Clarken said he felt that any claim that the girl was being held against her will by Garcia-Jauregui was ‘absolute bulls--t’ compared to what he saw.

“‘She was very distraught that he had been killed,’ Clarken said. ‘If I was being held against my will, I’m not going to shed a single tear [for the captor]. That didn’t wash with me at all.’” [Emphasis mine.]
Clarken described driving up on a scene that he was unable to immediately comprehend. Suspects running around, police in action, gunshots, and watching a young girl reacting to her lover just having been killed.

From the descriptions it was a terrible experience for everyone involved.  I also believe that Clarken has what is called the False Consensus Syndrome. His statement, “If I was being held against my will, I’m not going to shed a single tear,” was my tip-off to a very human, but very flawed way of judging someone else’s reaction to a traumatic event.

Brian Mullen, whom I quote from his abstract for his paper on the subject, writes:
“False consensus refers to an egocentric bias that occurs when people estimate consensus for their own behaviors. Specifically, the false consensus hypothesis holds that people who engage in a given behavior will estimate that behavior to be more common than it is estimated to be by people who engage in alternative behaviors.”
The article describes Clarken as having a concealed carry permit. He says he pulled out his gun because he thought he might have to defend his family. He is an adult male with children. He watched the behavior of a 17-year-old female who just watched a man die. How can he put himself in her place? He knew exactly zero about the situation until he was inside it, so any posturing he is doing now is him projecting how he thinks he would react under a similar circumstance. Whether he would or not I don’t know. I hope Mr. Clarken never finds out how he would react under those circumstances.

I believe the girl was in love with the man, or thought she was. They lived with her parents, and planned to be married when she turned 18. Garcia-Jauragui was a man with a criminal history who had spent time in prison. I think he was directing her actions, and even if she feared for her life or was terrified during the ordeal she likely still had feelings for him. Anyone heard of teenagers having unformed brains? How about Stockholm syndrome? (There are a lot of females, some a lot older than 17, who fit into that category.)

How many times have you watched someone interview a jury after a major trial, and heard one or more jurors say, “I didn’t see any emotion from the defendant, and I thought that was suspicious.” Or if they did see emotion, maybe they saw it as a put-on, an acting job for the jury. A juror might think the defendant is not acting the way the juror supposes he should.

In those cases no matter what a defendant did would be dissatisfying to someone on the jury. I hope I’m never put in that position, either as a juror or a defendant. Especially not as a defendant.

I'm not trying to diminish the memory of a slain police officer. By all accounts Deputy Wride was an excellent officer, husband and father. He died doing his job. Taken by surprise, he had no chance against a cowardly attack. The killing of a police officer creates a lot of emotion for the public. There are heart-rending moments on television news showing a widow and children at memorial services. His killer is also dead, yet it is not enough justice for the public. They demand that someone be punished as payment for the murder, even if it is the sole survivor, an immature 17-year-old girl.

No comments: