To Kill A Mockingbird

Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit them, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit them, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Lawyers, I suppose, were children once. In Harper Lee’s seminal work, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch has two children, Jem and Scout and neither of them would ever believe that he was once a child. The measured patience that Atticus routinely demonstrates only serves to reinforce this belief. They would be quick to tell you that this is because he is old, “He never does anything except read.” This is a young child’s view of their parent. In Mockingbird, Lee tells us, through the eyes of a child, a story of racism and rape, set in 1930s small town Alabama. Much of the story is not very child appropriate, but Ms. Lee has imbued her wonderful characters with such grace that to hear a child tell this story makes the perfect sense.

Anne and I saw To Kill a Mockingbird performed last night on the stage of the Saint Louis Repertory Theater. Unusually for us, we saw this play that is based upon the book, performed at the beginning of its run, instead of as is more usual for us, at its end. Jem (Ronan Ryan) and Scout (Kaylee Ryan) are played by twins, giving these two young actors a natural bond to work from. Jonathan Gillard Daly ably performs the role of Atticus and the rest of the cast is also well turned out. An interesting difference between this play and the more famous film is that in the courtroom scenes the jury was not cast. Instead, here the actors address the audience as if we are the ones sitting in the jury box.

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

In 2012, I was a juror on a Saint Louis County rape trial. Save for his accuser, the defendant who was a black man, he was the only other African-American in the courtroom. Through the jury selection process, the prosecutor introduced us to the tenants of his case. The female arresting officer reinforced these points and the accuser, the defendant’s niece, confirmed them. The as advertised on TV defense attorney was certainly no Atticus Finch, but he ably got his job done. Only in retrospect and upon reflection can I now see how he did it.

The state’s most damning evidence was a video recording of the defendant’s confession, which was the result of a four-and-a-half hour interrogation. I bet that the prosecution only wanted to show the last half-hour of that recording. The part that showed the confession and not the preceding four hours that showed the coercion that he had endured. Remember, that this trial occurred before Ferguson. I was shocked at the behavior of the police. As drawn-out as most court proceedings are, it took us all day to watch that recording.

I didn’t sleep well that night. The next day, the fourth day, the last day, the jury was given the case. Our one and only vote was unanimously for not guilty. We then proceeded to pick apart the prosecutors case. Then we called for the bailiff. We had punctiliously followed our instructions, but while we were idly waiting to be called to render our verdict, one of our number started a game of hangman. The prosecutor received our verdict with both anger and petulance. Outside the courtroom, the defendant and his team thanked us individually. I felt only relief.

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