Judge Larry Jefferson is generally hated by law enforcement and loved by those facing injustice. Another example of Jefferson’s controversial actions took place recently when he reduced a guilty jury verdict of a man accused of murdering a two-year-old to a charge of negligent homicide.
The fact that he reduced a guilty murder verdict to negligent homicide has caused a storm of controversy in the local community.
Jefferson, the city’s first Black judge is always known for keeping law enforcement’s feet to the fire when it comes to prosecutions.
The case involved Eric Nabors who was charged with murdering the two-year-old son of his girlfriend in 2013.
It took several years for the case to ultimately get to trial. When the evidence was heard it became obvious that Nabors neglected to keep his eye on the child at all times, and his neglect resulted in the child’s death. However, there was no evidence in the case that showed he took any actions that can be construed to mean that he intentionally killed the toddler.
The prosecution tugged at the heartstrings of the jury who saw a grieving mother and a dead two-year-old. Grieving with the mother, the jury found Nabors guilty in spite of the lack of evidence indicating Nabors intentionally tried to murder the toddler.
Judge Jefferson used his judicial authority to set aside the jury’s murder verdict and reduced it to negligent homicide. Negligent homicide means a person died because of someone’s negligence, void of criminal intent.
Without Jefferson’s action, Nabors would have faced life in prison.
His tendency to correct wrongs, even if it angers law enforcement, has angered many people over the years.
As a city court judge, Jefferson often gave as much weight to a citizen who denied claims made by policemen in testimony as that of a police officer. He required police officers who accused a citizen of running a red light or speeding to prove their claims; he didn’t take their word as being superior to that of a citizen.
His long track record of requiring specific evidence and proof before convicting a suspect, put him at odds with the legal community and law enforcement which locked shoulders and pushed to have him removed as a city court judge. After his suspension ended, then the public overwhelmingly re-elected him as a city judge and then later elevated him to district judge.
In its purest form, the criminal justice system is designed to give the benefit of doubt to a suspect to avoid unjust imprisonment and fair judgment and punishment to the guilty.
In a jury trial, the judge acts as a referee between the state and defendants to insure that a person is prosecuted by the rules.
Even when a jury returns a verdict the judge has the responsibility to insure that there was sufficient evidence to justify a guilty verdict. The judge becomes the 13th man on jury, the one who knows the law. If the jury’s decision is based on anything other than the evidence presented in court then the judge has the obligation to set the jury verdict aside.
A judge can set a jury verdict aside and find the defendant not-guilty or enter a judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
It is rare, but judges have the power to set aside jury verdicts if they sense a guilty verdict not supported by the evidence.
In the Nabors case, there was evidence of gross neglect on his part, there was no evidence to support a murder conviction.
Jefferson did not find Nabors not-guilty, but he applied the appropriate conviction which should have been returned by the jury, “Negligent Homicide.”
The maximum sentence for Negligent Homicide is five years in prison.
Since Nabors had been incarcerated five years already, he was released with time served.
Jefferson’s ruling will probably be appealed by the District Attorney.
No one celebrates the death of a child or takes joy in releasing the persons whose negligence caused a child’s death. However, there is a big difference between neglect and murder.
Judge Jefferson, it appears, applied the law fairly and corrected a jury error that would have cost the suspect the rest of his life in prison.