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Mistrial for Detroit Cop Who Killed 7-Year-Old Girl Shows Barriers to Justice for Police Brutality VIctims

A deadlocked jury failed to decide whether to convict or acquit the cop responsible, but prosecutors will face the same obstacles in a new trial.
 
 
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The Detroit cop who killed seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones walked out of court a free man on Tuesday, but the felony charge on his head remains. After deadlocked jurors failed to reach a verdict for Officer Joseph Weekly, Wayne County Circuit Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway declared a mistrial and scheduled a pretrial conference for July 25. Weekly is charged with felony involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor careless discharge of a firearm causing death for a May 2010 raid during which officers tossed a flash-bang grenade into the bedroom where Stanley-Jones was sleeping, burning her blanket. Amid the loud confusion, Weekly shot the seven-year-old in the head, killing her seconds after the flash-bang went off. The Detroit Police Department's Special Response Team had been executing a search warrant for a murder suspect found in another apartment.

Present at the scene of the tragedy was a film crew for the A&E reality series "The First 48," which follows homicide detectives in the crucial days -- the 48 hours -- following a murder.  The team's presence has raised questions about whether the flash-bang that appears to have prompted the deadly event was used for television theatrics.  Detroit police chief at the time, Warren Evans, resigned in July 2010 amid controversy surrounding his close work with the television show, including video footage of a promo entitled "The Chief," which Time Magazine's Detroit Blog  said "depicts Evans as near-cartoonish badass, swaggering through the dilapidated streets of the city, posing while heavily armed and vowing to do 'whatever it takes' to fight crime citywide."

Weekly claims he fired his gun after another person touched his weapon. Aiyana's grandmother, Mertilla Jones, told the Detroit Free Press that he is lying, and that with the next trial, "She (Aiyana) is going to get justice." 

Indeed, the retrial will give the prosecution a second opportunity to convince a jury to find Weekly guilty of the harder-to-prove felony manslaughter charge, rather than just misdemeanor negligence. Nonetheless, prosecutors have an uphill battle ahead.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Ron Scott, spokesman for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, said prosecutors have a difficult time convicting police officers because people don't want to believe an officer would shoot a 7-year-old.

Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Robert Moran told jurors that Weekley's failure to use ordinary care caused Aiyana's death, but Weekley's lawyer, Steve Fishman, contended the girl died in a tragic accident.

Jurors signaled their deadlock earlier in the afternoon when they sent a note to Wayne County Circuit Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway.

"We are stuck," the note said.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Judge Hathaway responded to jurors' questions about the "elements required" for an involuntary manslaughter conviction in the several minutes she addressed them on Tuesday, urging them to continue their deliberations. Still, the jury could not decide. 

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Kristen Gwynne is an associate editor and drug policy reporter at AlterNet.  Follow her on Twitter: @KristenGwynne

 
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