I spoke at the Hays County Government Center in response to a jury complaint on June 27, 2022. Little did I know at the time that I would be selected as a juror in a mass murder case, which presented me with an unexpected and confusing opportunity. systemic bias and injustice within the Texas criminal justice system.
Although I was cautious about being invited, although I doubted the justice of the order, I felt that I could be impartial and rational in examining the evidence, especially since the prosecutor did not want to the death penalty, which I disagree with (in Texas, manslaughter charges can carry the death penalty or life imprisonment). But my first cause for concern was all around me in the jury room, a sea of several hundred mostly white faces: non-black jurors will be asked to decide the fate of a black boy.
Defendant Cyrus Gray, along with his accomplice Devonte Amerson (who was not charged), were indicted by the state and Attorney General Ralph Guerrero in the tragic murder of Justin Gage, a black teenager and student at Texas State University, in December of 2015. Cyrus had been already in prison for four years without being convicted of this, or any other crime. If convicted, he could face life in prison without parole. Nationwide, this is normal: Every day, about 550,000 people are incarcerated. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, about 80 percent of them are awaiting trial and, therefore, legally innocent.
Now that Gray finally faced a judge and a jury, the evidence against him seemed to be no weapon, no fingerprints, no DNA, no eyewitnesses, no sightings, no motive, nothing to connect him to the crime. The prosecution’s case was based solely on trust mobile data that is known to be unreliable, especially since that time. After years of imprisonment without conviction, it appears that this man may be convicted without evidence. And no one in the courtroom—not the government, the defense attorney, or the judge—seemed concerned. There was a remarkable trend of apparent bravery unfolding before our eyes.
This lack of empathy continued in almost every case within the test, including many that show the most critical research. When the two defendants were identified as persons of interest in the case, after a year and a half of fruitless manhunts, some important procedures were dropped or not properly followed. Witnesses were hanged and abused on the steps beyond questioning. The accused’s friends were pressured, threatened, threatened and treated as the only suspects until the investigators went so far as to say that the accused appeared to be offering their only way out from under the thumb of the system. Of course, two of the government’s key witnesses recanted their testimony in the case, saying it “rocked” to the point of perjury against Cyrus. When they denied their testimony later, the situation became difficult in court, when the prosecutor hugged them mercilessly and called them “enemies.” We also learned that recordings of important interviews were lost by researchers, and stored incorrectly without backup. People’s lives were completely ruined, including several members of the Texas State University football team who had the opportunity to work for the NFL, due to the pathetic approach to the issue and simply being Black in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Going back to the day-to-day process of this case, I know that many people believe that the justice system in this country, especially in Texas, is deeply flawed. According to Pew Research Center and World Prison Brief, the United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. Nationwide, nearly 2 million people are in prison, many of them awaiting trial without conviction; A very different number of them are people of color. Texas has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation, with more than 150,000 Texans in prison in 2022. 32 percent of people arrested.
What is not apparent to many is why we—our government, our lawmakers—allow it to continue. What the court showed me was that the order’s scale, reach, and harm did not happen overnight; they were built, brick by brick, like the wall of any jail or prison in this country. One felony, a forced witness, a person arrested without reason, a violent offender, and one less crime. Dylan Hayre, a longtime reform attorney who has worked in advocacy for more than a decade, told me that the system works exactly as intended: “cruelly, finding more ways to dehumanize, dehumanize, and disenfranchise people.” Each of those methods adds up and reaches millions of families whose lives have been disrupted and whose lives have been changed forever by a system built, apparently, only to punish.
This cruel practice has also led many people to believe wrong things. According to the Innocence Project, 375 people were later convicted since 1989, including 21 on death row. This week, Adnan Syed, appeared on the podcast Seri, he was released from prison for the rest of his life following attempts to overturn his conviction based on similar evidence of cell towers, and the discovery that the prosecution suppressed the evidence of other suspects. How many hundreds or thousands of innocent people are still in jail or prison right now, and how much damage will that do to our institutions? I believe that people who have done harm have some responsibility, and the restoration of those who have been harmed, however, the punishment of this system can not fulfill any of the people or justice.
Without a doubt, the murder of Justin Gage demands justice. His family deserves justice. But only if the true culprits are found, they have enough evidence to prove that the case will be brought before the judges who will decide without a doubt that they are guilty. Throughout my time in the jury box, my heart broke for the families on both sides of this case. The accused’s family saw their son dragged to trial without any evidence, while the victim’s family was forced to relive their pain every day, watching their son’s death play out in front of them. According to the previous story, Gage’s family is simple he wants to close after years of frustration searching and waiting. It pains me that the people who harass them may still be in their community, protected by the reluctance of investigators to erase their initial suspicions about the person who is now accused.
The trial lasted two weeks, and the jury remained deadlocked even after three full days of deliberations, leading to no convictions. In my view, the lack of consensus among jurors depends on whether they believe the prosecution’s false narratives about what he can it happened on the night of the murder, or in favor of compensation due to the lack of evidence against the defendant and the risk of sending someone who may be innocent for life. That costs taxpayers $200,000, according to court-appointed defense attorneys (probably not including the cost of keeping someone in jail for years awaiting trial). The prosecution, led by Criminal District Attorney Wes Mau, has scheduled a second trial, beginning on October 31, 2022. Meanwhile, Cyrus Gray remains in jail awaiting a new trial.
I am still amazed that the Hays County District Attorney’s Office would spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to bring such a wrongful case in the first place, let alone that the office is willing to spend more time and money trying again. A retrial means keeping a potentially innocent person in prison for a long time, regardless of the outcome. I ask, where is the justice in sending a young Black man to prison for the rest of his life without even tenuously connecting him to the crime?
Along with many others in the community, I strongly feel that Cyrus Gray’s case should be dismissed. Believing he is innocent, local justice advocates are working to raise awareness about Gray, along with many others who have been incarcerated for years awaiting trial in Hays County, according to Amy Kamp, director of the jail. Amiga teeth. There is a growing community of support for Gray through social media, local events, public comments to Hays County officials, and petition calling for Hays County to drop charges against Gray and Amerson. I have personally spoken to District Attorney Mau, asking him to drop the case. I have also written to Hays County officials and several judges, including Judge Boyer who presided over the case, to express my concerns. Perhaps you will be inspired to do the same after reading this article.
Cyrus Gray is one of the cogwheels of the entrenched racism and inequality within the Texas criminal justice system. Speaking out against new experiments is one way I can begin to slow down the grinding gears of this system, which seem to be spinning without checks, balances, or any meaningful internal thinking.