Failed Twice by the Criminal Justice System

Shaakira Ross, failed by the justice system... twice
Shaakira Ross, failed by the justice system… twice.

by James A. Bacon

The most basic and essential of all government services is to administer justice and protect the citizenry. If government can’t do that, it fails at the most profound level.

So, now we read about a murder trial in Petersburg in which a young felon was accused of gunning down a 19-year-old Governor’s School graduate, Shaakira Ross. The trial came to a halt because too few Petersburg residents subpoenaed as potential jurors showed up!

As the Richmond Times-Dispatch observes in his coverage of the incident, it is “extremely rare” for a criminal trial to be postponed for a lack of subpoenaed witnesses. In this particular instance, the government did its job — it issued 60 subpoenas for potential jurors. But only 24 arrived. Of those, 18 were excused under a statutory provision that exempts college students, the disabled and the elderly over 70. That left only six potential jurors. Normally, a trial requires a pool of at least 26 to 30 because some get dismissed during the selection process for biases or conflicts of interest.

“If this sort of thing continues to happen — jurors not showing up — it could be disruptive of the criminal justice system,” said Commonwealths’s Attorney T. Leslie Lindsey.

Hopefully, the incident was a fluke. But don’t be surprised if it’s not. Peoples’ notions of citizenship are changing. Even middle-class citizens regard jury duty as a hassle and try to get out of it. In Petersburg, with its large population of poor, many of whom live unstable lives, drift from residence to residence, and regard the justice system with suspicion, I would bet that the failure to respond to jury subpoenas is a chronic problem.

As an aside… The criminal justice system didn’t fail Ross just once, but twice. Her accused killer, Leon Thomas Archer, 21, had pleaded guilty in 2013 to three counts of burglary, two counts of larceny of a firearm, and one count of grand larceny. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison with eight years suspended on each of the counts, and allowed to serve the terms concurrently, for a total of only two years served. The man should not have been on the street.

Archer’s defense is that the killing was accidental. By his own admission, he was preparing to break into a home that evening on Fort Rice Street when he was startled by some music playing behind him. Allegedly, he turned around, locked eyes with Shaakira Ross, who was sitting in her car, and shot her. The police removed five .45-caliber bullets from her body.

Next time you denounce “mass incarceration” and call releasing more felons from jail or prison, please remember the gamble the justice system will be taking. The victims almost always are other African-Americans, in this case Shaakira Ross, a young woman described as a good student with a big smile and upbeat attitude who was planning to go to nursing school.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


6 responses to “Failed Twice by the Criminal Justice System”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    totally bogus. Anyone who has been notified of jury duty and shows up for the MANDATORY briefing – KNOWS that the courts call as many as they need and the room was packed – and getting out of Jury duty was not so easy…

    this is something that good government does.. it makes sure there is an adequate jury pool… from the get go…

    and all I can say – is they do exactly that where I live.. I have NEVER heard of ANY trial that lacked jurors… – so something is fishy here.

  2. I’m kinda maybe disagreeing. I see a lot of people who do anything to get out of jury duty.

    They simply don’t care.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      well.. okay.. but they don’t live where I do where they make very clear – you’re expected to serve unless you have a dang good reason.. it’s not optional… and judging by attendance at the mandatory brief -others got the same idea ….

      maybe things different elsewhere.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    well – there are two metrics – (probably more) but one is juror duty – and the other is manning the precincts at elections – which is , in some respect, far more demanding and onerous because poll workers have to be there at 5am and stay until well after 7pm and cannot leave at anytime.

    In most counties/cities, that can require a goodly amount of people.

    and if someone wants to worry about wrong folks voting – more important to worry about how the precinct is operated as it takes significant due diligence to keep things together…

    these are places were the folks actually checking the IDs and insuring ballot and voting procedure integrity is assured.

    precincts – over the years – for those that pay close attention to that precinct and how it votes – develop a “signature” in their voting patterns and reveal far more about the dynamics of elections that the aggregate totals sometimes.

  4. I did not see any Black Lives Matter leaders shedding tears after this poor girl was murdered. Her life mattered.

    Now if her murderer was shot by the police….well, you know the rest.

  5. Nothing new, unfortunately.

    Remember the Susan Cummings case? A spoiled rich girl born with a silver spoon in her mouth shot her boyfriend dead in her kitchen. Her patently absurd account of what happened in the immediate run up to the killing was impossible to reconcile with the forensic evidence.

    A jury of her horse country peers found her guilty of voluntary manslaughter, a felony. So far, so good. But then they recommended a 60 day sentence. She actually served something like 30 days. The contemptible jury also found her not guilty of using a firearm in the commission of a felony. That would have carried a mandatory sentence. Apparently, the four bullets which ended up in her boyfriend’s body got there without the need of a gun.

    The message from the horse country jury to the horse country heiress was clear – “You really shouldn’t kill your boyfriend. However, given that he’s nothing more than an Argentinian immigrant and you’re a rich horse person … we won’t ask you to pay a serious penalty.

Leave a Reply