Fly on the Wall: LaToya Part 2

By: Adam Sutton

The case against [Dawnta] Harris hinged on whether jurors believed the boy burglarized two homes with his friends before running over the officer. Prosecutors charged him as an adult with “felony murder,” meaning a felony crime in which a death is foreseeable — for example, when a burglar breaks into a home, awakens the owner and kills him in a struggle. Prosecutors had to prove not only murder, but the burglary too.

In his closing argument Tuesday, Brown conceded that the teen killed Caprio.

“It ain’t a matter of innocence. We know that he is responsible for her death and that’s between him and God,” Brown told the jury.

Instead, the defense attorneys sought to distance Harris from the burglaries, portraying him merely as a “dumb kid.” They said the teen didn’t ask too many questions when he hopped in a snazzy Jeep with his pals and went joyriding in the suburbs. Even when the other three began burglarizing homes, Brown said, Harris waited in the car.

“It’s not in his spirit to hurt anybody. That’s why he didn’t go up in these homes,” Brown told the jury.

Coffin, however, described Harris not as a naive teen hiding in the Jeep but as the lookout and getaway driver. She showed the jury text messages and phone call logs between Harris and the teens inside. He waited outside in the Jeep for 42 minutes while the teens burglarized one particular home, she told jurors.

“The defendant wants you to think he had no idea what’s happening,” Coffin said. “To suggest that he’s not a primary actor is absurd.”

The jury found him guilty of burglarizing one of two homes — enough to convict him of felony murder.


Mrs. Snell reminded the class that the case of Dawnta Harris was complicated, involved race and was, therefore, prone to making people uneasy.  “Remember, the words you use may be interpreted in ways you don’t intend.  Also, remember, hear people out.  Listen to them and be careful of your body language.  Sometimes we say more with our expressions and movements than we do with our words.  That said, my 1st question on the board is ‘Does this story show fairness?’  What do you think?” she asked the class.

Julie’s hand, which happened to be white, shot up like a rocket.  Mrs. Snell tossed the neon pink ball serving as the talking piece to her and she began, “It’s fair.  He ran over a cop.  The cop died.  If you kill someone, especially a cop, you have to be punished.  I get it’s probably not fun to go to prison, and it might seem mean.  But, he killed someone.  She isn’t coming back.” 

The tension was thick in the room.  Students were quiet.  Really quiet.  Intently staring at their feet.  Latoya’s black hand was piercing the air.  Her eyes alive.  Mrs. Snell sucked in her breath as Julie tossed the talking piece to Latoya. 

“Nah.  That ain’t right.  He’s 16, yo.  That’s like just a bit older than us.  Somebody be pointin’ a gun up at me, I dunno what I’d do.  I’d be scared as I dunno what.  If I’m inna car like dat, I prolly hit the gas too.  Tryna get outta there, like you don’t even know,” she finished, shaking her head.  The fire in here eyes looked a little tired.  She tossed the pink ball to Javier.

“My parents are from Mexico,” Javier started, “they came here with nothing. My dad grew up sleeping on the floor of his family’s 1 bedroom apartment with his 5 brothers and sisters.  My mom had it a little better, but not much.  She had a bed that she shared with her sister, and her brothers shared the other one.  They both worked so hard.  So hard.  My dad owns his own business, and my sister and I have a good life.  I guess my point is lots of people grow up struggling.  Not everyone though kills a cop.  I hear Latoya, but I just don’t know.”

Mrs. Snell motioned for Julius to toss her the talking piece.  “What do you think, Mrs. Snell?” someone shouted out. 

She smiled.  Her throat tightened.  She hadn’t expected the honesty, the intensity of what had happened before her.  She sucked in a breath.  “Well,” she paused for another breath.  “I relate to the police officer in a lot of ways, not just because we’re both white, but,” she said looking at Latoya who smiled at her and nodded.  “All day,” tears started to well in her eyes and her voice started to crack, “I have to judge and make decisions about people,” a tear dropped into her lap.  Several students’ mouths dropped open.  A few covered their mouths in shock, but she carried on, “and I try to be fair.  But, do I yell at Latoya to pay attention more than Julie?  Do I grade Brad’s papers the same as Jamal’s?”  She reached up quick to wipe a tear away from her eye before it could land on her lap again.  “I hope so, but sometimes I don’t know.  I try to be fair.”  She sucked in a big breath and continued, “Well, we went somewhere today, didn’t we?”

Latoya kicked up quick, “We sure did Mrs. Snell.”

Mrs. Snell could only smile as she sniffed and finished, “I just want to say that I’m really proud of all of you today.  You listened more than I’ve seen all year, like really listened.  You heard things you didn’t like, but you listened.  Thank you.  Now, let’s get these desks back in order before the bell.” 

As the students scurried to put the desks back, Latoya came up to Mrs. Snell.  “Mrs. Snell, I really liked that today.  It was tough but good.”

“Thanks kiddo.  Can I get a hug?” she asked through watery eyes.

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