Thursday, August 24, 2006

Jackson found guilty of 2nd- degree murder in cab driver slaying

Jackson found guilty of 2nd- degree murder in cab driver slaying
By Gary Barlow
Copyright by The Chicago Free Press
July 24, 2006

Members of two families choked back tears late Aug. 21 as a Cook County Circuit Court jury found Hearts Foundation founder Michael L. Jackson guilty of second-degree murder for killing cab driver Haroon Paryani early last year.

The jury deliberated for almost 15 hours total—almost as long as prosecutors and defense attorneys argued the case—before filing back into Judge James Schreier’s courtroom at 26th and California at 8 p.m. to pronounce their verdict.

On one side of the courtroom, Paryani’s former wife sat surrounded by the couple’s children. On the other side, Jackson’s mother and father, other relatives and his partner listened, hoping that the jury would acquit Jackson on all charges.

First, the verdict came on first-degree murder-type A: Not guilty. Then came the verdict on aggravated vehicular hijacking: Not guilty. First-degree murder-type B? Not guilty, the jury said. But on second-degree murder, the jury pronounced Jackson guilty, leaving him to face up to 20 years in jail.

“Now I know my father is at peace,” Amir Paryani said, thanking the judge, the jury and the Cook County assistant State’s Attorneys who prosecuted the case.

Prosecutors said they thought justice was served by the verdict, but lead assistant State’s Attorney Mercedes Luque-Rosales said she wouldn’t characterize the outcome as a victory.

“We have a 62-year-old cab driver who’s dead, and we have a 37-year-old who’s going to jail for a very long time,” Luque-Rosales said.

Jackson’s family left the court building without speaking to the press, but his lead defense attorney, Thomas Breen, said he was grateful that the jury spent ample time deliberating the case.

“This was originally charged as a capital offense, and second-degree murder is significantly different than a capital offense,” he said.

In their arguments to the jury, Breen and partner Todd Pugh had argued that when Jackson took the wheel of Paryani’s cab following an argument over a fare outside Jackson’s Lakeview apartment shortly after midnight Feb. 4, 2005, Jackson did not intend to kill Paryani.

Instead, Jackson’s lawyers argued, he feared for his own life after being cursed at and threatened by Paryani. When he took off in the cab, they asserted, Jackson was trying to get away.

“I suggest to you, ladies and gentlemen, it was not just the most frightening night of his life, it would have been the most frightening night of anybody’s life,” Breen told the jury.

Prosecutors painted a far different picture. Luque-Rosales and fellow assistant State’s Attorney Lawrence X. O’Reilly argued that Jackson “did the horrific, he did the unthinkable.”

“He got into that cab,” O’Reilly said. “Not once, not twice, but three times, he runs over a man face down in the street. ÉThe tires were just spinning, and they were spinning because they were stuck on the body of Haroon Paryani.”

Prosecutors argued that Jackson deserved to be convicted of Type A first-degree murder because he killed Paryani in the act of taking Paryani’s cab. They told the jury that if they couldn’t agree on that charge, then they should find Jackson guilty of Type B first-degree murder because Jackson used the car as a weapon with the intent of causing Paryani great bodily harm.

The jury got the case about 4:30 p.m. Aug. 18. Shortly after 10:30 p.m., Schreier announced that he’d told the jury to suspend deliberations and sequestered them at a nearby hotel. The following morning, Aug. 19, the jury was set to resume deliberations but one juror became ill and had to be taken to the hospital before that could happen.

With the agreement of both teams of attorneys, Schreier then lifted the sequester order and sent the other 11 jurors home for the weekend. All 12 jurors then resumed deliberations at 10 a.m. Aug. 21.

The long deliberations surprised attorneys and wore heavily on both the Jackson and Paryani families. Several hours after the case went to the jury late on the afternoon of Aug. 18, Jackson’s mother said the trial had been an ordeal.

“You love your child,” she said. “What else can you do?”

Several times on Aug. 21, late into the afternoon, the jury sent questions to the judge indicating that they were focusing on the first-degree murder-Type A charge. That led to speculation that the jury was hung. But their final question to the judge, at about 6 p.m., was the first indication that they had moved away from the first-degree murder charge.

Schreier could give Jackson a sentence ranging from probation to 20 years in prison. Luque-Rosales said prosecutors would seek “a substantial sentence.”

“We would think in light of the nature and brutality of this act, that is what the people would expect,” she said.

Schreier set a date of Sept. 20 for post-trial motions and possible sentencing. Jackson also faces several unrelated misdemeanor charges in DuPage County. His attorneys said they were unsure of when those charges would be resolved.


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