One of the 12 jurors who acquitted Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby of manslaughter on Wednesday told The Frontier the jury penned a letter to Chief Chuck Jordan saying that Shelby should never again be a patrol officer.
The Frontier granted the juror anonymity in exchange for an interview.
He said the jury felt that the state’s prosecution “was shoddy,” and that they could have gotten a conviction “had they done a better job.”
He said all 12 jurors wrote a letter they intended to be sent to Jordan in which they stated their belief that Shelby should not be a patrol officer.
“There was a range of belief there,” he said. “Some of us thought she would be good behind a desk. She sounded like an excellent diver. I thought she would have made a great EMT.”
He said he felt that Shelby “was a fearful person,” and that the jury agreed someone with that mindset should not be on patrol.
“I don’t think she’s a bad person,” he said. “She just shouldn’t be a cop.”
He said the letter also outlined the jury’s “extreme displeasure” with the case laid out by prosecutors.
“There were so many holes in their case,” he said. “We really felt like they could have gotten a conviction had they presented it better.”
One of the elements of a successful manslaughter case like the one presented against Shelby is that fear must be “an overriding” factor. He said the jury felt like Shelby was scared — she testified that the encounter with Crutcher was “the most scared she’d ever been” — but that she wasn’t panicking.
To illustrate, he said the jury watched one of the dash cam videos multiple times that showed two laser-sighted dots on Crutcher as Shelby and fellow officer Tyler Turnbough held Crutcher at gunpoint. (Turnbough had a Taser.)
The juror said that one dot, which they saw near Crutcher’s pant leg, was unsteady. The other dot, near his right chest area, was stable.
“The stable dot was right next to where the bullet appeared, so we all decided that was probably from Shelby’s gun,” he said.
Testimony during the trial stated Turnbough’s Taser actually had two dots. Shelby’s gun was not equipped with a laser sight.
During the trial Shelby’s defense pointed to that video and what they said were Shelby’s decisive actions as proof that she was scared but not “out of control.”
He said the jurors agreed.
I’ll always feel like a coward
He said that while he never came out and said he felt Shelby was guilty, he will always regret not “hanging the jury.”
“At one point I talked with another juror about just hanging the jury, and making the state try the case again,” he said. “We really agreed that if they did a better job, they could have convicted her. And maybe the right thing to do was just make them do it again, maybe they do something different and a different jury convicts her.
“I’ll always feel like a coward for not doing that.”
He said jurors had no idea how long they would be required to stay in the deliberation room. As tiredness and hunger set it, votes started to trend toward not guilty.
“We took a vote pretty early on and it was six not guilty, two guilty and four undecided,” he said. “We did it again and it was … seven not guilty, three guilty and two undecided. The next time we voted, we kind of went around the table and we all were supposed to explain our position. When it got to me I kind of felt like I should commit one way, and I committed to not guilty.”
He said that jurors all agreed that the second charging option — first-degree manslaughter resisting criminal attempt — was more likely to return a guilty verdict. But when even that started to trend toward not guilty, it quickly became obvious they would acquit.
“We also didn’t know how long we would have to deliberate,” he said. “We were thinking ‘How long do we have to stay in here before they do a mistrial? I was kind of irritated because I was hungry, I was tired — we all were — and we kind of felt that we needed to just come to a decision.”
He said the jury felt “at least somewhat” that what Shelby did was wrong, but they all agreed it didn’t meet the criteria to convict under first-degree manslaughter.
“We all kind of felt that maybe the law wasn’t that good,” he said.
“I talked to one juror about how unhappy we were with the system and how it’s kind of broken, and what could we do about it,” he said. ”
He said the jurors all agreed that Shelby’s testimony, which prosecutors derided in closing arguments, was “incredibly rehearsed.”
“But we all agreed that, in that situation, we would probably rehearse too,” he said. “Her story made sense, but she had eight months to come up with it. We took it for what it was worth.”
He said jurors didn’t pay much attention to the prosecution angle that the police protected Shelby in the wake up the shooting. Officers testified to telling Shelby not to speak about the shooting and said it was not in the Police Department’s “best interest” for her to talk to investigators.
But the juror said they all agreed that cops likely protect other cops. What they were focused on, he said, was the shooting itself.
“I felt like Shelby made a decision that rational person would make,” he said. “Maybe not the best decisions, but ones that a rational person would make and it resulted in a tragedy.”
He said that jurors also didn’t care much about Crutcher’s prior criminal record. Before the trial began, attorneys argued for days over whether jurors could hear that Crutcher was arrested previously for drugs and had resisted officers and even been Tased previously.
Drummond initially said no. But after prosecutors brought in witnesses who testified positively about Crutcher, Drummond allowed the defense to refer to some of Crutcher’s criminal past.
“We had jurors in there who said they may have made some bad decisions like that in the past,” the juror said. “I think we asked each other ‘Well, did Shelby know about any of that?’ And we decided she didn’t, so it was kind of moot. I tried to think of him not as some druggie scumbag, but just as a person who was having a problem.”
Theory on what happened
He said that he spent a good deal of time trying to imagine what Crutcher was doing during his encounter with Shelby. She testified that he was putting his hands in his pockets and eventually went to his vehicle and reached in, at which point she shot him.
“I believe he went to the university and found out his class was canceled,” he said. “He either is frustrated about that, or he thinks that it’s great that he has a free Friday night, and he gets really high. He gets so high he thinks his car is on fire and he scares a couple witnesses.”
He said that he thought that when Crutcher first saw Shelby, he knew he had to get rid of his PCP, but “maybe he thought it was in his pocket.”
“So he’s fishing around in his pocket looking for it so he can get rid of it,” he said. “Then he remembers it’s in his car, so he goes over there, but he’s too high to realize that was a really bad idea.”
He also said he felt like Shelby’s much-debated “Drug Recognition Expert” training “worked against her.” Shelby had testified that she believed Crutcher was on PCP because “as a DRE” she could tell just from observing him.
“I think it spooked her,” the juror said. “And she got scared — I don’t know how to quantify how scared, but it played a role in scaring her — and it led us down this road.”
Sending the note
He said that when jurors sent a note to the judge at the six-hour mark asking if they could explain their reasoning for the verdict in open court (District Judge Doug Drummond denied that request) they had not yet reached a verdict, though one seemed likely.
“We really at that point were feeling like it was going to be not guilty, and none of us were happy about it,” he said.
After submitting the verdict form to the foreman at the nine-hour mark of deliberations, he said they all sat down for an additional 30 minutes and waited.
“It was like we were thinking ‘Hey, we can change our minds,'” he said. “But none of us did.”
“He was trying to better himself”
While he said that he didn’t think Shelby was a bad person, he said he also felt that Crutcher “was a decent person.” He said he believed Crutcher was trying to make himself a better person by taking college classes.
“I never looked at him like an addict,” he said. “I tried to think of him as a person whose brain just wasn’t working right.
“I think Terence Crutcher was a man who was trying to better himself,” he said. “I find that admirable. Whatever else I may know, he’s a man who had some issues, but he was trying to better himself.”
Correction: This story originally listed an incorrect number of votes made by jurors in deliberations.
Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. To become a Friend of The Frontier, click here.