Jurors felt youth prison official was guilty but were swayed by ex-cop, lack of physical evidence

John Paul Hernandez

The Associated Press has an interesting follow-up about the trial of John Paul Hernandez, who was acquitted of charges that he sexually molested five inmates at the West Texas youth prison where he served as principal.

Basically, according to the AP, many jurors felt Hernandez was guilty, but they were persuaded by an ex-cop who raised questions about whether prosecutors had proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt, given that there was no physical evidence:

Nancy Gray told The Associated Press that the officer “did a lot of talking” about reasonable doubt to the eight who believed John Paul Hernandez was guilty when deliberations started.

“A lot of people changed their minds because he kept saying, pressing the point, that he had to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Gray, who was the last to agree to the not guilty verdicts. “I was the holdout, all the way through. It was hard. That’s why it was very emotional for me.” …

Gray said jurors “absolutely” would have thought differently had there been physical evidence. Prosecutors presented no DNA, no fingerprints and no hair samples to back up the former inmates’ stories, though the jury believed each man had testified truthfully about having been abused by Hernandez.

Gray said deliberations grew testy at times and she unloaded her sentiments on the other jurors.

She said she told them: “‘You know this bastard is guilty’ and I was bawling. These boys are going to live with this the rest of their lives. Maybe they’ve done some bad things, but they didn’t deserve what happened to them.”

The Odessa American reports that nine of the 12 jurors initially wanted to convict Hernandez. And the AP says the verdict left one of Hernandez’s alleged victims stunned:

“I can’t believe this happened,” the young man, now 26, said in an e-mailed statement through his attorney. “What Mr. Hernandez did to me ruined my life. I told the jury the truth, and now I’ll never be able to get over what happened. When I broke the law, I went to TYC. When he broke the law, there was no consequence.”

—  John Wright

Gay Oklahoma teen commits suicide following ‘toxic’ city debate over GLBT history month

Zach Harrington

A 19-year-old gay man from Oklahoma has taken his own life, and his parents say a hate-filled recent City Council meeting he attended may have driven him over the edge.

Zach Harrington was a talented musician who’d endured years of struggles due to his sexual orientation in high school in conservative Norman, Okla.

On Sept. 28, Harrington attended a three-hour public hearing on a proposal to declare October gay history month in the city. Although the council ultimately approved the proposal, Harrington’s parents described the meeting as potentially “toxic” for their son, a private person who internalized his feelings.

From The Norman Transcript:

Nikki Harrington, Zach’s older sister, said her brother likely took all of the negative things said about members of the GLBT community straight to heart.

“When he was sitting there, I’m sure he was internalizing everything and analyzing everything … that’s the kind of person he was,” she said. “I’m sure he took it personally. Everything that was said.”

Harrington’s father, Van, said he wasn’t sure why his son went to the meeting, especially after his experiences in Norman once he revealed that he was gay as a teenager. He said he feels his son may have glimpsed a hard reality at the Sept. 28 council meeting, a place where the same sentiments that quietly tormented him in high school were being shouted out and applauded by adults the same age as his own parents.

“I don’t think it was a place where he would hear something to make him feel more accepted by the community,” he said. “For somebody like Zach, it (the meeting) was probably very hard to sit through.”

Zach Harrington committed suicide at his family’s home in Norman seven days after the meeting, yet another apparent victim of anti-gay hate. His parents say they hope the story of his death will make people think twice before they say certain things about their friends and neighbors in public. We’re hoping it will also prompt them to reflect upon the hatred in their hearts.

—  John Wright