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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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The Lemrick Nelson Verdict

As it now appears, the jury did not hold Lemrick Nelson responsible for the death of Yankel Rosenbaum, even though they convicted Nelson of stabbing him, because “everybody knew” that the Rosenbaum family has filed a lawsuit against the hospital, claiming he died because of inadequate post-stabbing care. This is what the jury forewoman told The New York Times. She went on to observe, “How can you hold two people responsible for the same death?” It also seems from The Times report that the jury forewoman came by her knowledge of the lawsuit through her employment at the hospital.

Without question, because Nelson put him in a life-threatening situation by stabbing him, as a legal matter, the hospital’s alleged subsequent negligence is irrelevant to Nelson’s culpability for Yankel Rosenbaum’s death. Indeed, the presiding judge in the case refused to allow evidence of the charges against the hospital. The result, though, was that the issue, which obviously was known to the jurors, was not squarely addressed and possibly countered.

In retrospect, and purely with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it would seem that the prudent thing would have been for the prosecution to have supported the introduction of evidence of the lawsuit and have the issue of the lawsuit squarely before the jury together with a “full court press” as to its irrelevance. The lawsuit was big news at the time it was commenced and that is the sort of thing that lingers in people’s mind in high profile matters.

We mean this not as a criticism of the prosecution team since we would have, if asked, probably have instinctively weighed in against giving the jury a basis for giving Nelson a pass, certainly in such a sharply adversarial context. However, we do admit to being puzzled that given her employment history, the jury forewoman was on the jury.

In any event, we think that there is an important object lesson here. There doubtless would have been a public outcry in the Jewish community had any stone been left unturned in the effort to keep evidence of the lawsuit from getting to the jury. One’s position on the issue would have become a litmus test for sensitivity to Jewish interests. Yet whether or not it actually applies in the Lemrick Nelson case, the old adage of discretion sometimes being the better part of valor comes to mind.

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