Was ‘Bull’ Fratricide a Tragic Accident or Intentional Murder?
This week’s episode of “Bull” opens on the Crawford brothers, Charlie, 13, and Theo, 17, home alone one afternoon. Charlie persuades his older brother to open their father’s locked gun safe for a little show-and-tell. Charlie wants to hold the gun, and while Theo is resistant, he acquiesces. Hearing a ruckus and fearing Mom and Dad have returned home, Theo leaves the room momentarily for a little recon. As he re-enters the room, Charlie shoots his brother point-blank.
Cut to Dr. Bull, Benny Colón, Mr. and Mrs. Crawford, and Charlie, the surviving son, are all meeting with the Assistant District Attorney and lead detective. Charlie has been charged with manslaughter, but – because Dr. Bull is miracle worker and smooth talker – the ADA reduced the charge to negligent homicide with probation. M’kay. (And the fact Glover asked the lead detective if he was “okay with that” was downright comical.)
Case closed? Not so fast — we have an hour to fill. ADA Glover shifts her focus to the grieving father, Eric Crawford. You gave your minor son the combination to the gun safe and access to a loaded handgun? What kind of parent does that? Eric is then charged with negligent homicide.
The rest of the episode is generally related to the trial. Granted, there is, once again, very little jury consulting, but there were a number of legal(ish) nuggets worth mentioning.
1. Since When Do Parties Receive a List of Potential Jurors Before a Bail Hearing?
Dare I say, never? Nevertheless, the TAC team is already on the hunt for their potential mirror jurors. As Marissa explains the Magic Wall of Faces to Charlie, she tells him about a mathematical algorithm created to find folks who have similar backgrounds, demographics, interests, etc. as the potential juror. Sounds legit. But here’s the kicker: A fancy database doesn’t really help assess individual juror attitudes. What does? Talking to people and finding out what makes them tick, why they think what they think and what information was important in their decision-making. That, coupled with the math and science, would be a nice tool to have in every trial.
2. Hypotheticals During Jury Selection: Love‘em or Hate‘em?
Personally, I love nothing more than a good hypothetical during voir dire. I’ve written about them before, but suffice it to say if they’re created with careful thought to trial strategy and goals, hypothetical scenarios can be a fun and informative way to learn an awful lot about your jury panel.
The team seeks to strike jurors who lack empathy, because they want jurors who can imagine themselves in the shoes of a grieving father who is on trial for death of his firstborn son having never pulled the trigger.
Benny uses two hypotheticals during the jury selection scene; both are designed to discover whether an individual juror can consider what another person is experiencing and whether he’d be inclined to help. These hypotheticals are not verbatim, but you get the picture.
“Let’s say you’re out shopping and you hear a frantic cry for help. You quickly learn someone cannot find their child. What do you do?”
Juror A: I’d make sure someone was helping the parent, keep an eye out, and continue shopping.
Juror B: I’d like to think I’d help out because, how scary is that?
“At a coffee shop, you’re in line. In a hurry. The person in front of you is short a couple dollars and is slowing things down. What’s your first instinct?”
Juror C: I’d pay for his drink. I just would.
Juror D: I’d ask to jump ahead of him. Who orders something without having the money to pay for it?
Which jurors do you strike if you’re the defense?
Jurors A and D need to be sent home.
3. Hey, Counsel, Conduct Matters!
Apparently, ADA Glover never got the memo on appropriate courtroom demeanor. She was in rare form for pretty much the entire trial. Makes for fun television, but in an actual courtroom it would not have scored her the points she so desperately hoped for. IMHO, she came across as arrogant, petty and overly aggressive. Couple that with the repeated admonishments from the bench and she now has a credibility problem.
Make no mistake, jurors judge the conduct of every single person inside the courtroom. Especially counsel. Theatrics are fun in Hollywood, but actual jurors expect counsel to exude the utmost degree of professionalism and respect for the judiciary.
As the trial commences, the prosecution calls Laura Coleman, the manager of the gun range Mr. Crawford and his deceased son would frequent. She shows a video from the facility’s security cameras that puts a potential nail in the defendant’s coffin. Before they exit the gun range, all customers (should) see large, bold, red signs reminding them to check their weapons and empty all chambers before leaving the premises. The video showed Eric on his phone as he and his son were exiting, and he didn’t double check his gun in view of the camera. And just like that, the prosecution’s credibility problem became the defendant’s fact problem.
As Bull ponders the dismal day in court, he begins to reflect on the testimony and his interactions with Charlie. Based on intuition and experience, Bull sends his team on a fact-finding mission to dig into Charlie’s life. They find a boatload of information to suggest Charlie murdered his own brother.
Turns out Charlie tried to crack the gun safe code over a period of months, he participated in secret chat rooms using fake accounts and wrote “dark, violent and disturbing” posts about Theo, and he even Googled “how to load a revolver.”
Dr. Bull basically diagnoses Charlie as a sociopath and concludes that not only did he commit murder, but he’s a danger to others. He encourages the parents to make the report themselves: Get Charlie the help he needs, keep Eric out of prison. Tragic, but the best outcome considering the circumstances.
In the real world, this information should have been reported to authorities. At the very least, both Benny and Bull have an ethical duty to report this. But, instead, the team hides behind attorney-client privilege and claims their hands are tied. (They weren’t. There are exceptions to privilege when lives are in danger.)
And here’s where things really go off the rails.
Instead of doing the right thing, Bull decides to set Charlie up for a confession by lying to the kid about some fancy new technology they just found showing who loaded the gun with the bullets. Charlie believes him and confesses, but only after asking if there is still privilege. Bull says there is. Note: The parents have absolutely no idea any of this is transpiring.
Next thing we know, Bull and Benny are in chambers with ADA Glover, sharing the confession and asking the judge to dismiss charges against Mr. Crawford. ADA claims the confession is out because of attorney-client privilege, but – rightly so – Benny reminds her perjury trumps privilege. Because Charlie lied on the stand, they can break privilege. (The parents, who are waiting in the hallway, still have no clue any of these things are happening, or their 13-year-old son just confessed.)
The judge dismisses the case against the father. The authorities arrest Charlie. And the Crawfords are clearly upset with Bull. Duh.
It was a ludicrous, albeit heartbreaking, situation all-around. But, eye-rolling as it may have been, it was some decent TV. And, for practitioners, the show offered a solid example of how to use hypotheticals in voir dire, and yet another reminder jurors judge everything they see in the courtroom. So, as your mom said, mind your manners.
This article was originally published by Texas Lawyer on November 26, 2019. Reprinted with permission. © 2019 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.