There was a lot of dismay — and anger — on Monday in courtroom 2A at the Robeson County Courthouse when a jury found Marques Brown, the killer of a police officer, guilty of the lesser crime of second-degree murder, essentially saying that one day, should he live long enough, he will be a free man.
“I am not happy with the outcome. All I can do is put it in the jurors’ hands. They decide. It’s their voice,” District Attorney Johnson Britt said.
There were tears in the courtroom, including those of Officer Jeremiah Goodson’s wife, Lametria, who has two children by Goodson, one he never lived to meet.
The outrage was fueled in part by what appeared to be a slam-dunk case. There were no questions about Brown’s innocence: He shot Goodson not once, but four times, in broad daylight just off one of the busier streets in Lumberton, Fayetteville Road, with plenty of witnesses around, killing him instantly and in cold blood.
But the case started tracking in another direction when defense attorneys Lisa Miles and Junius B. Lee, both court-appointed, began arguing in favor of self-defense, saying that Brown didn’t recognize Goodson, who was in street clothes, as a police officer. Further, they said, Brown had lived a life outside of the law, and was in fear for his life, so he thought Goodson was a threat.
Before the defense lawyers argued for self-defense, they worked to convince the jury that Brown was mentally deficient, with an IQ of below 70, and that he came from a broken home, abandoned by his parents, and raised sparingly by his grandmother. We have little doubt that Brown’s childhood was not Leave it to Beaverish, but would suggest that the vast majority of those who stand trial for murder at the county courthouse could point to similar sorry starts in life.
It is a societal failing that is only getting worse.
The defense, a bit to our surprise, has said it will appeal, apparently believing that Goodson should walk a free man. Yet evidence shows he was a convicted felon, dealing drugs, carrying a weapon, and he shot and killed someone without knowing who that person was, imagining a threat that didn’t exist.
Prison is where he belongs — and for a long time.
Our judicial system is the best in the world, but remains flawed. Sometimes the punishment doesn’t appear to fit the crime, and we are left to accept the bad with the good.
But it should be remembered that an essential element of first-degree murder is premeditation, and by all accounts, Goodson’s deadly encounter that day was by chance. He was driving down Fayetteville Road when he saw Brown, dropped his wife in a safe place, and then there was a confrontation, with Goodson being shot dead in what was not a fair fight.
Britt argued that Brown was “lying in wait,” and that demonstrated premeditation, but premeditation itself is slippery to define. At some point Brown made a decision to use deadly force, but was that instinctive or hurriedly planned? A jury has made its decision.
The good news is that Brown, even with almost six years of credit for time served, remains a long way from freedom, and will probably be well into his 50s before he can walk freely, assuming that ever happens again.
That is, however, a lot better deal than the one Jeremiah Goodson received, as well as his wife and their two children, which is why a lot of people are angry at what the believe is a failure of the judicial system.