The Trial of Bernhard Goetz: Excerpt from the Summation of Prosecutor Gregory Waples

The following excerpt is included in The Trial of Bernhard Goetz (Aae Films, 1988).

Mr. Slotnick, in his pitch to you throughout this trial, and in his summation has, in essence, asked you to return a verdict that will legitimize the idea that the law does not apply equally to all persons. That some persons are above the law’s sanctions and worse, some people are below the law’s protection....

Now, this is a sad, and at times confusing case. The defendant is alternately a pathetic and pitiable man and then contemptuous and contemptible. At times you may feel pity for the defendant, and that’s alright. That’s human. At times you may feel sorry for the defendant and that’s ok, because that’s human. And therein lies the great personal challenge you folks will face in this case.

Will you decide this case with your hearts or with your heads? Will you decide this case with emotion or with logic? Will justice prevail in this courtroom or will you capitulate to the fear of crime Mr. Slotnick has sought to exploit and to manipulate? Mr. Slotnick has put the question on the table, maybe, of whether the lives of those four young men Bernhard Goetz shot are even worthy of anyone’s consideration. But Troy Canty, Barry Allen, James Ramseur and Daryl Caby are not on trial in this case. What is on trial in this courtroom is a question of law. It’s a question of civilization, here. It’s a question of whether the defendant was acting within or without the bounds, the proper bounds of self-defense when he rose up from his subway seat and emptied his pistol into the bodies of four persons. Four human beings on December 22nd. It’s a question of whether the law will place a stamp of approval on what the defendant did that Saturday afternoon when he advanced on a seated and totally helpless Daryl Caby and said, “You look alright. Here’s another.” before blasting away with another shot at virtually point blank range....

How on earth can a shooting under those circumstances possibly be excused as a legitimate act of self-defense? A very wise man named Ben Franklin wrote, several hundred years ago, “The citizen that tolerates injustice and oppression in the name of security deserves neither liberty nor security.”

Now, I believe and hope that you twelve jurors who will, ultimately decide this case agree with Franklin. I hope that each of you is willing, as willing to uphold and defend Daryl Caby’s rights as you are to honor and protect the defendant, as you are sworn to do. If I have misjudged, or if you have misjudged yourselves then I shall be disappointed. But the cause of justice will suffer more.

Thank you.