CHESTER — In comic books and movies, Batman wears a cape. In real life Thursday, a man who some say is the avenger of a horrible deed wore handcuffs.
There is no pat on the back from the police for killing even the alleged vilest criminal in real life if the killing does not have legal justification.
What there is is a burly jailer waking you up from a jail cell to say it is time to be told by a judge, “Mr. White, you have a charge of murder.”
Just minutes after Antwan Terrill White, that 21-year-old man with no criminal record, was asked by a judge Thursday morning if he understood the murder charge in the shooting death of an alleged rapist, tables were filled at Gene’s Restaurant in downtown Chester.
Gene’s is where all news in Chester County is digested right along with the grits over breakfast.
At one long table sat 12 men, same number you’d find in a criminal court jury. Fathers of daughters, grandfathers of granddaughters, brothers of sisters.
Juries decide if somebody is guilty.
Legal experts will tell you that juries sometimes say a person is not guilty because – regardless of the law or the facts of the case – no way can 12 people who are parents of daughters and brothers of sisters convict a man who killed a monster rapist.
White has the right to a jury trial if he wants one. A magistrate told him so Thursday morning. But that could be months, maybe years, away.
He also can claim that he just plain did not do what he is accused of by police. Courts guarantee that right for all accused.
No courts were used, though, in the accusation and death of the alleged rapist, Michael Jermaine Terry.
These dozen guys at Gene’s were asked the simple questions that haunt this killing.
Is it right for somebody to hear of a family member’s rape and then shoot the guy in the face?
Should that person have waited for the cops and courts to act?
Should this alleged shooter, not many years from wearing No. 21 on a football field for the Lewisville Lions, be charged with murder and held in jail when the victim of the killing might be an unspeakable criminal who some would say “deserved killing?”
Right off one guy at the table said, “He saved taxpayers a trial: Rapists deserve what they get.”
It was explained that the police had not had a chance to investigate the rape allegation before Terry, a career criminal, was killed. It remains unclear what happened in the alleged sexual assault, but the investigation continues.
Yet it is clear that no police officer had a chance to investigate the allegation, go before a magistrate judge with allegations and ask for an arrest warrant against Terry.
Terry was dead before anybody with a badge could ask him anything.
But another judge signed an arrest warrant against Antwan White, alleging murder, after police claimed White killed Terry.
At that hearing Thursday, Magistrate Lonnie Sloan told White – hero or not, depending on how one looks at it – how only a Circuit Court judge could set a bond in a murder case.
White asked quietly: “I can do that today, right?”
Sloan said no. White’s face dropped.
White will be in jail for at least a few more days and probably much longer. Chester County does not have a Circuit Court judge scheduled to be in criminal court to set a bond until the week of Aug. 27, said Chris Taylor, assistant solicitor.
This was now not TV or movies, where bonds are given in murder cases just in time for a commercial break. Whether some believe White should be freed and thanked or exonerated or never arrested in the first place, it is clear he will stay in jail for a while.
“He shouldn’t have to wait in jail,” said another guy at Gene’s. “It’s a damn shame he can’t get out on bond. What they say he did, the guy deserved killing.”
The tables of 12 men were appalled at the rape allegations. They were not appalled at the killing.
Then a man walked up to the table after having listened for a bit. Calvin Gore wore a Marine Corps veteran hat because he earned it in Vietnam.
Gore is also a retired magistrate judge who has heard it all in Chester County’s courtrooms.
He said he hurts for the family that is going through such horrible, terrible duress from a rape allegation through a killing and now a murder charge against a young man full of promise.
But, Gore said, what matters most is law – and facts.
“We cannot act on emotions,” he said. “We must act on facts. The facts always speak for themselves.”
It is clear that police did not have a chance to investigate the rape claim before the perpetrator was killed, Gore said.
“The facts were not established,” he said. “The man was killed before law enforcement could do its job.”
Now law enforcement is doing its job after the killing, and a young man faces a murder charge regardless of whether a community believes he might have been a protector and acted righteously.
Now it’s up to the courts to sort out the facts, Gore said.
“In most cases, the victims want justice,” he said. “And those who have done something, the defendants, want mercy.”
The rape victim might have wanted justice – justice that, to some, might have meant the killing of the awful rapist.
But Terry never got a chance at court justice or court mercy – whether he deserved it or not.
“In our system, even the worst defendants are entitled to their day in court,” said Debra Gammons, a professor at the Charleston School of Law.
It must be courts, not men, who mete out justice, said both Gammons and Gore.
It remains unclear what evidence police have that was enough probable cause to arrest White for killing Terry. No evidence was shown Thursday in court.
“That’s why we cannot act on emotion,” Gore said, “and (we must) act on facts in courtrooms.”
Gore and those 12 men at Gene’s all left the restaurant to see children, grandchildren, families.
Antwan Terrill White remained in a detention pen, facing a future that is unsure at best, as the courts get set to figure out what is fact in the death of an alleged rapist.
Andrew Dys 803-329-4065 firstname.lastname@example.org