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Are Capital Punishment's Emotional Costs Worth It?

The capital murder trial of Christopher Evans still haunts some participants months after the fact.

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But Nieto intended to paint a very different picture of Evans' behavior, both in and out of jail. One of the ways he did this was by highlighting a June 2008 jailhouse incident in which Evans and his cellmate, a man named Marcus Jones, allegedly beat another inmate. Jones, a bulky man with a heavy brow, had since been released and, when Nieto called him to the stand, he wore a shiny silver watch and a bulbous silver ring on his left pinky finger.

Nieto asked Jones if he saw his former cellmate Evans in court.

Jones looked over at the jury, up at the ceiling, and down towards the floor, his head swiveling elaborately. "No," he said.

Nieto directed Jones' attention to the defense table, where Evans sat with his lawyers.

"I do see him," Jones said.

Jones testified that he and the third inmate had indeed fought, but that it was a "mutual battle," and that Evans had actually tried to break up the fight rather than join in. Nieto asked Jones if the fight was about the third inmate having snitched on someone else, but Jones said no. Nieto asked what he thought of snitching in general.

"Off the top of my head, I don't really see it as a bad thing," Jones said.

Nieto asked how snitching is perceived among inmates.

"In jailhouse terms, I wouldn't believe it'd be a good thing," Jones said.

"Snitches get hurt?" Nieto asked.

Jones mumbled.

"Snitches get killed," Nieto said.

"So do ordinary people," Jones replied.


The intersection of 85th Avenue and International Boulevard, where Christopher Evans spent most of his life until 2001, lies deep in East Oakland, just past the Oakland Coliseum toward the San Leandro border. It's a neighborhood of small businesses, barred windows, and barking front-yard dogs. Sedans cruise speed-bumped streets on oversized rims while their stereos vibrate the air and rattle windows. A few haggard-looking and shabbily dressed men and women sit on boxes on the sidewalk. The police beats surrounding 85th and International rank among Oakland's most dangerous.

It's a place where there are "a lot of youngsters who have no life of privilege," a longtime neighborhood business owner who had known both Evans and Rose testified during the trial. "The death penalty is also on the streets for these kids," she said. "It's imposed daily."

Tina Rose and Tommy Lee Brown had learned that firsthand, more than eight years earlier. And back in Judge Nakahara's downtown courtroom on November 23, Christopher Evans waited to learn whether the same penalty would be imposed upon him by the State of California.

As the bailiff called Department Eight to order, the jury filed in — ready to deliver the verdict Larry Castro would disagree with. Evans sat slouched at the defense table, DuBois and Selvin to his right. Nieto sat alone in a pinstriped suit at the table next to them. In the public seating area behind where Nieto sat, relatives of Rose and Brown filled two rows. Newly appointed Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, who had arrived to watch, sat across the aisle.

Nakahara asked who the jury's foreperson was. A slender middle-aged man with glasses and neatly parted gray hair raised his hand from the box's second row.

"It is my understanding the jury has reached a verdict, is that correct?" Nakahara asked.

"Yes, sir," the foreman answered.

The foreman handed an envelope to the bailiff, who walked it over to the court clerk. The clerk stood and read the verdict aloud: "We, the jury, fix the penalty for Christopher Evans at death."

Evans, DuBois, and Selvin gave no visible reaction. The crowd in the courtroom was silent, though many would hug one another later on outside. The jurors left the box, crossed the courtroom in a line, and filed out one by one. Nieto and O'Malley shook hands and hugged. DuBois and Selvin slipped out of the courtroom together, talking quietly. Evans was led out the side door through which he had entered, to return in April for his formal sentencing before Judge Nakahara. After that he would join some seven hundred other inmates on California's death row.


Back at the low table in his tidy Pleasanton classroom earlier this summer, Larry Castro explained why he would have lobbied against a death sentence had he been in the deliberation room with the other jurors. The main reason, he said, was the defense argument that Evans had been acting without control after the concussive blow from Tina Rose's brother.

"I work with honors kids," he said. "I've seen it take weeks or months for them to come all the way back from a bad head injury, so I'm not sure I buy the idea that you're fully aware in those first two minutes after a concussion. But even that one could argue all day, because all you get in court is two different viewpoints."

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