The Juror and the Convict

Lynne Harriton was the jury foreman at Andre Smith's trial in the Carnegie Deli murder case. Now she's his closest friend.

I've worked with many troubled and/or disadvantaged young people and I always saw you as someone who could have passed through my classroom a few years ago—and as someone I would have tried to "reach" . . .

I don't see you as completely innocent in this situation, but I don't see you as a murderer either. It was easy to see that it was you on the video. You have to remember that I sat there and looked at you all day long 3 days a week for 5 weeks. I don't think I've ever looked at anyone that much in my life. I was familiar with the indents in your forehead, the size of your ears, the width of your neck, the slope of your shoulders, the way you move. There's more. The shape of your hairline, the far-apartness of your eyes. . . . I knew it was you. But I also knew you weren't the killer.

You said in your letter that even a concurrent sentence would have put you in jail for 25 years. It is true, it would have. And I think if I was 31, that 25 years would seem the same as 120. But I'm not 31—and I can see perhaps more clearly than you what a difference that would have made. I'm 50—I'll be 51 in November. And in no way do I feel that my life is over. Even in 5 years when I'm 56, I will still have 25-30 years ahead of me full of plans and ideas and passions and travel and sunshine and laziness and mud between my toes . . . (or sand, or grass . . . )

Memorial Day weekend 2004: Lynne's first trip to see Andre at Green Haven prison
photo: Courtesy Lynne Harriton
Memorial Day weekend 2004: Lynne's first trip to see Andre at Green Haven prison

So, this is what I was hoping for you. I know it doesn't seem like much, compared to what no jail would be, but I don't know what to say about that. I wish my contribution would have helped you get those 25 years. I think you deserved at least that. I feel that I was used by the political system. I wish there was something I had done differently that would have changed the outcome. Logically I know this was not my fault, but I still feel very sad. And I want to offer you some friendship.

I'd like to know about your childhood, your children, your life & your previous dreams for it, about where you are now, what it's like—your thoughts about anything, I guess. . . . I want to encourage you to write. Reach for the right words—try to describe your world. I don't know why, but writing helps. It always helps. I will send a dictionary and a thesaurus if you would like. . . . Again, I look forward to hearing from you. I really do.

A few weeks later, Lynne received a letter from Downstate Correctional Facility, the first stop for men entering the New York State prison system.

Care to take a journey into my world— August 27, '02. The day I depart from NYC to prison, 4:30 a.m. I was awoken by the sounds of keys singing and an officer opening up my cell bars telling me, "Pack it up, you're headed upstate." 5 o'clock. A captain escorts me downstairs. I go into a holding pen where I am fed breakfast, four slices of bread, one milk and oatmeal cereal. 5:30 a.m. Finger printed, mugshot, handcuffed, and put on a city correction shuttle bus to Rikers Island to be put on another bus. This time it so happens to be [with] a tribe of individuals cuffed and shackled going to the same location as me, the lost world.

While traveling through the interstate, I gazed out the window, soaking up the magnificent view of cars passing by, trees looking so beautiful and calm grass freshly green, animals attending to everyday nature activities. A sight I will no longer [be] able to enjoy unless I view it from a television screen. . . .

One hour has lapsed, the gate finally starts to open, the bus pulls into its loading dock, the sound of the engine shuts off and the gates slowly shut. One by one the cuffs and shackles are removed and we are told to step into a huge holding cell occupied with a toilet and sink. Numerous officers approach. "Turn around, place your hands on the walls, and spread your legs out open." All your clothing has to go either in the trash or [be] sent home, however, you are allowed to keep all legal work and religious articles.

A doctor/nurse comes and asks you questions about your medical history. After questioning, you step back into the holding cell. You are fed, given a shower, haircut, and shave, issued state greens with boots and tennis shoes, assigned a housing unit along with a cell, locked in until the next day.

7:00 AM the next day begins with a stand-up count, fully dressed standing by your cell, served breakfast in the mess hall, off for more testing, medical, TB, chest X-rays, eye examination, shots, etc. Back to your housing area, locked in til chow, the same thing continues, more testing education this time, talk to a counselor who tells you your classification level, back to your cell.

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