Thursday, March 27, 2014

Jury Duty on a Murder Trial

A few months ago I got called in to jury duty.  To say I was stressed about it would be an understatement.  Living away from your family while raising small children stinks.  Sure you have friends who you can sometimes rely on or you can pay babysitters when you can get them but child care when you don't have parents around, especially inconveniently timed child care becomes a real hassle.  I have a friend who is going out of town for ten days and she was telling me that in order to replace her (the stay at home mom) they had to get five people to do various parts of her job.  I believe her.  As a stay at home mom your whole life is devoted to running your kids around.  Everyone else have other things they have to do and trying to fit your kids into their lives is not always easy.  For example, in order to serve on Jury duty I would need to be downtown by 8:00 am.  So I would need someone who could come to my house to get my kids up and out of bed so they would catch their 8:20 bus because I would be leaving at 7:30 and Dr. J is long gone by 6:30.  I would need someone to then drive Peach to preschool.  Then I would need someone who could watch Cheetah for two hours.  Someone then has to pick Peach up and bring her home.  Then someone needs to watch Peach and Cheetah, and be home for the kids when they got off the bus at 4:20 to let them in, start dinner, and get them started on homework and then stay until Dr. J finally pulled in hopefully by seven.  Friends who have other kids and other obligations can't just be running around doing all your chores.  Babysitters either have day jobs or school or and the ones that are in school usually don't drive making them not the ideal choice.  Dr. J getting off work so I could do jury duty was not an option.  Only family do you feel comfortable inconveniencing to this degree and family is something I'm seriously lacking here.  I tried to figure out a schedule of friends that could do various parts of my job while they were doing their own thing but I just could not get it figured out.  Finally I called the jury office in sort of a panic.  "OH," they tell me, "We can schedule it anytime within the year."  And so that is how I ended up with jury duty during spring break, also known as the only time in four months my husband had off.  Originally I was hoping to go home and see my sister bless her baby or do a short trip with the kids, but civic duty called and there was no other time in the next year I could do it with Dr. J's help.

Monday I had to go in for my first day.  I was positive I wouldn't get called in.  I pointed out on my form that my brother in law had been in jail as well as my step father.  I mentioned my uncle that was a corrections office.  I actually put on the back, "I don't want to be here.  My kids are home on spring break.  This probably doesn't make me impartial, it just exacerbates the general bad attitude I already harbor."  I sat in a room with a bunch of other potential jurors  They split us into two groups of fifty and walked us over to a courthouse.  The bailiff called off fourteen names.  "Please go sit in the juror seats," she instructed.  I got a numb feeling when I entered the room.  Sitting right across from us was a baby faced young man in a button down shirt and tie.  "We are hear to pick a jury for a murder case," the judge instructed us.  If you are chosen you will be here for the next three days.  If not we need you to report back to the jury pool until all the juries are filled for the day.  Both lawyers walked back and forth asking us questions.  At one point one of the attorney's said.  "I notice that you have a family member who was a victim of a crime.  Do you think that will affect your ability to be impartial?"  "Well I don't think so," I say, "but obviously is there any way really for me to know that for sure?"  They asked us a few more questions and then went back to their tables to write down their picks and their strikes.  The bailiff took the papers up to the judge and then she announced, "If I read your name please go back to the jury room.  If not please report back to the jury pool."  And like that I found myself as a juror on a murder case.

It was, to be honest, one of the worst experiences of my life.  At times it was tedious and boring.  I submit for example watching a fingerprint expert look over 57 cards of evidence to tell us they were all her work and had not been altered, to hear that she had worked on this case exclusively for six months, and then to realize the fingerprints didn't mean a single thing to the case.  At some points it was informative.  When the ballistics expert explained how a bullet works, I actually learned something new.  It was taxing.  For hours each day I took meticulous notes while listening to testimony and in the end my checks hurt with effort of holding my face so long in a blank look.  It was annoying being trapped in a jury room during breaks and meals with one of the most obnoxious, inappropriate people I've ever met in my entire life.  During times when I feared I would lose it and throttle her there was an older gentleman that would give me a little wink and a turn of his head and he always calmed me down but she was extremely grating.  After the trial one of the other jurors caught up to me on the street and asked if I'd have wanted this young lady on a jury deciding my fate.  The answer was a resounding no, but in the end it didn't mater because we came up with a unanimous vote.  It was heart wrenching to be faced down each day by both the victim and the defendant's families, both in states of agony.  It was frustrating to watch the almost limitless resources of the state in comparison to the poor showing of the defense and it was frustrating to be forced to swallow what to me just felt like overcharging.  Murder was not enough but we also had to decide on a robbery charge and a felony murder charge, both of which I never felt good about but was forced to concede to my other jurors because it was just an inkling of doubt not enough to be classified as reasonable doubt.  It was alienating to be placed with this burden and to not be able to discuss the case or the possible outcomes or my decisions with my husband, the sounding board I usually utilize when making any big life decisions.  There was security video of the incident and it was horrifying to be forced to repeatedly watch the death of a young man and the undoing of the lives of three more young men.  It was misery to see the victims brother break down in the witness box and to walk out minutes later, running in to him still upset in the hallway and to not be able to say anything.  It was a little fearful.  We were deciding the fate of a young man who had killed someone with a gun and everyday we had to walk right past his family and friends including after we delivered our verdict.  

In the end we were forced to give guilty pleas on all three counts.  At least in talk the rest of the jurors didn't seemed to be too bothered by it.  Multiple jurors said, "You make bad choices and you have to suffer the consequences."  But inside my heart hurt with those guilty convictions.  Over a 1/2 ounce of weed a group of people got into an altercation.  One lost his life to death.  If the two other juries find the way we did and it's hard to imagine they won't because there is a video of the act, three more will lose their whole lives to prison.  To be honest if those were my options I would rather be dead.  There is a logical part of my brain that knows those young men made wrong decisions that led them to where they are now but there is another part that says to me that some people are raised in an environment that makes bad choices a lot more likely and that sending a barely twenty year old to jail for the rest of his entire life doesn't just say that we want to punish you but it also says that there is nothing of value that you can possible have.  How is that possible?  We aren't talking about someone who kidnapped and raped small children, or tortured a multitude of people.  We aren't talking about a Charles Manson or a Ted Bundy, someone completely full of evil.  We are talking about someone who made some wrong choices, many of which were driven by being a part of our society that doesn't follow the same rules the rest of us do, who got themselves in an altercation and now has no hope, no chance, no future ever.  He will never leave prison again.  He will never not be surrounded by violence and coldness and misery.  He is twenty years old.  It could be the next twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years we are talking about.  I watched his teenage sister break down with the verdict and start sucking her thumb.  I was forced to walk past his wailing mother as I left the court house.  I know it wasn't my fault, and I know that there are some people that feel like that was the fate he deserved, obviously the prosecutors, but to be part of that judgement damaged something deep inside me.  

I will never sit on a jury again.  I will absolutely refuse.  If ever asked again I will tell the lawyer about this case and then I will flatly refuse to ever be asked to bear the burden of judging anyone again.  I will tell them feel free to put me on a jury if you want but I will hang it because I do not ever want to feel this darkness again.  I remember hearing a story after the 10 Amish girls were shot by the milk man who then killed himself, five who died about how their parents forgave him and ministered to his family.  It put me back a little.  How could they do that, I thought.  He was a murderer.  He took something so precious from them.  I now realize that the burden of being asked to hold that hate and that judgement is too much.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not some anarchist who thinks that people should never be punished for crimes or be separated out from the rest of the population if they pose a danger.  I don't care to live in a world of complete chaos.  But the idea of throwing someone away for the rest of their lives, of putting them in a prison system that to be honest I consider inhumane, it is painful to me.  We are a prison nation.  We have a judicial system that in my opinion is barely functional.  I can't see an alternative at this point but to hold it up as some model of greatness would be a mistake, and to be honest, I never want to be part of it again.


  1. Wow. (That's a solemn wow, by the way). I can't imagine having to do that (and I hope I never will).

    1. PS. I kid you not—I got a letter in the mail informing me of jury duty yesterday (I don't know what for yet, obviously—hopefully nothing big)!

  2. I could have been selected for a murder case in my county a few years ago, but thankfully I knew one of the detectives from church. We weren't close friends by any means, but the fact that he went to my church might have made me think more highly of HIS testimony than the other side. That's the truth and that's what I told the lawyers when they questioned me. I was dismissed, thank goodness.

    I am very sorry you had to go through this. Too bad there was a video tape. Dang!

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