Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Learning by trial and error

I always thought serving on jury duty would be interesting and one day i received a summons to go.

Lots of people try to get out of doing jury duty but it really can be a very interesting experience and a productive way to spend a few days doing your civic duty. Plus i had nothing better to do and would welcome the opportunity to do it again, anytime.

So i went to the courthouse and waited with a few hundred people holding the same summons and when my number was called I was giddy with curiosity and anticipation. After a quick look from both the prosecution and the defence much to my surprise i was chosen me to be a juror on a second degree murder case. In recollection i've no idea why they picked me as they asked only my name, age and occupation. Whatever the inspection entailed i was ok’d by both sides.

I remember dressing up rather formally to go to court that day wearing all white with turquoise ruffles which in my mind now should have dismissed me as being stuffy and not at all what seemed to fit in with the accused man or his groupies as they were all wore jeans and t shirts. I wonder if i had worn my jeans if i'd still be chosen or if clothes made a difference. Guess not because why would they expect the average citizen to match the accused criminal? I dunno; still don't get the "peer" thing. Also i was at least ten years older than the accused but then so were a few of the other chosen jurors. I had always thought the term “a jury of your peers” meant people of equal social standing or at least age but learned it can mean anyone and usually they're opposites; at least it seems to be in most trials. Well, guess it would be silly that an accused murderer should have other accused murderers sit in judgement of him or a bunch of thieves for a thief. So much for my peer group understanding. I was learning all sorts of things as i went along, alot of which i had never even thought of before and some of which i still don't get! So for those wondering, no, you don't have to be the brightest crayon in the box to be a juror.

The crime had taken place a couple years previously and i had just a vague recollection of reading about it in the newspaper. The accused and his entourage were in the courtroom daily. They were low lifers on welfare, didn’t work at regular jobs and were involved in theft and drug sales on a daily basis to feed their alcohol and drug addictions. The accused guy on trial had lots of fans and he was obviously their well respected ringleader.

In the next 3 weeks i got to know the other jurors of six men and five other women. One woman juror in her late 60’s had served in 3 murder trials almost back to back in recent months and she was tired and annoyed to have to be a juror in yet another trial. Another woman was about 40 and a knitter and she created an intricately patterned red sweater in the jury room knitting a few minutes here, a half hour there while we waited. Another woman and i became friends. So, we waited and drank coffee and chatted in between the activities and the witnesses that we weren’t to see or hear going on in the court on the other side of the wall. This was called “voir dire” and it was like a trial within a trial of witnesses and evidence with links to our trial but involving other people who would be tried separately for their crimes, such as the cab driver who drove this crew to and from the crime scene. I learned just recently voir dire can mean different things in different places as in the Anthony case in Florida where it meant jury selection.
Unlike Casey Anthonys trial we were not sequestered until the last day and we went home at the end of each day with admonishments to not read or talk about the case to anyone. We also went to lunch wherever we wanted and as i walked down the street to my favourite sandwich shop i often observed the accused mans cohorts heading for the pub up the street where i'm sure they
enjoyed a liquid lunch.

The men on the jury were not memorable except for one who didn’t remove his bomber jacket throughout the entire trial. It was like he thought he’d be leaving soon and he stood a lot of the time as though ready to make a quick exit. Unfortunately for him it took weeks so he might as well had removed the jacket, settled in and made himself at home. Mr. Jacket Man also stood out because of the statement he made to the group within the first minute of being in the jury room
“I’m sure we all agree he’s guilty as hell”……….

No evidence had yet been given but he had already made up his mind and assumed all the other jurors had too. At this point we didn’t even know the story or the participants and hadn’t yet seen the crime scene photos or any of the tons of evidence. I knew i had to learn a lot more about the crime and the accused’s involment before making my decision. I didn’t want to send an innocent man to prison; nor did i want to set a killer free. I wanted to be sure to do what had to be done and that would only be possible by listening carefully to all the evidence and proven until i felt right with my judgment. I didn’t want to make decisions based on the accused guys appearance or his friends or their lifestyle or on anyone else’s decision. I knew i’d have to live with myself afterwards and so determined to do my best to figure out the whole story. Thank God the rest of the jurors felt the same way.

The judge spoke to us about the murdered woman and how her life style shouldn’t enter into our deliberations as she also lived the party way of life. He said she was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, somebody’s sister and someone’s aunt and she shouldn’t have lost her life to the hands of people that she had welcomed into her home. Her life was just as important as ours or anyone else’s. Not that i would have felt wrongly of her but maybe a little conflicted and possibly not thought of it exactly like that without it being said. We're all supposed to treat each other as equals but sometimes it's hard and not all people can think this way.I hadn’t anticipated the possibility of getting all hung up on the murdered persons lifestyle as well as the accuseds. The judges advice sure beat hell out of having to figure it out on my own when my brain was already bursting with the scenerio of their drug and alcohol fueled lives and his words came back to me often during the trial and i was grateful for the help. It was like a weight taken off my shoulders and it made my job alot easier. I thought i’d always remember it’s like this for all people at all times; innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable shadow of doubt.
But, that was then and this is now and i feel somewhat differently now after watching the Anthony disaster. I now believe the victims lifestyle does carry some weight in some cases (not Caylees in the Anthony case but her mothers, if we're to believe she was also a victim there) And circumstantial evidence can and should play a larger role as murderers don’t always kill in view of other people or on camera and proof isn’t always in the pudding or clearly evident. Not in this case but in Anthonys trial definitely so. Had i been a juror on her case i most definitely would have said yes, she’s guilty as hell.

The man accused of the crime of murdering this woman was the second person to stand trial for the same killing. The other; a woman, had already been to trial and found guilty and was serving 25 years in prison. She was brought in to tell her story wearing her prison garb.

The two of them had been in the kitchen of the woman’s home when one or the other of them snuck up behind her and strangled her with own dish towel. Of course they each said the other one did it. But because the other one saw what happened and didn’t make any attempt to stop it or call 911 that made them both eligible for the murder charge. Their friends in the next room claim to have not heard anything nor did they know of any plan to kill her or that she was dead when they left her house. Their job was to grab the tv and collect some groceries to bring home with them which they did, and this then also implicated them and the cab driver as he helped to put the stash in the car trunk knowing it was stolen goods.

They were about half way home when the cabbie clued in that something bad had happened and he wanted no part of it. He pulled in to a gas station on the pretence of needing to fill up, went inside and called the police. All the people involved in the crime sat waiting in the taxi for his return. It must have been a big surprise when the police came to their cab and arrested them instead.

Unlike the Anthony case we had been encouraged to talk amongst ourselves in the jury room and this turned out to be a good thing. One example is that during testimony a witness had said the accused man had drank a “40 pounder” prior to going to the ladies house. Neither lawyer questioned it or explained it but when we went into the jurors room the knitting lady said “wow, he must have been so drunk after drinking 40 lbs of alcohol he probably blacked out and wouldn’t have known what he was doing!” I think she would have been heading towards a verdict of not guilty by reason of alcohol stupor but along with a few of the other jurors we were able to explain it to her, and don’t ask how I knew this because i’m not a drinker but i knew the term 40 pounder meant 40 oz. Good grief; 40 lbs. is the size and weight of a four or five year old child i think. But who knows how many misunderstandings jurors have if slang or regional lingo is spoken and you can’t ask? There were times i felt like holding my hand up like at school to ask the judge something but of course it’s not done. I remember hearing hours of discussion of in what order they were seated in the cab and my brain was silently shouting “just ask the driver!” But they never did and of course his version had been established already but in voir dire and the info was not necessary for this jury to know. In the jury room we discussed all sorts of things and each juror had a different insight into just about everything and everyone learned things from each other, especially from those who were not at their first rodeo. Some people totally missed entire points or had to have something explained again. We also sent a couple of notes to the judge to ask questions which helped as well. However questions were kept to a minimum as it was a lengthy procedure because everyone involved had to be present to see the judge read the note and hear both the question and the answer.

In the end we all knew he was guilty as hell and i for one was glad to know that fact 100% without a doubt. Mr. Jacket Man had been right all along. But i was glad that I stuck with it and came to that conclusion on my own.

I think if the jurors in the Casey Anthony case had been able to talk amongst themselves, compare notes, ask questions and have things explained within the group surely they too would have come back with the verdict of guilty as hell!

Now, if they study that trial and learn from those mistakes that would be what i’d call learning by trial and error and that would be a very good thing.


The Blog Fodder said...

That was a fascinating story. Glad it was you not me on the jury. Well written too.

Lorraina said...

Thanks Fodder, so nice of you to say. Reading it over just now i see i could have edited it down some, but ykm; prolixic always, lol!