No Justice, No Peace

The attorney asked if I could be a fair juror. I said yes. What a sucker I was.

Veronica's young teenage daughter and even younger son were fending for themselves in the suburbs. Since Veronica didn't know this would happen she hadn't made any special plans. They didn't have emergency cash or supervision. When the deputies called these free-ranging kids each evening they said they were fine. Wouldn't you find that soothing?

On the fourth day Esme--who hadn't seen her nursing infant during the entire deliberation period--wrote a note to her husband, asking him to contact their lawyer to get her out. The note was never delivered. (You're allowed to send messages from the jury room via the sheriff's deputies. You write out a note and phone number, they call and read your message to the recipient. However, messages are often not delivered for hours after you've written them, and the deputies tend to revise responses into banalities for fear of "worrying" you. Needless to say, this information blackout serves only to worry you more.)

As for myself, I was wearing the same clothes I'd hastily put on four days earlier and was vividly aware of the deadlines in my professional life falling like dominoes, potentially ruining contacts, relationships, finances. I was also terrified of how my convictions were wavering, and was obsessed with how the urge to get out might make me change my mind, how self-preservation could easily lead to self-deception. I was right to be afraid. I cried myself to sleep the last two nights--from exhaustion, from fear--and would wake up a few hours later to sit in bed, face tear-swollen, watching my lone pair of underwear dry on the heating vents while I made lists of things that I thought would convince the other jurors.

And I was lucky, because I had a room to myself. Some jurors were spending the night with people they had been arguing with all day, and Veronica made a point of moving from room to room to work the holdouts.

By the end of the fourth day we were all sleepless, unexercised, ill-fed, and hysterical. Four of us had been openly weeping at one time or another. I wouldn't have trusted myself to drive a car, to fry an egg, to hold a conversation. If you were ever falsely accused, this is the condition of the people you'd be relying on to determine your fate.

Cracking

So why didn't we simply declare ourselves a hung jury? The only answer I have is that the deliberations gradually drove us insane. Veronica, the divorce attorney, would lead, asking you a series of yes-or-no questions: Do you believe Oultman could have seen the shooter? Do you believe Milton could have seen the shooter? Do you have any testimony that the defendant was framed? Then explain why two people would identify the same stranger as the shooter. If you can't, then you've got to find him guilty.

Once you said no, Todd would break in to tell you how frustrated he was to be stuck with you, since your dimness and illogic was ruining his life. Then Jerry would tell Todd to settle down, and would logically and numbingly rehash every piece of testimony as he heard it in a soothing monotone until one of the others would break in with some question about why you had agreed to serve as a juror if you weren't up to it, and then Veronica would start in on you again. And again. And again.

Meanwhile you realized you weren't skilled enough at oral argument to show that two maybes don't create proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That if Glen Oultman said he wasn't sure about whether the shooter he saw was Keevin Hinton, that in itself was a reasonable amount of doubt. That a presumption of innocence means that the not-guilty jurors shouldn't be required to make a waterproof case for their belief. That the unanswerable questions were not just peripheral uncertainties, but a giant knot at the heart of the matter, and that the oath you took didn't include unraveling it; that just because you could imagine a neat grid of events didn't make it reality.

But you couldn't explain all this as well as you once might have, because every thought had taken to pinging around in your skull like super-bouncy balls. You didn't grow to hate your fellow jurors, because you knew they were nice, reasonable people; they were suffering as much as you were, and you both witnessed and felt their pain. And worst of all, you needed their understanding, their sympathy, their approval. They were your only life now. The group had become a community, a family, a secret society with its own powerful ad-hoc myths.

The most problematic of those myths concerned the gallery, the area in the back of the courtroom where Keevin Hinton's friends and supporters sat. Todd insisted he could tell that one large bald black man who arrived in snazzy sunglasses and a shiny outfit was threatening witnesses and causing them to change their testimony. Todd called him Mr. Big. Todd also claimed he could identify Javaris Milton's tattoos as gang symbols marking him as a successful murderer. (Just try refuting this. I said it was unfounded speculation and ridiculous, but could anyone, especially a bunch of hysterical sleepless people puffed-up on self-importance and grasping for any clue, really forget it?)

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1 comments
flyingmonkeyair
flyingmonkeyair

There's nothing worse than reading interviews/accounts with jurors having a public crisis of conscience in the media *after* convicting someone.  If you were unsure that they were guilty, there was the *reasonable doubt* you were commissioned to look for that tells you not to come to a guilty verdict. 

Never mind admitting to pressuring another juror who "switched her vote because she felt the jury was about to turn into a lynch mob and attack her criminal past" or admitting that you "would have done anything to get out of there". 

Don't send someone to a dungeon for a decade because you were trapped in jury duty—missing your lattes and life as a food critic writing about restaurants most of us can't afford to eat at—then cry in the media about whether you sent an innocent person to prison. That's obscene.

 
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