No Justice, No Peace

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

Gretchen insisted that if Hinton went free it would send the wrong message "to all of them"; when asked who "they" were, she pointed to the people in the gallery. Cindy was made to feel clueless and naive because she was in a seat from which she couldn't see the gallery. Jurors got excited about how all our names and addresses were available to Keevin Hinton, and what if his gang pals came after us? This is the sort of hysteria that doesn't get forgotten once it's raised. I bet it happens a lot in Minnesota courtrooms.

In fact, I know--and so do the people who are in positions to do something about it. In 1993, the Minnesota Supreme Court appointed a Racial Bias Task Force that after two years of investigation diagnosed "pervasive" bias in the court system and formulated 134 recommendations to improve matters. The document is gathering dust while an implementation commission discusses what to do.

Meanwhile there's still a 40 percent chance that a Minnesota jury will be all white. More than likely it will also be predominantly middle-class. Jurors are pulled from voter records and drivers' licenses; poor people are less likely to vote and drive. Also excluded are people whose jobs won't allow jury leave, like temps. Jury duty presumes the sort of stable job (and, for that matter, stable home life) we're told not to expect in an age of global competition.

Patrick Rolo

All of which meant that we had a jury of 11 white people and one black woman sitting in judgment on two young black men. If you are white, imagine 11 young black men trying to assess your motives and truthfulness based on your clothes and body language, and by your friends who could get off work and show up in the gallery.

Breaking

At the end of the second day of deliberations, we sent a note to the judge saying that we could never reach a conclusion. She called in both attorneys and Keevin Hinton, then sent us back for further deliberations.

We'll be here 'til Christmas. I can't be here 'til Christmas. If you can't accept the facts and do what you swore you'd be able to do, we'll be here until Christmas. It was said so many times it became gospel. When we asked the sheriff's deputies how long we could expect to be sequestered, they all said the same thing: This is nothing. You could be here for months. They said this in order not to influence our deliberations. But it influenced us anyway, and if they had told us the truth--that this length of deliberation was exceptionally rare--we would have been more likely to recognize how out of control we were, and perhaps there wouldn't have been a miscarriage of justice.

Between Jerry's ultrareasonable DJ voice, Todd's snotty exasperation, Victoria's expert questioning, my own nerves, the desperate situation, and all the pleading faces in the room, I finally changed my mind a self-serving hour before we'd have headed for another night in another hotel. I asked myself if I was sure, if I was right, and the only answer I got was an empty echo. I thought that when I asked myself that question and received, for the first time, an answer with no pain, that that meant I was right.

Was this evil? Weakness? Shock? How could someone be convinced an innocent man is guilty? I don't have a clear answer. But I read about a 1991 Tucson case in which four innocent men confessed to the murder of nine people at the Buddhist temple Wat Promkunaram. The four suspects, fingered by a delusional resident of a psychiatric institute, were whisked off from their ordinary lives, but not formally arrested. They were treated well, given plenty of fast food and cold drinks, and allowed to rest, but they were cut off from all of their ordinary contacts and talked to endlessly.

It took them 72 hours to crack, just slightly less than it took us. Leo Bruce, one of the accused, explained his false confession like this: "My head felt like it was hollow... Everything echoed in there... I don't know how to put it... [It was like] when I when in for surgery and they put anesthesia on me. It was like a dream, and I couldn't wake up and I couldn't do anything to get out of it."

Five hours before I changed my mind I announced to those around me that if people had been arguing with me for four straight days that two plus two is five, I would have already given in. I said I believed that you could convince anyone of anything through this process. I said I hardly knew myself. People nodded. Esme, one of the most level-headed, down-to-earth women I've ever met, was sitting across from me. She didn't say: "That's terrible" or "If you feel like that, this process has gone terribly wrong." She simply agreed.

We reached our decision and were sprung by dinnertime. I used to wonder how the O.J. jury could have reached a decision after only four hours. Now that I know they were sequestered for months beforehand I'm amazed it took them that long.

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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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