Friday, May 7, 2010

Jury Duty Logistics

I was part of a sequestered jury and couldn't see any coverage on the flood or hear from friends to know how they were doing after Sunday night. I was concerned about everything but was totally cut off from all communication. I am now sympathetic and empathetic with jurors who have to be sequestered for weeks and months and know they will never be the same afterward. I can't even imagine! I feel nervous and agitated and can't get it all out of my mind. It's all you're focused on and know about during that time, and it's very stressful having someone's future life in your hands.

All of us on the jury pool sat on the benches in the gallery - the Group W bench for you Arlo Guthrie fans. Fourteen of us were selected by numbers drawn from a box and matched to a list of our names. Two would be alternates, but we wouldn't know which ones until right before deliberation. They called us to the jury box and instructed us to sit in specific chairs and stay there since the attorneys made seating charts. After all the seats were filled, the attorneys asked us questions (voir dire) to determine if we would be effective jurors for their case. I got singled out after the prosecution (State) asked if anyone had a problem deciding on a first-degree murder case. My facial expression gave me away, and he asked me if I did. I told him I did if it involved the death penalty. The judge said it didn't. Then I was asked me about my feelings about the death penalty, so I told him I was against it because we don't have a perfect judicial system and innocent people have been executed. I couldn't live with myself if that happened. It's hard enough hearing about it when that happens as well as when people have served many years and then were found not guilty by subsequent evidence.

The attorneys can remove some jurors and get replacements until they have used all of their peremptory challenges and accept the ones on the jury. Thank goodness they lightened the mood a few times with humor. It does help. It won't surprise you that I was the brunt of most of it, partly because I mentioned watching Law & Order, The Good Wife, and Criminal Minds. It was all in context, and they wanted to be sure we knew real trials weren't like the ones on television and that they don't have all that CSI technology. I said something about their not having the writers they did on TV, and the defense attorney replied, "Our writers are the witnesses." That was an effective answer.

The defense attorneys are famous in Nashville and beyond. I couldn't place who they were but had seen them on the news quite often. Dan Alexander was the lead attorney and John Herbison assisted. John Herbison is brilliant and defends many First Amendment cases. He's most famous for representing Perry March and the Woodland Rapist. Even if you aren't from TN, you've probably heard about Perry March. If not, google it. This article describes him as the absentminded-professor type, which I suspect is true. The article is long but worth reading - interesting and informative. Dan Alexander represented Perry March's father. Both attorneys presented an excellent defense, especially Mr. Alexander since he conducted almost all of their case. The Assistant District Attorney General Carey Thompson was the lead for the State. I've met him a few times and like him. Tina has known him and his family quite a while.

From right after lunch Monday until Wednesday night we were not allowed to talk to anyone else and were not permitted to discuss the trial with other jurors. We didn't and were very careful to make sure no one did. They took up our cell phones, and we had to stick together. That first afternoon after the attorneys made opening statements, and the State began their argument, we left the jury room, walked to the elevator, went out to move our cars and park them together, got our luggage, and got in the van to be driven to the motel. There was a female and a male bailiff in uniforms in front of and behind us every time we had to go somewhere.

They took us to eat dinner at Farmer's, one of those places with overcooked mushy vegetables, meats, and other dishes on a buffet. All these people looked at us when we trekked in there in line with bailiffs escorting us and went to one of the private rooms to eat. Because of the budget, we had to share rooms. One of my former students from about 8 years ago and I roomed together. She was a good student in a class we both enjoyed, so we made it fine. She was having a really hard time with all this because when she called the courthouse earlier, they told her to show up Monday morning but mentioned nothing about packing a bag or anything. She had no idea that could happen and was chosen to serve. Her fiancee drove her there, and she had to have one of the bailiffs call him to bring her clothes and everything for five days. She made a list and was so upset because she didn't even get to tell him good-bye and couldn't see him just to wave when he brought her stuff. They delivered her luggage to the room, and he did really well packing for her and sent her a note along with it letting her know he loved her and missed her. He even bought her a book she'd been wanting to read, mended her favorite bra she'd mentioned something about to him last week, and included a pair of his boxers! We women told her he's a keeper and that she needs to marry him soon!

The bailiffs told us we could stand out on the balcony/walkway (we were on the second floor of a Best Western) but couldn't leave it. The phones and televisions were removed from our rooms. There was nothing on the Nashville news about this trial, so that was a bit excessive, but they couldn't take any chances, I guess. No one could have an iPod, laptop, or anything that got on the internet. The guards' rooms were on each end of ours. One of them did walk with us to a market, so we could get some water and whatever we needed from there. The female bailiff banged on the door with one of those rubber stick things Tuesday morning at 5:30! They told us it would be that early. The male bailiff knocked on the door Wednesday morning which wasn't as jarring. They drove us to Cracker Barrel for breakfast, marched us in, and had us seated in a private section. They told us not to look at anyone and if someone tried to talk to us, to tell them we couldn't talk to them right now. At least we had a good place to eat breakfast. Lunch was ordered in, and we had to eat there in the courthouse. We also entered and left from the back of it on the basement floor and went to the jury room the back way.

The smokers got a couple of breaks each day, but we spent our time in the jury box and jury room. We laughed and joked some about the restrooms and other things because it helped break the tension and keep people from trying to talk about the trial. Also there were 10 women and 4 men, so the men had to share their restroom. One of the men joked that he was going to take the toilet seat off. We got along well and seemed comfortable with each other.

Without going into details, what happened is that a man was charged with first -degree murder and attempted first-degree murder of brothers after an altercation at a fish fry at his house. I have a link to articles that describe it, but several parts of it are wrong, and they misspelled the last name of the brothers. The comments don't reflect the factual evidence, either. The State didn't present enough facts that convinced us beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of that or lesser charges. The defense argued that it was self-defense, and I believe it was. Article in the local paper HERE. Link to the local radio station HERE. I might write about this more later, but right now I don't want to. Those three days seemed much longer and were very intense. I've talked with my cousin and former student who were on the jury, and they both feel this way, too. We're worn out and fidgety and don't sleep all that well. It's hard to explain unless you've done this. It's easier to talk to them than someone who hasn't experienced it.

After both sides rested their cases, the judge drew two numbers from the box for the alternates. These two people were not allowed to deliberate and could leave. I was one of them. The bailiffs brought me my purse and Blackberry, and I left the courtroom when everyone was dismissed. Out in the hall, the attorneys wanted to ask me some questions, so I talked with them for quite a while. It was basically a post-mortem to find out what was effective and what wasn't. Again, I'm not going into detail here either and am not sure I can ever write about the trial. I enjoyed getting to know the attorneys better and am glad I was able to spend time with them as well as the defendant and many of the witnesses. I learned quite a bit we weren't allowed to hear during the trial.

One of my former speech & drama forensics students Chris Norman who works for the radio now and is the author of that story in the link to the radio station called me after the trial to let me know the verdict. Mr. Alexander had already called me since he asked if I'd like him to when I was trying to decide whether to leave or stay to hear it. Of course we had no idea how long it would take. He called to let me know they found the defendant not guilty on all charges about an hour after I left, which I really appreciated. He certainly had enough on his mind and things to do without taking the time to call me. They made the right decision based on everything we heard and saw.

I went to the motel to get my stuff, got home, and called Tina and Mother to let them know I was finished. Tina checked on my cat while I was gone and needed to be thanked and all that. I tried to watch DWTS on the DVR later but couldn't focus on it that well. I checked email, FB, and phone messages but wasn't all that functional. I thought a good-night's sleep in my own bed would help and it did, but it's going to take a while to get back to abnormal. That's hard to explain but is how it is. This is nothing like the other two juries I was on in regard to seriousness and impact. It's almost as if we lived through their nightmare along with them. This tragedy will affect the defendant, witnesses, families, friends, and others for the rest of their lives. He did not get away with murder scot-free but will continue to suffer from this forever. He and his wife will always be part of my heart and mind now, too. This was an experience that has definitely affected me in a profound way.


froggy said...

Anytime I've been involved with the press (my job and my volunteering) they've *never* gotten it all right. One time a reporter tried her hardest to get me to make a certain statement. It got embarrassing she pushed so hard. So I have, ever after, never believed everything written or reported about something.

My trial, 25 years ago, was a child molestation trial and it is surprising how much I still remember about it.

Glad to have you back!

David Dust said...

I've never served on a jury, and now I'm kind of glad I haven't.

Thanks for writing this - fascinating stuff!


Berry Blog said...

Whever I did interviews with reporters regarding school activities, I knew to check with my principal first. some of our teachers have been called on the carpet and severely threatened for talking to the press about anything.I have known some to be shouted at and intimidated for simply having an opinion published. We all, too, have found that the simplest of reports have been slanted by the reporters and inform each other well on which ones to watch out for.
I am so glad you wrote about this. I'e always dreaded the possibility on serving on such a jury and you certainly confirm my fears.
What a stroke of Providence to room with a former student. (I would find that uncomfortable)

thanks for writing about this/ and especially blogging so I can refer back to it easily without losing it as I do so many emails. LOL

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Great entry.

I have only been on one jury, and it was a DUI manslaughter (we convicted), but luckily it was not a sequester.

Hope you get back to abnormal soon :o)

Wonder Man said...

I have to call in soon for JD

Sam said...

I watched a special on Perry March and his father on TruTV just a few days ago. It was very very good.
Odd huh? Sorry to hear how the trial affected you. But if it's any help, you made me smile for the first time in a long time.
Your getting back to abnormal just about made me pee myself.

Joy said...

Froggy - Oh my! What a horrible trial to sit through! I can imagine that it would stay with you.

David - Yes, it's stressful when it's this serious, but the others weren't that bad.

Charlie - You can get out of it with your back pain and other health issues. Some places let people over 65 out of jury duty, too. Most former students would be uncomfortable to room with, but she was an exception. We joked and got along just fine. She's cool. I'd much rather have roomed with her than someone I didn't know. My cousin would have been fine, too, but of all the ones there I'm glad we roomed together.

Ken - that sounds bad enough. Glad you weren't sequestered!

Vic - Good luck!

Sam - Glad I made you smile. :-)

lelocolon said...

Joy u are such a special person I do not think that I am capable to do serve in a jury. I do not believe in the justice system myself. But I am glad that a resposible person like u was serving. hope you feel better soon.

Beth said...

Thanks for writing all this, Joy. I can tell that it's something that is lingering with you, and I hope you will get past the anxiety it caused and realize what a good citizen you were. I don't mean that in a corny way at all, either.

I really admire your answer about serving for a murder case if the death penalty was a possibility. I'd have to say that I couldn't handle that sort of responsibility myself...I feel the same way you do. There have been too many people wrongly convicted, and for even one to be executed is one too many.

Big hugs, Beth