Monday, July 15, 2013

My Jury Experience

The recent headlines have made me recall when I was chosen for a jury. I've only gotten a notice for jury duty twice, once for municipal court, the other for superior court. The first lasted only a day; I was chosen for a 6-person jury in a drunk driving case, the trial and deliberation lasted half a day. One person on the jury stated at the start of deliberation she 'hated cops', and was going to vote to acquit no matter what the evidence was. The case was dismissed, the judge seemed bored when the other members of the jury complained about her.

The other was a different story, and I don't know if it's typical, rare, an anomaly, or what. What I do know is it took over a month, around 6 weeks as I recall. I was unable to get to my office or clinic until 5pm most days. I realize jury duty is a necessary part of every citizen's role, but at that time I was a busy diagnostician, and resented the time required. Not a good excuse, I know.

The case had major coverage in the press; it was a teen girl found murdered in a old school bus that had been converted to a  sort of 'crash pad' for street kids, sitting near a Seattle park. The accused was a man in his 20's, apparently well-known in the 'street' for carrying around a large staff. Large, blonde, not pleasing to look at, not that that should have any bearing, but we are none without our personal prejudices.

I thought from the start I would not be chosen; around 100 of us showed up at superior court and were herded into a large room. Someone explained to us we would be given a form/questionnaire, to fill it out and return the next morning. I don't remember exactly what was on the form, but it was mostly to find out if we had any connection with the case through friends or relatives. I had neither, or so I thought at the time.

I should say I had no desire to be on the jury, the case was disturbing, I had a daughter around the murdered girl's age and wanted no part of the details.

The next day we all showed up, were given numbers, and filed into the courtroom, taking seats in the audience. I was in the last 20 of the potential jurors, and thought I'd be back at my office by the afternoon.
12 jurors were to be chosen, and two alternates. The voir dire started, questions by the prosecution and the defense, some about if we would find seeing graphic evidence of a girl's murder disturbing, other questions about science, and DNA. The attorney's could excuse a juror for cause, or a certain number without cause. I listened to the questioning, and after a while decided I could discern no pattern to the jurors rejected by either the defense or prosecution.

It took 3 days just to work through the potential jurors to get to me. I was amazed and somewhat dismayed. I never thought it'd go this far, but there was one to go when they called me up to sit alone in the jury box for questioning. Both the prosecution and the defense had a go at me: "Do you have children?" "Yep". "Do you find this case disturbing?" "Sure do", "Will seeing the evidence bother you?" "Yes, I don't want to see any pictures of a murdered girl.", "Are you knowledgeable about science?" "I use scientific methods every day in my work." "Do you know what DNA is?" ......after a couple minutes hearing me lecture about deoxyribonucleic molecules they cut me off. The prosecution said "No objections, your honor", the defense lawyers said the same. I was shocked.

The trial started soon thereafter, and I'll try to condense the over a month long spectacle. The average day saw us get there at 8ish, led into the court around 9. The defense or prosecution would start, after about 15 minutes one side would say "Objection, your honor." The jury would be taken out for from 15 minutes to an hour, then led back in. Then it would happen again, out we would file, then back in. Some days we were in the courtroom less than an hour. Day after day after day.

Well, the jury started getting somewhat unruly, and after a few weeks flatly ignoring the judges admonition to not discuss the process until deliberations. "Did you hear that shit?" one would say as we were leaving the courtroom after another objection. We started talking about it in the jury room over lunch. The poor bailiff would shake her head and once covered her ears, saying "I can't hear this."

The DNA evidence was overwhelming, the accused's DNA was found on, in and around the body. Witnesses placed him with the girl before the murder. The defense offered no alternative (that we were allowed to hear), and would allude to us that they were not being allowed to, causing yet another jury exit from the room by the judge. Unpleasant photo's were passed around, graphic testimony heard, etc.

Finally it was over. I would guess that the jury spent less than 3 full days in the courtroom in all that time before we were sent to deliberate around 9am on the last day. We were supposed to elect a foreman. We were going to start that process when someone asked "Does anyone think he's not guilty?" All shook our heads. "Well, it wouldn't look good if we went back out there after 5 minutes." We agreed to stay in the room until after lunch. A bit later the bailiff came in to find us playing cards, reading and chatting. She shook her head and left quickly.

After lunch we went back in, announced the guilty verdict, and were quickly excused back to the jury room. The judge came in and looked at us in silence for a minute, then said something to the effect of "You are going to have attorneys, people and the press want to talk to you. I'm going to suggest to you that you not do that, for a long time to come." and left.

During the trial, my daughter had told me that she knew some of the witness, and knew of the defendant. Also, that what the defense wanted us to know was that after the girl had been murdered, her body was in the bus for a couple of days before police found it. During that time, it had been 'viewed' by many people, street people mostly. It had been on display, so to speak. I imagine the defense wanted to use this as evidence there was no way of knowing when the defendant's DNA had gotten in and on her.

So, did we convict the right person? Probably, but I can't be sure. Was there a 'reasonable doubt'? Again, I don't know.

A couple years later I ran into the lead prosecutor in the elevator in my office building. He recognized me, we talked a bit. "Yeah, we really wanted you on the jury." he said.  


  1. Wow! How just plain awful!

    The worst crime I sat on a jury for was to determine whether or not the rich kid whose father was a lieutenant with the State Police, and who bought his kid a brand new Jeep with heavy duty tires, was the person who tore up a farmer's newly planted soybean fields doing donuts. It was a slam dunk case. Kid's girlfriend (a ditz from Dumb City) said on the stand that they didn't mean to do donuts, they just were having a hard time getting back on the road.

    Prosecutor asked her did it take four acres of driving in circles to find the road, either one of them?

    Well, yeah, she shot back. It was dark, we were drunk and the headlights were broken out after we rear-ended that cab when we left the bar!

    Defense leaped up, yelled "I object!", to which the judge retorted, "I should think you would!"

    I don't think too many people heard the judge's response because the courtroom had already exploded in laughter.

    I'm glad none of the cases I sat for were any worse than that one, and certainly am glad I didn't have to sit on a murder jury. Sorry that you had to endure it, too.

  2. I remember there were other questions they asked you, like whether you knew anyone who hung out on the Ave and at the Last Exit, and you answered affirmatively, and whether you knew anyone who had been a runaway, and again, you said, yes, your daughter. I was so shocked that you were chosen for that jury. But as far as I knew, there was no doubt that that guy was guilty.

    1. His defense lawyers were an odd pair, both way too slick, and picked the wrong tactics for that jury. At one point in the trial they had apparently told the defendant to make eye contact with the jury, and smile at us. Wrong, wrong. The fellow next to me was a Boeing engineer and wore a tie. When the defendant smiled at him I saw him casually take his tie and pull it tight to the side, like a noose. Again, that could have caused a mistrial, as could have many things.

  3. I would have hated to be on that jury too! It sure sounds like the guy was guilty. I think I would have voted guilty as well even though it probably would always bother me a little. Judgment calls are the worst...

    1. Our justice system uses a 'jury of our peers', and often has results that have little to do with the issue of whether or not something has happened. Flawed, twisted and manipulated, I know no defense attorney that asks their client if they are guilty. Everyone deserves a fair trial, I just don't know what that is, or if there can be such a thing.

  4. I've always wanted to sit on a jury for a civil case over property rights or something. Like, I'd love to do jury duty, but I don't want to get on a jury for some scary, disturbing criminal trial.

  5. I hated jury duty, but more because some of the jurors seemed incapable of logical thought. "He looks nice" doesn't change the facts.

    But I suspect that important information is often withheld and many innocent get punished and many guilty walk.

  6. I have never had jury duty thank goodness. That must have been a terrible experience but I bet you were a good person to be selected. I recently was called as a witness in a court case. First time ever. I cant believe how hard they make it. Just geting the facts out is totally orchestrated by either side. Frustrating. However, i am sure guilty peope walk free and innocent people get locked up. I guess the system is only as good as the humans involved in managing it. I also hate the fact thant money can help guilty people walk free with high powered defence teams. Enjoyed reading about your experiences. I know my father was on a jury for a murder trial too. All i remember was my father was away for what seemed like a long time. And I am sure you all made the right decision as there was no dissent or other guidance by the Judge either.

    1. I'm guessing the judge also thought the defendant was guilty, and did not want to open the can of worms that was jury misconduct. I doubt he wanted to start the process over; he just wanted us to keep our mouths shut. Which as far as I know, we did.