Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Civic Duty

Well... I lived through it... the week from hell. Nothing to do with fibers or wabi sabi even but last week I served on my first jury. Sure... I'd always been curious about what it would like to serve, but now I know... I hope I NEVER, EVER, EVER have to do it again.

When I called the Friday night before and found out my number 155 meant I had to go into the Chatham County Courthouse with everyone who had under 184 Monday morning, I was disappointed. When Monday morning 8:30am arrived and I had to sit in a large room with a lot of other people waiting and watching a film on what it meant to be called to do your civic duty as a juror, I remained calm. When 35 were called by name to sit up front and the rest of us were asked to go to the back of the room, I moved calmly. The ones in the front were told their civil case was settled over the weekend so they were dismissed and could go home. I was jealous! Our group of 35 was asked to follow the deputy into the criminal courtroom of Judge Morse where we were asked as a group questions from the defense and the state (prosecution) lawyers. If we raised our hands yes... we were asked more probing questions.

Then came the hour of reckoning when one by one our names were read and the defense and state nodded in agreement and the papers were given to the court clerk. Then one by one the names were read of those who had to serve on the jury. My heart sank as my name was called near the end... it was to be a child abuse case. The twelve of us who were unlucky enough to be called took our seats to the right of the courtroom looking around at each other in disbelief. Oh my!

By that afternoon we were hearing the opening arguments and testimony from a few witnesses including the teacher who took the first cry for help, the doctor who examined her, and the little 8 year old victim herself. We were dismissed at 6:30 to go home and asked to come back at 9:30am the next day. Drained from the days events, I drove home in a fog.

Tuesday morning we waited a bit in our jury deliberation room (but could not talk about the case yet) Finally we were ushered into the courtroom by our court deputy to our seats to spend the day hearing testimony about the horrible acts that the defendant, a young black man in his early 20s with short dreadlocks in a crisp white shirt and black vest was accused of doing to his girlfriend's 8 year old daughter. We were given a well-deserved break for lunch in mid-afternoon and stayed until 7pm hearing testimony from detectives, her art therapist, a polygraph specialist with video that was impossible to understand because of poor audio, the girl's mother and later another video of the first detective from child protective services who interviewed the little girl on tape that first day. Once again I drove home in a fog... exhausted by the day's events.

I was hoping that as a jury we would be able to reach a decision that we all felt comfortable with - within a reasonable doubt - within a reasonable amount of time. AND my daughter's family including my 2 adorable grand-daughters was arriving in Savannah mid-day on Wednesday. When would I be able to see them? I still wanted to do my civic duty to be sure of my decision about the fate of this young man and this little girl. Wednesday morning the dectective finished up and we heard testimony from the boy's mother, his aunt and his own testimony. Then the closing arguments were made by both sides and the charge by the judge. We had the case as a jury by mid-day and it was up to us to deliberate after lunch.

We elected a foreman, a quiet man in his late 50s who would later hand our decision to the judge. I thought the hardest part was behind us.... but NO... we had one juror, a young black woman who could not make up her mind. She got so mired in the minutia of the case... she could not make a decision. She was upset that the doctor had not conducted her own history of the case, that the detective had conflicting dates, that the victim now was saying the grown up word "rape" for what happened to her instead of the more childlike "he stuck his ____ in my _____",etc., etc., etc. It was endless... The other eleven had made our decisions independently but conclusively. We had been stuck for a while on some of the counts, realizing later because we were led by the defense attorney away from the exact charges.... but eventually by Thursday morning we were all in the same place... except this one young juror, who could not make up her mind.

I was able to meet my family after 7pm on Wednesday after the judge dismissed us for the day. We had a nice dinner by the river and walked around a bit and later stopped for ice cream. When we got home, I tried to forget about being exhausted and about the horrendous testimony of the day... and enjoyed playing with my grand-daughters. I snuggled in next to them on the air mattress until they fell asleep later that night and then enjoyed playing with them the next morning, making them breakfast and baking scones until I had to get ready to go back to deliberate. I felt hopeful that we were close to a unanimous decision and that I would be home by early afternoon to play.

But... our indecisive juror STILL couldn't decide. The rest of us tried to remain supportive and patient -- unbelieveably patient... trying to tell her why we were so certain of his guilt. By mid-afternoon we still weren't any closer... so our deputy and two others led us across the street where the county bought us lunch at a Japanese restaurant and we all sat together at one table and were led one by one to use the restroom. Then all afternoon she sat and read her notes over and over and the judges written orders over and over... she was no closer. We worried that we would be a "hung" jury and that it would be a mistrial and because of double jeopardy (not being able to be tried twice for the same charge) this sick young man would be set free and on the streets able to molest her or others! The thought made me ill!

Our wonderful cheerful supportive Deputy Pinkney brought us menus and we ordered dinner. We took turns being led to the judges chambers to call family... and I told my husband that I had no idea how long it would take. We returned and little by little our indecisive juror made up her mind - one charge at a time. It was like she didn't want it to end... when the rest of us were going out of our minds trying to be patient with her and supportive of her right to take her time. I wanted to scream!!!

At 10pm we did it! -- she did it! -- she made up her mind to join the rest of us in guilty charges. The foreman quickly wrote the resulting unanimous decisions on the sheet and within 10 minutes the court was reconvened and our foreman handed our decision to the deputy who gave it to the clerk who gave it to the judge who gave it back to the clerk who read it. We all looked at the judge... the gallery was quiet. Guilty on all counts of child molestation, aggrevated child molestation and on the lesser sexual abuse charge. The defense attorney asked us to be poled individually. SO... each juror's name was called and asked what our decision was when we signed... guilty and now... guilty. We all held our breath as our lone indecisive/now decided juror said guilty... guilty. We were thanked for our time, told we could not be called again for a year (a year!!! how about NEVER) and ushered out of the courtroom with deputies down the elevators and to our cars. IT WAS OVER!

I was numb as I drove home - sure in my decision and very happy that it was finally over. My husband met me outside... and it dawned on me just then... that my daughter and family had left. I fell apart... because I was exhausted and I missed them! I understood, of course, that it didn't make sense for them to wait when no one knew how long it would take... but I was spent! It's five days later and I'm still spent! This is going to be an experience that will haunt me for some time, I'm afraid.

My husband read online that our judge sentenced the young man to 30 years and lifelong parole. He will never ever bother this beautiful little girl again... or any other little girls. I did my civic duty. It's done! C'est ca!

Sorry for the rant... just had to get it out....

1 comment:

  1. People do not realize how draining jury duty can be ... and you got a bugger of a case. At least you got to see your grandchildren on the first night. What fortuitous timing.