This all started when I receive a summons for jury duty a few weeks before I am to report. On the back it says to be sure to call after 6:00 on the evening before I am to report just in case they don’t need me. I called right at 6:00 and the message is that all jurors are to report the next day. Well, that could be wrong, so I called again in an hour and got the same message. Of course, I have to try one more time just to be sure. I’m not sure what this says about me. Almost everybody that has been summoned to jury duty assured me that I would probably sit there all day and never get called. That’s okay with me, so I take a book.
Find out what happened on the flip...
When I arrive on Monday morning there are enough potential jurors to fill the jury room and more. They give all of us a questionnaire to fill out and we are told numerous times to fill out both sides. I’m wondering how I can fill it out to make them turn completely against me. Civic duty was not on my mind. They want to know what my three favorite television shows are in order. Keith Olbermann needs to know that being #1 doesn’t make a bit of difference. What is wrong with these people? They also wanted to know if anyone in my family has ever studied law, where and when. Well, you know the answer to that. Has anyone in my family ever been in law enforcement? Does an ex count? I put him down even tho’ it has been 100 years. At least they didn’t ask for names.
Around eleven o’clock they told all of us to put on our juror badges and they escorted us into a court room. Something must be up. Then the judge introduced us to the DA, the detectives, the defense attorneys and the defendant. We are all stunned when the defendant stands up. He was a beautiful man, and we thought he was one of the attorneys. They tell us that it is a first degree murder and felony child abuse case. This is serious s____.
After lunch they start jury selection. The DA asks questions first and then the defense. Then they dismiss the ones they don’t like. Some of the responses… ”I’ll do whatever the Lord tells me”, “I’m just happy to be here and not at work.”, “I can’t wait to hear the testimony to find out why he did it”. Have you ever heard of innocent until…never mind. One of the questions was…If you know someone has agreed to testify against someone else who has the same charges for reduced charges for themselves, would you value their testimony with suspicion? Duh!! Ya mean a plea??
Early Wednesday, I heard my name. They say they call names at random. I have to believe them. The DA asks me right away who in my family studied law at Columbia… “My brother”. Is he a practicing attorney…. “No, he is a recovering attorney”. Did it make him mad? No. He thought it was funny. He asked enough questions that I am sure he figured out who my brother was without asking his name. He asked the ages of my grandchildren and if any were toddlers…22 months, three, three and a half…a few toddlers. That didn’t seem to matter, but it had mattered with other people they questioned. Then the defense started. They asked me about the plea bargain testimony. I said I would be suspect. Sorry, but I think most people would be. Then he asked me if they convinced me they were telling the truth, would I believe them. What kind of question is that? Of course, if they convinced me…. The next thing I know I am selected. I am a miserable person to be around after that happens. [SD testimonial: Trust her on this. She was a grump. ]
Both sides make their opening statements that day and then they let us go home. Keep in mind, I am making big money for doing this…$12 the first day, $20 day 2 – 5, $40 for the remainder. They told us it would take about two weeks. It took over three weeks.
It doesn’t take long to start paying close attention and taking things very seriously. You realize very quickly that someone’s life is in your hands. There was no death penalty or I could have gotten out of jury duty, but life without parole is a life. I couldn’t sleep at night and I couldn’t talk about it to anybody. I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t sleep. I really did start out with the belief that he was innocent until proven guilty. They never proved to me that he was guilty.
The facts in the case did not support a guilty verdict. After all, his wife had pled guilty to breaking the baby’s arm when she was 19 months old. That baby had 44 injuries in different stages of healing – including skull fractures – and 10 broken bones. Some might call her evil, some might call her misunderstood. I’ll let you decide for yourself. The prosecution didn’t convince the jury that the defendant was responsible for the injuries or the child’s death. He had been gone for most of the time during which the injuries occurred. The mother was serving her time, but there wasn’t enough evidence against the defendant to bring him to trial. That is until the mother agreed to plea to felony child abuse which would mean she would have served her time and would be released from jail.
Yes, a Special Forces officer and non-biological father can be innocent. The prosecution really harped on that Special Forces factor. They also tried to paint the defendant as a racist, but when his best friend showed up to testify that argument didn’t hold water. His best friend flew in from Hawaii to testify on the defendant’s behalf. His best friend is African American.
We started deliberating on Friday afternoon three weeks later and the first vote was 10 not guilty and 2 guilty of something but they didn’t know what. They thought maybe it was knowledge and he didn’t do anything about it. They finally told us to come back Monday morning. The weekend was horrible. I knew that if those two didn’t go along with the majority, it was going to be a hung jury. I knew I wasn’t changing. Monday morning finally came and everybody voted NOT GUILTY. You can’t imagine how I felt. I know you don’t know what all the evidence was, but trust me, he was not guilty. There really are some evil mothers in this world and as I said before, I'll let you decide if she's one of them. She was in jail for three years and three months. They let her out when she did her plea bargain. She has already served all the time she would have to serve for felony child abuse. The defendant had gotten out after a few months and had worked every day at Fort Bragg.
The experience took a lot out of me, but at this point, I’m glad I was part of it. I feel like I was a little responsible for an innocent man getting his life back after three and a half years. He has his life back and now he is going to Afghanistan. Welcome back to the real world.