Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Before You Judge, Part 1

For sometime I have thought about writing this entry. It is a very personal diary about how someone who is called to be a citizen must respond even when one has no desire to respond. Back in June, 1984, I was called to respond to do my civic duty. It did not require desire, courage, or political action, but it did require that I must remove myself from any personal biases and feelings in order to do it properly.

I was called to jury duty in a highly publicized and contentious criminal trial.

There are things that I write about in this diary that may be controversial. Hopefully, before you judge, you may be able to see things from the perspective of someone who was there.

It was the summer of 1984 and my husband and I had only been married slightly less than five years. We decided to take our first real vacation since being married. Our vacation was to last two weeks and would take us up the east coast of the United States to sightsee and visit older family members. It was a wonderful trip and it was also the last time I ever saw my grandparents alive.

Upon arriving back home, we were greeted with a jury summons for me. We got home on a Saturday and I was to appear in court the following Monday. As is in the case of most jury summons, I had no idea what I was being summoned for except that my summons stated that it was for a special trial. Little did I know what would lie ahead.

When I reported, I was told that this summons was for a capital murder trial that had been moved from another locale because they were unable to seat an impartial jury. I was also told that the trial might take up to four months. Since I had been away from work for two weeks already and we were way behind in our work there, I notified my employer and asked that he send a letter to the judge stating that my absence would be a hardship for my office. My employer did so, but the judge declined my request and so I remained in the pool.

While all of us prospective jurors sat in the courtroom waiting to be called by the judge, we were able to watch other jurors being interviewed. My pool was the second group of 100 prospective jurors called for this trial. A number of persons in my pool had already been excused prior to coming to court, and by the time my name was finally called, I was the last one left in my pool. And still only ten jurors had been seated.

The trial for which I was called was the Austin Gay murder trial in which a Florida Agricultural Inspector had been kidnapped and murdered by a group of people who were running drugs from Florida to Chicago. Because I had been out of town while all the pretrial publicity was in the newspapers, I was totally unaware of the nature of this trial. Still, I knew that last thing I wanted to do was to be on a jury for the next four months of my life. Unfortunately, that was not to be. I answered the questions from the judge truthfully, including the one in which I said I believed in the death penalty. More about that later.

In fact, my former next door neighbor was the FBI agent who had even worked on this case. But I was unaware of that, so it did not help get me excused. Among the many questions I was asked was had I or any member of my family been a victim of a crime. One of my family members was a key witness in one of Ted Bundy's murders. I thought that if nothing else, that fact should have gotten me excused from this trial since one of the defense attorneys in the case for which I was called was Victor Africano, who defended Ted Bundy in the Kimberly Leach murder.

Now you may ask why I believe in the death penalty. My family was deeply affected by the Ted Bundy's serial killing spree, even though we did not lose anyone to him. Ted Bundy had previously escaped prison out west, not once, but twice. It was after this second escape that Ted Bundy went to Florida where he killed two FSU coeds, injured several others, and killed young Kimberly Leach.

My family members were terrified for weeks before Bundy was finally captured. Prior to Ted Bundy, I was opposed to the death penalty. However, after Ted Bundy, I became convinced that in a few extreme cases, the death penalty is necessary to protect citizens from the likes of a serial killer, such as Ted Bundy. I do not see the death penalty as a deterrent, nor as revenge. But a serial killer who had previously escaped twice only to kill again is a danger to society. The day Ted Bundy died in the electric chair, I breathed a sign of relief that he would no longer be able to kill any more young women, or in the case of Kimberly Leach, an innocent child.

After all the questions from both the judge and the defense attorneys, I was sure that I would be excused or at least challenged. But nothing happened. There was no conference with the judge, no challenges, no additional questions, nothing. And I became the eleventh juror seated. The next day juror 12 and the four alternates were seated in rapid succession. One can only guess that there were no more juror challenges left. And so we were sworn in and prepared to spend the next four months reluctantly doing our civic duty.

But there was one last surprise. After our being sworn in, the judge announced that he had decided that we would be sequestered full time during the entire trial. That was on Wednesday and we were given the next four days to pack whatever personal belongings we needed and take care of personal business. We were also told not to talk to anyone about this trial since we were already sworn in.

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