Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Before You Judge, Part 2

Before you read this post, please read Before You Judge, Part 1.

For this part of the diary, I want to explain what it is like to be a juror who was sequestered 24/7 and the hardships and dynamics involved with being sequestered. Being sequestered is like being in prison, only you are treated to good food and with respect. But you have no freedom and very little life of your own. Everything is regimented.

The day that I reported, I brought enough clothing and toiletries to last at least two months. At that time, I was an active runner and ran several miles each day, so I also brought my running shoes and shorts. When we jurors were interviewed, I was the only one who was athletically active. But not knowing how this all worked, I assumed that I would be allowed to continue to run and that a deputy would be assigned to run with me. Ha ha ha!!! Oh the dreams of the naive! No way, no special accommodations for anyone, including runners.

Since I was not sure what we would be doing at night or during our off time, I also brought my sewing machine and a box full of material, patterns, notions, along with an iron, so I could at least sew. In retrospect, that was a very good choice.

When we reported, we were taken to the local Ramada Inn West and housed in one of the second floor wings. Our rooms appeared to have been assigned in random order, not by juror number or alphabetically. I was fortunate in that my room was about midway down the hall and on the front side of the building, so I had a view of the world outside passing by on the highway. No guests were allowed in that area and our wing was above the restaurant and motel offices.

We lost one elderly juror the very first day when she became ill and had to be rushed to the hospital. She ended up recovering completely but had to be replaced with our first alternate who was a middle aged man. Ironically, she was the first juror seated. So there were fifteen of us jurors remaining, nearly evenly divided between male and female, along with two bailiffs, one male and one female. These people, along with the two detective driver/body guards, were my only regular human contacts during the entire time I was on the jury.

Our jury was remarkable in that not only were we evenly divided as to the sexes, but racially, we reflected the majority of our local population with 2/3 of us white and 1/3 of us black. We ranged in age from the youngest at 28 and the oldest at 72. Surprisingly later, age (not race or sex) would be a key factor in one of our deliberations.

Each of us had our own room, so at least we had some measure of privacy. We were also allowed to watch television as long as we did not watch the news. That was great for me because the Summer Olympics were on and they filled much of my down time along with my sewing.

Immediately, I found out that if you were going to do anything, you either did it with the group or you stayed in your room. When we were occasionally allowed to go to the pool, we went as a group. We went to breakfast, lunch, and dinner as a group also. There were no special accommodations for different interests. But there was also no ban on visiting other jurors in their rooms. And soon a group of jurors became chummy and regularly got together to play cards. Some of the other jurors brought books with them and spent most of their time in their rooms reading.

I kept my distance at first and eventually became friendly with JB, who was juror number 10 and sat next to me every day in the jury box. JB was a 68 year old black man whom I really liked because he liked sports and did not try to talk about the trial. Although we were not supposed to open our windows, JB kept his windows open because he hated air conditioning. And the bailiffs let him. Some evenings, I would go to JB's room to watch baseball with him and another juror, and got a chance to smell the night air. To me, that was the air of freedom.

Each day began the same. We met at 7 am in front of the bailiffs' rooms at the end of the hall at the top of the stairs. From there, we all went down to breakfast together with our two bailiffs and the two detectives who met us each morning. After breakfast, we went outside to board two vans that took us to the courthouse. There was one van for the men and one van for the women. Each van was driven by one of the two detectives each of whom always carried a mysterious gym bag. We were supposed to rotate our seating in the van each day, but my friend JB insisted on riding in the same seat in the men's van every day. Nobody minded and we simply called JB the "King."

At the courthouse, when we were not in the actual courtroom, we were supposed to stay in a small juror room. However, back then in 1984, smoking was still allowed in the juror room and it was very unpleasant for us non-smokers. After several of us non-smokers complained about the smoke in the juror room, we were allowed to stand or sit in the hallway immediately outside the juror room. Later we were allowed to move a small table into the hallway, where we had a large jigsaw puzzle set up that a couple of us diligently worked on during the breaks. It is amazing how small things like that jigsaw puzzle help break the tedium.

Lunch was the highlight of our day. We ate lunch at the Ramada Inn East and they had a woman there who made the best home made pies. We were allowed to order anything we wanted from the menu for all meals and the court paid for all of our food except alcohol. There were several people who ate enough pie to feed a small army. I am sure that the pie bill was enormous. As the trial went on, weight control became a problem. One of our male jurors had trouble getting into his pants by the end of the trial. Even I, who was a runner and a naturally thin person, gained eight pounds in the two months we were sequestered.

Each evening we would head back to our hotel in our two vans driven by the two detectives with their mysterious gym bags. Once back at the hotel we were allowed order whatever we wanted from the bar as long as we paid for own drinks. About half of us regularly ordered from the bar. At six pm sharp, we had dinner.

Being sequestered was not bad on the days we went to court and heard testimony because we were doing something, even if it was sitting in our chairs listening to sometimes seemingly boring testimony from witnesses that drone on and on, especially some of the background witnesses. As the trial moved on, the testimony became riveting because we could begin to see how the case was being built or trying to be built. But the weekends and days when we were not in the courtroom were excruciatingly long. We had nothing to do other than go to the pool, and then only when the other guests were cleared out, or we could sit in our rooms. Occasionally, the bailiffs would take us on a walk through the parking lot and that was a huge treat.

The real high point of the week was Friday night when each of us had a five minute phone call home. The bailiffs were always there to listen in and make sure we did not discuss the case. But the Friday night phone call allowed us to ask our family members to bring forgotten or necessary items to drop off for us. It was also a chance to hear a voice from outside.

One day about mid way during the trial, we returned to find a sign posted on the outside of the window in the room across from mine. This room was on the back side of the hotel and backed up to undeveloped property. How someone was able to reach a second story room to paste the sign on the window is somewhat a mystery to me. What the sign said was "We are Going to Kill You" and was written in red magic marker on a large piece of white paper.

Immediately the bailiffs were notified and the next day, the judge called us in one by one to ask if the sign would affect our being a juror. Much to my surprise, not one juror was worried about remaining on the jury. However, after that, I did tell my husband on our Friday night call not to ever let our dogs outside with out being with them and not to ask me why. The death threat against the jury was never reported in the newspaper as far as I know. But later I found out that the original judge had asked to be removed from the trial after death threats were made against him. Our presiding judge and his family had also been under a death threat since the beginning of the trial and were given 24 hour protection.

Part 3 of my diary will deal with first impression of the prosecutors, defense attorneys and the defendants.

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