I really had a hard time writing this post. I started it several times and abandoned it. This last installment is about our jury delivering the verdicts and the aftermath of the trial.
When I knew we were going to deliberations, I immediately packed all my things. I had no idea how long it would take to deliberate since we had four defendants and multiple charges. What I did know is that I wanted out of there as fast as possible. I was going crazy being incarcerated, I mean being sequestered.
We had two bailiffs, one male and one female. Both of our baliffs were in their late forties or early fifties. The male baliff was a low key guy who understood our frustrations. Our female baliff was a little redhead who wore her hair in a French twist. She was all business and had absolute zero sense of humor. She and I did not get along. I once told her how frustrated I was that I could not run and said that I often felt like just going out on my own. Her immediate response was that she would have me arrested for contempt of court.
Anyway, I was packed and ready to go home immediately, even if deliberations took weeks.....
Sitting in the trial and taking in all the evidence and testimony was easy. Deliberations were not that difficult because our jury was very methodical and fair. Coming to a vote on the verdicts was not that difficult. But going back into the courtroom to deliver the verdict was very difficult for me. I dreaded that.
I knew we had to face our defendants and regardless of what they had done, we were the people who held their ultimate fate in our decisions. I also dreaded facing Fay Gay, the wife of Austin Gay, the murder victim. She was a small, grey haired lady who had been there every day of the trial. It probably had been an excruciating experience for her to had to relive her husband's murder. I knew that we would not be delivering the verdicts that she probably wished. Plus I had no idea how our defendants would react to the verdicts either. Honestly, I did not care how Joseph Sallas or Dave Domberg reacted. But I did care somewhat about Ed McCabe and definitely did care about Billy Jim Cherry.
When we came back into the courtroom, I was on the verge of tears, partly because of the weight of having our defendant's futures on my mind and partly because I was so relieved that this ordeal was over.
The way it happened in our case, was that the judge asked our foreman if we had reached our verdicts and our foreman answered in the affirmative. Then the judge asked our foreman to hand the verdict papers to the clerk and the clerk read them. I do not remember how all the defendants reacted and that was probably because I was afraid to look for their reactions. But I do remember Billy Jim Cherry almost in tears when he heard the verdict of not guilty. He buried his head in his hands like he was going to cry. After the verdicts were read, we were hustled out of the courtroom and back towards the jury room. No sooner had we gotten out of the courtroom, when Blair Payne, Billy Jim Cherry's court appointed attorney came out to thank us for our verdict in the case of Billy Jim Cherry. Blair Payne was visibly emotional over that verdict.
Shortly after, we were once again transported back to the Ramada Inn West in our two vans driven by the detectives with their mysterious gym bags. Once back there, we were told that we were free to leave.
I immediately went to the male baliff's room and asked to use his phone. At that time, my husband worked for an association of cities. I called his office and was told by the receptionist that he was in a meeting. I rarely ever called his office to begin with, but this time I told the receptionist that it was an emergency and to get him out of the meeting. When he came on the phone, I told him that I did not care what he was doing, but to drop it immediately and come pick me up. I was the first person to leave the hotel. Some of the others stayed around and even went to the bar to celebrate. I just wanted out of there. I did not say goodbye to anyone, not even JB. I was a free woman and I was going to be a part of the real world.
When my husband came to pick me up, I had already brought all my belongings down to the lobby, so we would not have to go back upstairs again. We put my stuff in the car and he said that we were going home. I said no. I told him that I wanted to go to the mall because I wanted to be around a lot of people, all of whom were free. He did not quite understand that, but each day as the van had taken us to the courtroom and back, I would look out the window and envy all the people who were able to come and go as they pleased. I would have made a horrible prisoner because I hated being locked up so much.
After we went to the mall and then home, my husband told me that he had done a ride along with a friend of his who was a sheriff's deputy. The deputy told him that they were regularly patrolling the neighborhoods where the jurors lived because they had word that relatives of one of our defendants were in town and were staking out the jurors' homes. Until that point, it had never occurred to me that they would know that much about each of us, but apparently they did. This unsettled my husband so much that he had started sleeping with a loaded gun next to the bed.
We delivered our verdicts right before Labor Day and the defendants were sentenced in late October. When the sentencing date came near, one of my fellow jurors called me to ask if I wanted to join some of them in the courtroom for the sentencing. I politely declined and thought why would I want our defendants to see my face again. The defendants' sentences ranged from 30 years for Joseph Sallas up to 90 years for Dave Domberg. I have no idea if all of them are still alive or not. I really did not want to know.
Being a sequestered juror had a great affect on me, both positive and negative. The positive part was that in the case of our jury, the system worked very well. We were able to reach our verdicts with a minimum of disagreement and only after thoroughly examining the evidence. It gave me a great amount of faith in our jury trial system. The negative affect was that I did not adapt very well to having my freedom removed. While most of the others handled it better, I resented it very much. Perhaps that is why it took me so many years to even write about it.
After publishing this, I realized that I left some things hanging. Over the years, beginning right after I served on this jury, I have had several comments made to me about both this case and serving on a capital jury. These comments tend to fall into two categories, either that the jurors did not go far enough in our verdicts or those who criticized me for sitting in judgement another human being.
My answer to both types of criticism is actually the same answer. I never saw myself as judging the defendants as individuals. If I did, I would have probably fallen into the same trap that two of our jurors did in the case of the murder charge against Joseph Sallas in which they wanted to convict him despite the lack of evidence.
My view of jury service is that it is a civic duty, not to be taken lightly, in which the jurors listen and review the evidence presented. The burden of proof is on the prosecution, not the defense. If the prosecution presented evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants are guilty of the charges, only then would I vote a guilty verdict. The issue for me was not how I felt towards the defendants but instead, were the charges proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt is not beyond all doubt, but it cannot be based upon conjecture either. Therefore, even though I thought Sallas was the hit man and was responsible for the murder of Austin Gay, I had to vote not guilty because the prosecution had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Sallas was even in Florida on that date or that he did indeed kill Austin Gay.
I have since served on another criminal jury involving a convicted felon being charged with possession of a firearm. In my opinion, I would much rather sit as a juror in a criminal case where the parameters are well defined instead of a civil case involving the award of damages which can be much more open ended.
Thank you to everyone who read all six parts of this and commented to me about it. I appreciate the time you took to read it.