Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Not Like TV

Serving on a jury, I mean. My experience was of a somewhat befuddled system run by somewhat well intentioned people. It was a murder trial involving a guy who shotgunned his step daughter. Unlike a lot of trials there was no doubt on either side who pulled the trigger. Our job as jurors was to determine intent and figure out whether we were dealing with 1st degree murder or a lesser charge of manslaughter. The defense based their case on the supposition that this guy was too intoxicated to mean to kill her and the prosecution based their case on numerous prior threats that this guy had made. There were no BAC readings and both sides trotted out "experts" to explain at what level of intoxication a person no longer knew what they were doing. Of course they completely contradicted each other so of course we pretty much ignored that testimony. The consensus was that the "experts" were a couple of clowns, anyway. So there we were after testimony, locked in a room with graphic pictures of a dead girl, a representation of the room where the killing occurred (if I remember correctly we also took a road trip to the house) and the murder weapon, a monstrous long barreled twelve gauge. There wasn't a lot of drama, just a bunch of well meaning strangers trying to do the right thing. We were instructed on the specifics of the law and we were trying to fit the evidence to the most likely verdict. If you wanted to be a dick about it I suppose you could bollix up the whole thing by ignoring the judge's instructions but like I said, all of us took this seriously, there was dead girl involved.
Maybe we were a particularly relaxed group but that whole dynamic of people splitting into teams or yelling and trying to take over the proceedings didn't occur. We were split about 8 to 4 - 8 for first degree murder and 4 for voluntary manslaughter. I made my position clear - he had threatened her previously and he gunned the poor girl down as she was running for the door. There is no doubt in my mind that he was trying to kill her and if he was drunk out of his mind he couldn't have made that shot. In the end we came in with guilty in the 1st degree. Most of the jury were women and I could see in their eyes that there was no way that they were going to let this motherfucker slide. I found out why later. A whole sad story of continual sexual, psychological and physical abuse. I guess some of us were a little more aware of the dynamics of the situation than others. That stuff never came up in the trial and I sure didn't pick up on it at the time. Wouldn't have changed my mind one way or the other.
Sentencing took all of about 10 seconds. Pennsylvania has mandatory life without parole for first degree murder. I didn’t know it and was a little shocked at how abrupt it was. One minute he was there and the next he was gone. Would it have changed my vote? I don’t think so.  The judge thanks the jury and cuts everyone loose so after being sequestered and coddled like little kittens the jury was suddenly dismissed to walk out with the herd consisting of the press and the perp’s and victim’s friends and family (who were sometimes the same people). Weird. For some reason I wanted to talk to the lawyers. But I didn't.

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