And Justice for All… An Alternate Juror\'s Story
An Alternate Juror
I got the summons to be a juror in early December. It was only my second summons ever. The first summons provided fruitless as I wasn’t even called to the courthouse. This time, however I checked the website and I was due to be there at 8:00 am Monday morning. Yippee! Now, most people would groan and be disappointed that they have Jury Duty, but not me. I watch too many legal and cop TV shows and had always been interested in this stuff. I arrived bright and early Monday morning along with several hundred other people and waited. I thought for sure that my chances of getting called, let alone on a jury were slim to none. Well, an hour or so later, my name was called and I was sent to Dept. 18 on the 3rd floor along with 50 or so other people. 21 people were seated in the juror’s and alternate boxes and the rest of us in the audience.
The judge, and both attorney’s entered the room and court was now in session. We learned that the trial about to take place was criminal and that it involved a child molestation case. This was quite a shock, I didn’t know what to expect but wasn’t expecting something like this! As the day wore on, and the attorney’s began asking the potential jury questions, we learned more about the case. A man is being accused of sexually molesting his step-daughter from the time she was 5 yrs old until the time she was 13 yrs old. In my head I’m thinking OH MY GOSH!!! How horrible! But how very interesting! This is the kind of stuff you see on Law & Order! I hope I get selected to be on this jury.
They asked questions such as; knowing the charges in this case, do you feel that you can be objective? If the defendant chooses NOT to testify, can you remain objective and not hold it against him? These were the biggies that got most people excused. The day ended with still more questions from the attorney’s and seats to be filled in the box.
Of course, everyone kept telling me how sorry for me they were and giving me tips on how to get out of it. But honestly, I didn’t want to. Besides that, I would have had to lie and say that I couldn’t be fair or impartial and I didn’t feel right doing that. I knew that if I was chosen to be on this jury, my life during the duration of the trial would be difficult. There is no one to do my work but me and it still needs to be done even if I’m not in the office. So I was prepared to work early, late and during breaks to still get it all done… that is if I was selected.
We came back the following day and the questioning began again. More people from the box were excused as replacements filled their seats. While I was still seated in the audience, the jury of 12 was selected and sworn in. I was disappointed. A few minutes later, two of the nine alternates were excused and my name was called to fill one of the seats. At this point, the judge only asked if we had any issues or comments to any of the questions asked the previous potential jurors. I only had one “experience” to tell, which wasn’t really an experience but just knowing of someone who had been convicted of a sex crime. The judge and attorney’s left the room for a few minutes and came back and called three names. One of which was mine. The rest were excused. We were sworn in and then excused for the day. We were to return the following morning for the trial to officially begin.
The following morning, the prosecution and defense gave their opening arguments. I won’t go into complete detail of the evidence in this blog as it is not something that many people really want to hear. However, if you would like to hear more, I’m not opposed to talking about it. I will only give brief details and the rest will be my thoughts and feelings on the subject. Since I cannot talk to anyone about what is going through my mind, it is best that I just write it down. I suppose I should have started this “journal” the day the trial started, but I didn’t think of it. We are not supposed to come to any conclusions or lean one way or the other until all the evidence has been given so I will do my best to keep judgment for the end of trial.
Once opening arguments were completed (about an hour later) the first witness was called, the victim, we’ll call her C. Now, 16 yrs old she tells her story for the next day and a half. She tells of multiple incidents in detail. She is strong, and at times emotional. It was heartbreaking to see photos of her at the age of 5, a small little girl with glasses, through the age of 13 when she finally confronted her step-father about what he had done. He (we’ll call him P) was an old man (now 62 yrs old). She told how much she loved P and how he was the only father she had ever known. She never told anyone about the abuse because she was afraid to hurt him (and because he told her not to). But she no doubt loved him and trusted him as a father. She didn’t know until later that what he was doing to her was wrong. She gave believable testimony. Of course t
he defense’s job is to point out where all the holes and inconsistencies were, which there did seem to be some. But, how could anyone remember EVERYTHING that happened to them that long ago, especially being that young? I went home that night feeling a heavy heart. How on earth was I going to make it through this trial without talking about it? It was especially frustrating to not discuss what the heck the defense attorney was doing! There were questions that seemed to come out of the blue that didn’t have anything to do with anything. I wanted to know what I was supposed to take from those particular questions and answers were they tied to another line of questioning later on??? I finally figured that the minute I left the courtroom, to no longer think about it. To not dwell on the day’s testimony. Move on with my life.
After C was finished, her mother then was placed on the stand to tell her story. She told of a loving and caring man who adored her daughter and took great care of her. She had no idea that anything was going on. At some point, she had been told of another young girl (the daughter of a previous girlfriend) who had come forth with claims of sexual abuse. After long periods of discussions with him she eventually overcame her doubt and moved on with life. Some time later, another instance came up where she had cause to doubt but again, she allowed herself to be convinced by both her husband and her daughter that there was nothing to be concerned of. Some years later, she and P decided to divorce for unrelated reasons. It was shortly afterward that C came forward about the abuse.
Several other witnesses were called; character witnesses for P, expert witnesses on both sides… it was truly like watching an episode of Law & Order. Rarely was I “bored” it was always interesting. The day to day of being in a jury was interesting in itself. The jurors, families and witnesses all use the same entrance/exits, wait in the same hallway, use the same elevators, eat at the same restaurants. It was weird to pass them in the hall or stand in an elevator and pray they don’t talk about the case. I think at some point, the judge had to make it a point to tell them to avoid us at all costs because they eventually began standing at the other end of the hallway and never got on an elevator with us (me) again.
Testimony wrapped up at lunch on Wednesday, Jan 16th and we were off for the rest of the week and for to holiday. We weren’t due back to court until Tuesday the 22nd. Closing arguments and jury instructions were finished. The jury was released to deliberate and the alternates were told they would be on call in case one of the jurors could not complete the task. We were told that we would be called when a verdict was reached and if we were not needed and we would officially be excused. WHAT!? We don’t get to hear the verdict!? But upon further questioning, we all told them that we wanted to be present for the verdict. So either way, we will get a phone call. I left court that day feeling sad. I had sat through hours and days of testimony and had so much to say and talk about with my fellow jurors and would not be able to do so. I wanted to be apart of the deliberation, to say guilty or innocent. But, I had to hold it in until either I was called in as a replacement or after the verdict. This was Tuesday the 22nd.
At this point in time, I am still not supposed to discuss it with anyone or to even ask myself the question “what would I say if I was in deliberation? Guilty or innocent? So, since I’m not supposed to, I will not divulge into thought as to what I think, even to myself. I do not want to form an opinion on the off chance that I get “called up”. I will wait for a verdict….
Well, it’s now Wednesday and the morning came and went. I was on my way back from lunch and looked at the clock and thought to myself, they aren’t back yet?? Could they be having a difficult time??? About 30 seconds later, the cell phone rang. The verdict was in. I headed down to the courthouse. After waiting in the hall for almost an hour and staring at the jurors who would not talk to us (the alternates) because they were afraid to give anything away and sitting near the families who were all very nervous, they finally let us in. I was anxious as I’m sure everyone in the courtroom was.
In all, there were 20 counts against P. The judge read through the verdicts and passed them along to the Clerk to be read. One after one, until all twenty were read… Guilty, Guilty, Guilty on all 20 counts. I could hear the sighs of relief from C and her mother as well as the family. I could see P’s family (only two of them showed up) and his ex-wife sat with her head down shaking it from side to side in disbelief. Looking at P through the two attorneys in my way, I could see the same expression as he had on his face through out the entire trail… nothingness. Straight face, hands folded on the table looking from the Clerk to the jury as each of them was polled about their individual verdict on each of the 20 counts.
They made the right decision, in my opinion. The defense based their case on the fact that a 14 yr old girl and her mother had an argument and that these accusations were made as a wa
y to get attention. His case was weak. He poked at inconstancies that were definitely there, but were all reasonably explained. C can now move on with her life and begin to heal.
On the way out of the courthouse, I was able to chat a little with the other jurors. They all asked us (the alternates) if we would have voted the same way. We would have. I asked if it was a tough decision and they all said no. They went over the inconsistencies and explained them away. It all came down to the fact that they believed C. We then started a discussion about the defense attorney and how awful we all thought he was. It was interesting to hear that all the thoughts that ran through my head during the trial were also running through theirs. We walked together to the parking lot and parted ways, wishing each other well.
We don’t know what will happen to P. I will probably look him up online to see what he ends up being sentenced too. He’s an older man, 62, so it’s not out of the possibility that he will spend the rest of his life in prison. Fitting, since C will spend the rest of her life dealing with the emotional repercussions of his betrayal of her trust.
In all, I’m glad I was chosen to be an alternate. I’m still sad that I didn’t get to be a part of the deliberation but, maybe next time. Hopefully it will be just as “good” of a case and not some boring civil trial. Anyway, thanks for listening!
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