How often do we make a judgment call simply on what we see?
I knew what I saw, and it looked exactly like a situation that, if you asked any ten others who witnessed it, they would agree with me.
And then there would always be one that wouldn’t.
The prosecution had made a very good case, the defense counsel had woven a brilliant tale from start to finish, and he delivered in an almost persuading tone, with the subliminal message, the defendant was not guilty.
I felt sorry for the prosecution because his delivery had been halting, filled with ums and ers and in the end, everyone, from the judge down, wanted it to end.
As for the jury, it was an odd assortment of characters, a lawyer, a builder, a plumber, a housewife, two sales staff, two clerks, a janitor, two retirees, and a motor mechanic. I thought it would be the lawyer who would be the problem.
The trial had lasted 22 days, and over that time I noticed that groups would form, and discuss aspects of the case, each of the groups forming a different opinion. Sometimes, the dynamics of the groups changed as more evidence and testimony was revealed.
But, I think on those first few days, opinions were made, and judgment was passed.
In my opinion, based on looking at the defendant, it could be said that she didn’t look like a murderer, nor did she seem capable of committing such a heinous act. Having said that, as a throwaway first assumption, the lawyer nixed it in a second. Knowing something of how these trials worked, he said there would have been a lot of careful grooming, dress down, but not to drab, look demure, not aggressive, and speak in a modulated tone, like everyday conversation.
In other words, he was basically telling us she was giving an academy award performance.
I certainly looked at her in a different light after that, but the fact remained, for some of us, that initial assessment said not guilty.
A few days before we had to deliberate, a very damning piece of video was tendered and we all watched as the defendant was shown talking to her alleged accomplice, the victim’s current girlfriend, and passing an enveloped which the defense claimed was the payoff for helping her dispose of her husband.
It seemed odd to me that someone had known she would be in that bar, perfectly placed under the CCTV camera, both women so easily recognizable. Of course, the woman in question could not be found, and the inference was that she might also be one of the defendant’s victims.
Several people were called by the defense to assert a line of defense that the husband was a cruel man, who had treated his wife very badly indeed, to the extent her best friend remarked that she had turned up for work on several occasions with the results of what looked like a beating, and another, an ER nurse, had confirmed the defendant had visited the hospital on several occasions with lacerations consistent with what was considered spousal abuse.
Those photographs were quite confronting, but a question had to be asked, why had she not gone to the police with that evidence and let them deal with the husband.
The fact she hadn’t was one weakness in her defense. The thing there was why the defense introduced such testimony because, to me, it confused the issue by pushing the jury into thinking she had killed him, but in mitigating circumstances. Was she looking for a verdict of justifiable homicide?
From day two, after the lawyer had told us about how lawyers schooled their clients, I watched her carefully, when sitting beside her lawyer, or when on the stand. There were interesting actions she made when certain events occurred, like brushing a stray lock of hair back behind her ear, like teasing it out with a slight shake of the head, in a subtle but obvious show of displeasure. Like smoothing out the invisible wrinkles in her clothes, perfectly fitting and obviously made for her, but understated in a sense that she would stand out in a crown but not ostentatiously so. It was almost a ritual when she came in at the start, and when she took the stand, preparing herself.
Perfectionist, maybe. Or trying to convey a certain picture. Certainly, in the early days before the trial began, the media had a field day with the case, whipped into an even bigger frenzy when the police finally arrested the wife for the murder of her husband. Almost all of them said he had it coming, with page after page of revelations about a man who could not have done half the things he was accused of.
The trial by newspaper done, I suspect it was hard to find 12 unbiased men and women who could be trusted to make the right decision. I knew 100 would be jurors had been called up.
Now, in the jury room for the third day, trying to reach a verdict, it was the lawyer trying to wrap it up. He had a job to go back to. So did everyone else, for that matter.
“So, in essence, we are all agreed, that she is not guilty.”
It had been an interesting change in his position on the morning of day three of our deliberation. Before that, he wanted to hang her from the nearest yardarm. Interestingly enough, that morning, after he had given us his reasons for changing his mind, it would have been unanimous, and over.
The thing is, I didn’t like the way he changed sides so easily or for the reasons he spoke of.
So, in that vote, I changed my decision to guilty, and watch a group of people who had been friendly suddenly become enemies.
But at that moment, that other ten didn’t interest me, it was the expression on the lawyer’s face. He hadn’t expected the vote to go that way. It was like he had been goading everyone into voting not guilty and weathering the storm because of his stance. Had it been staged, had we been led down this path, and then all of a sudden, the verdict he wanted being reached?
I had to find out.
I watched the eleven raise their hands to vote not guilty. I did not. And immediately felt the looks of every one of those eleven on me.
“Why?” he asked.
By this time he had taken the lead, and the others had let him. Now I suspect they would let him do the talking.
“You’ve got it all wrong. The reasons are the same. There are two sides to that tale you came up with this morning. The problem I have is from being adamant she was guilty, and as you said, without a shadow of a doubt, now all of a sudden you’re having doubts.”
“So, you don’t think she’s guilty, you’re just voting that way because you suspect my motives?”
“What I think is irrelevant right now. You need to convince me that you truly think she’s not guilty. What is it you saw, or heard, or know that changed your mind. It certainly had nothing to do with that so-called video in the bar being staged. It has nothing to do with the fact they can’t find that woman so they can either verify or dispel the accusations being made she was an accomplice. It had nothing to do with the fact you think she might have been goaded into it and was left with no other option. In that case, it might well be a case of manslaughter rather than murder. Is that what you’re trying to suggest?”
“I think given the evidence, or lack of concrete evidence against her, she is not guilty.”
“But given everything you have said, it seems to me you think she had some crime to answer for.”
“Hasn’t she suffered enough?”
“That might well be the case, but it doesn’t give you an excuse to murder., and there’s certainly no forensic evidence that she was defending herself against an attack at the time. She should have taken her case to the police and have it investigated. She chose not to, for reasons that were never fully explained.”
“And didn’t we hear that the husband had links to various police that might have made such an investigation a waste of time. This was a woman trapped in a bad situation with no way out.”
It was a long way from where we, as jurors, were at the beginning of our deliberations. The first vote at the end of the first day was four voted not guilty and eight voted guilty. In the following days, a lot of arguments changed the decisions of those seven to vote not guilty, when they believed, in their own minds the defendant was guilty.
In my mind, the first instinct was usually correct. Over time that decision was only changed because of expediency, not necessarily for the right reasons. My first instinct was that she was, in fact, not guilty for all the reasons the lawyer cited.
“Look,” he said. “We’ve been here for three days. It’s an open and shut case. Let’s vote.”
We did with the same result. Eleven for not guilty and one against.
A hung jury. I wasn’t going to be moved on my position, and so it went back to the court. It was declared a mistrial and the defendant was returned to custody and a new trial was to be scheduled.
I was reading the paper’s version of events, and speculation on the result. Several of the jurors had featured in the discussion, but none were willing to talk about the result or who was responsible for the hung jury, only that one juror had not agreed with the majority. In some states, it was argued, it only required a majority, but in this and other states, quite rightly, it needed a unanimous decision to confer the death sentence.
Justice, it seemed to the writer of the piece, had prevailed.
They also believed that the plight of women trapped in marriages to violent men was a matter that should be looked at and that such women should be treated better in the eyes of the law. It was not a position that I disagreed with. What I disagreed with was the notion of jury tampering.
It was, apparently, the fifth time that a case such as this had a similar track record, that the deliberations of the jury had swung from an initial guilty verdict to not guilty at the hands of a single juror. In each of the five cases, the circumstances were similar, the wife had endured violence by her husband, and then, in odd circumstances, the husband had finished up dead.
Someone had discerned a pattern, and this had been a test case. In each of the other four cases, a not guilty verdict had been handed down by a jury that had also started with a majority guilty verdict, only to be worn down by a single juror with an agenda. To get the defendant a not guilty verdict.
My job was to find out which juror it was that was there to change minds. Then it was a case of finding links between him and four other jurors who were equally instrumental in obtaining a not guilty verdict. In each of the five cases, there was irrefutable evidence that the defendant was, in fact, guilty of the charge, and the expectation was the legal system would prosecute them.
And then, in each of the cases, a weak prosecutor was selected, and a particular juror was selected by that prosecutor. From there, the trail led back to a particular assistant District Attorney who had overseen each of the five cases. The fact was, justice was not served, and four out of the five defendants had escaped justice.
© Charles heath 2020