Jury Duty

A few weeks ago, this showed up in my mailbox:

Woo. Hoo.

Woo. Hoo.

I was called for jury duty about 5 years ago. I was never picked to be on an actual case and I credited that to the fact that I was a newspaper reporter at the time and my dad works in law enforcement. Today, I work in PR and my dad is retired, so this time, I actually was on a case.

It’s over now so I can talk about it. No, the process wasn’t awesome. It wasn’t fascinating. It wasn’t like Law and Order. It was depressing. Kind of boring. Emotionally draining. Three full days in a federal court room. I lost sleep over it. As we were deliberating in the jury room (for 2 and a half hours), my throat started to hurt and the next day I was full-blown sick. This took a toll on me.

Here’s the scoop.

It was an armed robbery case by a 4-time convicted felon. However, the evidence was purely circumstantial. No fingerprints. No DNA. None of the victims possessions found in his pockets. It was  hard case to decide. There was testimony from the defendant’s lifelong best friend, who took a plea deal to testify against his friend.

The victim cried. The defendant cried. The jurors cried. It was horrible.

When it was turned over to us, the jury, we were exactly split: 6 voted guilty, 6 voted not guilty. Then we all started talking. I was one of the staunchest not-guilty jurors. I felt it was all circumstantial. Maybe it was another tall, well-spoken black man who committed the robbery, not this one. Maybe he really didn’t do it. But the more we talked about it, one by one, all the not guilty jurors changed their votes to guilty. We convicted a 23-year old man.

Once we were all in agreement, the reality of the situation set in. The woman sitting next to me just muttered, “Oh my God” under her breath. Another juror started to cry, head in her hands. It was an intense experience.

And then we had to go into the court room.

The defendant stood when we walked in, wearing a sport coat that was too big for him, and puffy eyes from crying. I couldn’t even look at him. The verdict was read. Guilty.

The air was thick in the court room and I felt like I couldn’t even breathe. I definitely couldn’t lift my head. And then in the silence of the court room, sobbing. I don’t know that I’ll be able to forget the sound the defendant made when we realized he was going to jail for a long, long time. He sobbed. He kept muttering, “this is my life, this is my life.”

I just kept thinking, I hope we made the right decision.

The judge came back to talk to us afterwards. He was able to give us a few nuggets of information that made sense and made me feel better about our verdict. We walked out of the jury room and into the hallway, to go wait for the elevator.

There was a ruckus behind us and one of the jurors whispered, “That’s the guy’s family.”

I looked around and there we stood. Alone. No bailiff. No security. We quickly shuffled on to the elevator and dropped five floors below.

When the elevator doors opened, we filed out. Suddenly, right there, was the defendant’s mother. Yelling at us for convicting her son when he “didn’t do nothing.” She was yelling at us. Asking us how we could do that. Someone grabbed her and pulled her away from us.

It was awful. We felt bad enough in that moment. We didn’t need a mother yelling at us. Maybe she should have yelled at her son more when he was growing up and he wouldn’t have been a 5 time convicted felon by age 23.

Since the case is over, I’ve been able to look up the defendant’s record and learn more about this case and this man. He is not a good man. I’ve come to terms with our verdict. We made the right decision. Having this guy off the streets will undoubtedly save other individuals and families from  heartache.

I’m going to enjoy these next four years knowing I can’t be called for jury duty again.

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