Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Trial & Error

Once you get in the courtroom, it hits you that this is very REAL. You're about to be presented with facts in various formats (crime scene photos, autopsy photos, testimony, evidence, plus you have to factor in body language, etc.) and then be asked to make a life or death decision based on those facts. And, for me anyway, not being able to take notes makes me even MORE nervous that I'm going to forget some vital piece of information, so I'm under additional stress to pay very close attention to anything and everything seen and heard.

Behind each set of lawyers (The State/Prosecution and The Defense) are a set of people. We all noticed this right away because one individual out of each set is literally staring a hole through each of us all throughout the trial. I assumed these people were there to gauge our reactions, body language and overall behavior, in order to 'report' back to their individual employers (Prosecution/Defense) as to how effective or ineffective they're being, as well as to give them an idea of which way the jury is leaning (guilty/not guilty). As it turns out, I was right. I was determined to maintain a constant look of no emotion on my face, while everyone else was going through every range of exaggerated emotion possible (which I thought was kinda stupid, if you ask me) in full view for everyone to see, I was stoic. Why should I make their spy job easier?

Here are the trial highlights:

• Since I made an effort not to sit next to Darth Tater, I had a sneaking suspicion that he was sleeping DURING THE TRIAL. I detected a change in his breathing, which to me said 'SLEEPING,' but since I sometimes couldn't see him, I wasn't sure. And the few times I DID see him, his eyes were technically open, if not barely. As it turns out he can sleep with his eyes OPEN! Great. Everyone was getting pissed that this ADULT man could not stay-the-fuck awake for 1-2 hours at a time and Chiffon got Law & Order on us and informed us matter-of-factly that this behavior (his sleeping) could be grounds for a mistrial. Concerned, we asked the bailiff about this and she told us just the opposite (re: his sleeping could not be grounds for a mistrial). La dee da.

• Throughout the trial, G.I. Joan was ultra-picky about everywhere we ate lunch at (chosen by the bailiffs, open to suggestions), which to an extent I can understand, but NOWHERE we ate in the 2 weeks we were there, did she ever not complain. Towards the end of the trial I overheard someone ask her "Do you ever eat out?" and she said that if she did, she always asked to see the kitchen first. Control issues? You betcha!

We had to (1) eat at places that could accommodate all of us at one table or at least within a close vicinity, and (2) could not eat at places anywhere near the courthouse, and (3) had to eat somewhere where we could be served quickly, considering we had to be back on time or the trial couldn't commence. Personally, I liked most of the places we ate at, but then I'm not the white-glove-type. I don't sit and obsess about what the kitchen looks like, if the people preparing our food are wearing body condoms or lose sleep wondering why the place didn't offer a sugar-free dessert or low-cal salad dressing. Gimme a fuckin' BREAK! Common sense tells you that when you are eating somewhere that prides themselves on 'home-cookin' and/or genuine Texas BBQ, don't be craning your neck to seek out a low-carb substitute for bread. Fuck off. Eat or don't. It's that easy. If you're that goddamn delicate, pack a lunch!

• Apparently a trial has 2 phases. I had no idea. During phase 1, after all testimony is given and all witnesses are called (by both the Prosecution and the Defense) the jury is released to come up with a verdict of guilty or not guilty (of the actual crime). Before we begin deliberating, as a group, we choose a foreman (Chiffon threw her name into the proverbial hat and everyone else was like "eh, okay, whatever."), deliberate, then call for the bailiff to let them know that we've reached a decision. In our particular case, the evidence was so overwhelmingly in the favor of the prosecution that we all unanimously found the defendant 'guilty' within only 15 minutes or less of deliberation. Once the judge asks if we've reached a decision, the foreman declares that we have and reads the unanimous verdict. THEN the judge calls out our last names one by one (eek! Remember, the defendant's family is in the courtroom, not to mention the defendant had ties to the gang, The Crips!) and asks us if this is our verdict and we have to say 'Yes sir' or 'No sir.' Stressful.

THEN the trial goes into phase 2 (The 'punishment phase,' since the defendant has been found guilty), where the Defense brings in another string of witnesses and so-called experts, in order to sway the jury into leniency when it comes to the punishment phase. In this particular case the death penalty was one of the options. So for those jurors who were all excited to think the trial was over, they were sorely mistaken. Practically another mini-trial begins right after the first one, so we were there for another week.

• While sitting in the SUV one morning, waiting for one of the jurors to arrive (they were 5 minutes late, big deal), Kenny Rogers with a Sunburn was pissing and moaning about how some people are always late. I made the comment that I was paranoid about being late (esp. considering that court can't begin until all the jurors have arrived, not to mention that you're keeping 13 other people waiting...13 other people you have to deal with on a daily basis in a small, confined area), so I usually arrived way too early.

Later that day, out of nowhere, I got seriously depressed, so when I got home I immediately went to bed (around 7). I wake up at...8:20am!! I forgot to set the fuckin' alarm! I have exactly 10 minutes to get to Fort Worth! OMG! I fuckin' freaked OUT. I jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes, threw a bunch of stuff into a bag and hauled ass. I called the bailiff's office and informed them I was running late and asked if I should just meet them at the courthouse or go ahead and meet them in the parking lot, as usual. They told me to go ahead and go to the parking lot and that they would notify the bailiff that I was running late. I arrived at exactly 8:15, feeling terrible that I had to make everyone wait.

• Towards the end of the trial, the Defense called an "expert witness," some old man that I immediately took a disliking to, if you can call seething hatred "dislike." He was some 83 year old retired medical examiner and reminded me of a Nazi. Seriously. Basically, he was brought in and coached (I say coached because, judging from his testimony, he obviously had a script he was sticking to, never swaying from it) to say that in his "medical expertise" that the child in question's (the little 9 year old boy who was beaten/starved to death) 250+ wounds/scars did not contribute to his death, trying to tell us that the little boy aspirated on some food. What-the-fuck-ever! His continuous poo-pooing of the idea that this child was starved to death (which he was) was seriously pissing me off, not to mention his smirky face and inappropriate laughter throughout his questioning. Basically, making light of something that was NOT to be taken delicately, going so far at one point, upon hearing the child's first name, to laughingly ask "Oh, heh heh is that his name? heh" Fucccccck off! I wanted to leap across the jury box and pound his fuckin' face until his head had no recognizable shape.

Before the Prosecution or the Defense can approach the witness/bench they have to ask the judge if they can do so. Every single time. So, when the Prosecution requested permission to approach the bench, the old fart said "It's okay with me." then everyone giggled and laughed, thinking that was oh-so-cute and comical. What a sassy, spry old man he is. Isn't that cute? I sat there stoic. I didn't find his little antics remotely amusing. He knew exactly what he was doing and was very hostile towards the Prosecution. My point: I hated him SO much that I was staring a fuckin' hole through him, so much so that I ended up breaking blood vessels in my right eye. I hope he chokes to death on HIS own vomit.

• At one point, on the last day of the trial, while we were listening to closing arguments, Darth Tater is sitting next to me (my luck ran out and I was finally seated next to him) and I heard him fuckin SNORING! I looked over and he was fuckin' ASLEEP, chin resting on his chest, out cold. I panicked and instead of having the forethought to kick him with my foot (which would have been much more discreet that what I ended up doing), I poked him in the ribs. He awoke with a startle and gave me this look like 'what are you doing?!' I thought 'fuck him' and went back to listening to the closing arguments. Less that 5 minutes later, I hear him snoring AGAIN. This time I kicked him and he returned, yet again, from slumberland. What a fucktard.

• Once we were released to deliberate, the process ended up taking around 3 hours. This time around we had to decide if this person should be sentenced to death or sent to "life" in prison. I find that they call it "life" in prison, somewhat anticlimactic since the person would actually be up for parole when she was in her 70's. In order to return a verdict of death we had to agree unanimously. There were about 5 of us (me included) that were having problems sentencing another human being to die. We knew going into the trial that this would be a possibility, but it's A LOT different when you actually get to that point in the trial and have to make a decision. For the other 4 people who were on the fence, I think their dilemma was more of a biblical one. Since I don't have that cross to bear, so to speak, that was not a factor for me. Mine was more of a inner struggle of conscience. Could I live with my decision or would it always come back to haunt me? In the end, we all unanimously decided to find this person guilty of capital murder and sentence her to death. It was a really intense, hard, complicated choice to make, but we made it as a jury.

Upon entering the court room with our verdict, again, the judge asked the foreman if we'd reached a verdict and she told him that we had. Once the verdict was read, the judge called out each of our names to ask us if this was our verdict. He then read the sentence to the defendant, who displayed ZERO reaction/emotion. Her lawyers were more emotional than she was. The judge then informs the court that a member of the victim's family may now address the defendant/court for a brief statement on behalf of the family. In this case (since the mother of the child is also in custody, awaiting her trial, in regards to the part she played in the murder: it was a lesbian relationship, btw) it was the little boy's great aunt. She'd testified a few days ago, so we'd seen her before. She approached the stand and was very eloquent. I about lost it when she began to cry while addressing the defendant. I think just about every one of us were on the verge of tears, even the 'macho' men. It was very emotionally draining. Once we were dismissed and recessed back to the jury room, everyone broke down. It was very sad, but also very unifying.

And that my friends is how the jury duty process works. This concludes my ramblings on the matter. To read more about the trial, click here and here.

Part 4 of 4


Blogger Dave2 said...

Frightening. That would have been a very difficult trial to sit through for me.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger Mariana said...

I'll never understand why people like that don't just give their children up for adoption. If you don't love them enough to refrain from beating them senseless, and if you're not well integrated in society enough to not starve them, what's keeping you from giving them up? At least that way they have a chance at being well cared for and loved by someone else. What a monster.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006 4:13:00 PM  
Blogger Kirkkitsch said...

It was a difficult jury to be on. I had anticipated some things in my mind, but it's a completely different story once you have the actual tangible objects there in front of you (i.e. autopsy photos).

Funny you should say that. The sad thing was that the children were pretty much pawns in the whole welfare system. i.e. the more children you have, the more money you get from the govt. (don't even get me started on that bullshit). Ironically, one of the main reasons she secreted the little boy away (not to mention his wounds/emaciated condition) was because she didn't want her children taken away from her (for the umpteenth time; foster care) and put up for adoption. In the end, the two remaining little girls were put up for adoption and subsequently adopted. We found this out when one of the little girls (I think she was 6) was on the witness stand. It was a very sad thing to witness. Her newly adopted mother was waiting in the wings for her after she gave her testimony. So, in a way something good did come from all the bad. Unfortunately, the little boy never made it that far. Very very heart-wrenching.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006 2:51:00 AM  

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