The bailiff escorts us back into the courtroom to hear more testimony. It’s early afternoon now and we are still listening to the first witness, the victim, who was interrupted by legal wrangling two hours earlier.
I look over occasionally at the defendant, who is shaking his leg again. He’s making faces as the victim tells her story.
A short parade of witnesses takes the stand for the prosecution and they validate the victim’s account with pictures, a 911 call and testimony from law enforcement. I settle back into the black leather juror seat and listen hard, absorbing, discerning, weighing.
Now it’s time for the defense to present its case. The attorney is smart, patient at the right time, impatient at the right time too, and makes a lot of eye contact with the room. And bit by bit he starts to share an alternative truth, presenting a view that is skewed in the favor of his client, the defendant.
The prosecutor picks away at the defense’s witness. The defense objects. The judge sustains. The prosecutor continues to question. The defense objects again. The judge overrules. And so the legal waltz continues for much of the afternoon.
The judge excuses us for a break and we line up in single file like we did in grade school, and head back to the jury room. The animated, professionally dressed woman from our group who likes to entertain us with her thoughts, is bursting at the seams to talk, but we’re not allowed to discuss our impressions of the case yet. She mutters something about how she can’t wait until we can talk about the case.
A woman enters the room and tells us she needs to take our dinner order. Someone suggests Greek food, and I notice how quickly most fall into agreement. I don’t really want to spend the evening with a room full of people who smell like garlic, but I say nothing. I know how to pick my battles.
We’re ushered back into the courtroom for more testimony. Now we hear concluding arguments. The prosecutor goes first and reminds us of the criteria needed to convict the defendant on the state’s charges. She uses an old school method and outlines her points with a red marker on a big pad of paper like she’s teaching us the A B C’s of criminal law. It’s actually very effective, I think.
The defense attorney makes his points with little drama, but is straightforward. He counter punches and points to an alternative story. He’s got some good points, too, I think.
The prosecutor must think so, too. She approaches the jury stand and in a high-pitched and indignant voice begins to scream out her rebuttal to the defense’s “smoke and mirrors” summation. She paces, she points, she hisses and shares her contempt for the defendant and his story.
I shrink back in my seat as far as I can, nearly bumping my head on the wall behind me. I don’t understand the hysterics and the bad acting; I’m thinking she’s watched too many Perry Mason movies. Her behavior feels manipulative and I don’t like it.
After the judge instructs us on the charges and reads options for lesser charges, we are escorted back to the jury room for deliberation.
We vote for our foreman, one of the two men who had stayed quiet for most of our time together, and who had previously served on another jury.
For the next hour we debate. The outspoken professional slams her arm down on the table and is the first to speak. She votes guilty and summarizes her reasoning quickly and convincingly. Several agree with her assertions and conclusions. We go around the table and some, including me, have questions.
People begin speaking over others, sharing thoughts, countering the arguments, sifting and sorting through evidence, interpretations, facts. The foreman and I have similar thoughts and wonder if we should have the judge explain the lesser charges to us again.
And so we line up and file back into the courtroom for the judge to recite the definition of a lesser version of the crime.
We go back into the jury room and debate a little more. It is clear that we are now all in agreement about the defendant’s guilt. Now, it’s just about degrees. I share my doubt with the group and openly wonder if the crime is better suited to the definition of the lesser, but still serious charge. I am not completely sure if the state has met all of its criteria for the weightier charge.
The professionally dressed woman repeats her position loudly and with conviction. Her arms are folded. It looks like I could be the last holdout now, but we haven’t voted yet, so I listen intently to the others while doing my best not to be swayed by the group for the sake of convenience.
I feel determined, but mostly small, and for a moment I tell myself how easy it would be to just go along and end this. After weighing the evidence, I’m convinced of his guilt, too. But the difference between the charges matters, and I need to be as clear as possible.
I weigh the comments and tell everyone I need to be clear. “I want to wake up tomorrow morning with a clear conscience,” I say to the group.
But the truth is, we only need 11 of the 12 of us to agree and convict on the state’s charge.
I am fighting now, fighting against peer pressure, group think, the inclination to go along and get along, and my Libra peacemaker nature, the good girl, the one who needs to be liked. And at the same time, I’m fighting for conscience, peace of mind, self-respect, the judicial process and clarity.
We take a vote to see where we are. One by one, eleven of my fellow jurors vote guilty on the state’s charge.
This is my worst nightmare….me, the clog in the legal drain. Me, still weighing information without complete clarity, with 11 pairs of eyes focused in my direction.
The animated professional is happy now. “We’ve got 11, we have what we need,” she says with emphasis and stands up.
I look over at her with undisguised anger, and my frustration spills out in sarcastic words, “Well, you’ve got what you need. And if you’re in that much of a hurry to get home…I guess we are done!”
My heated words hang heavy in the air and she looks at me and slowly sinks back in to her chair. “I’m not in that much of a hurry to get back home,” she says.
And then a young woman who sat at the other end of the table, a woman who had said little during the discussion reminds us of a piece of evidence none of us had mentioned earlier in the deliberations.
It is the one piece of information that slams the door of my mind shut on the issue. I am clear, completely clear with this evidence that the defendant’s crime does meet all of the state’s criteria for the higher charge and minimum sentence.
I take a deep breath and begin to relax in my seat. I feel the stress in my body begin to seep away and I mouth the words, Thank you, thank you,” to the young woman.
We deliver the verdict, and each of us is required to say it out loud. I have clarity now, so I have peace.
I go to bed with a clear conscience and wake up at 2 a.m. and again at 6 a.m. I know I can look myself in the mirror.
Yet, I still have a nagging feeling I can’t shake, and I wonder out loud later in the day to my boyfriend, “Why did I have to be part of his karma, why did I have to be on the team that wields the karmic bat?”
He looks at me and says, “I don’t know. But remember, you were part of the victim’s karma, too.”
I tear up. And with that comment, grace returns. Clarity, too.
(I have delibertly chosen not to discuss the crime, or details associated with it, out of respect for the process.)