Posted by: smstrouse | July 9, 2011

When the Jury Is Judged

I admit that I did not follow the Casey Anthony trial. But I was drawn to the aftermath of the verdict, particularly to the anger vented against the jury.  I don’t know who these people are, but my heart goes out to them.  It’s no picnic to sit on a high-profile trial, giving your time and often your unearned income, along with your emotional health – as you realize that in a very big way, you’re on trial too. And when the verdict comes down, you will be judged by people who were not in the courtroom, were not privy to all the evidence that you were, and whose opinions are not constrained by the rules of law.

In 1997, I sat on the jury for the case of a police lieutenant in Buffalo, NY who was accused of strangling a suspect they had in custody. We ended up finding him not guilty of manual strangulation. The reaction of the media, the public, the victim’s family was outrage. I even lost members of my congregation who disagreed with the verdict. It was a gut-wrenching experience, one that I swore I would never endure again.

The day of the verdict, I went home – avoiding the press outside the courthouse. I was supposed to chair a meeting that evening, but when I got home and turned on the TV and saw the news report about the trial, I burst into tears. After being restricted from watching or reading any news throughout the trial, it was like an avalanche. All my feelings about the case let loose. I ended up begging out of the meeting and curling up on the sofa for the rest of the evening.

What I learned from the experience is this:

  • The public gets to see and hear only a fraction of what the jury does.
  • The law is black and white, no shades of grey; the verdict can only be decided within the constraints of the evidence.
  • Just because the jury can’t convict on the evidence presented, it doesn’t mean they don’t believe something wrong happened.
  • The jury is not stupid. In my trial, one report said that we had been fooled by the ‘blue wall’ of the police. We were not fooled; we knew exactly what was going on.
  • A jury trial takes a huge toll on the juror, his or her family (and in my case, congregation)
  • A juror is only one of twelve people. There are twelve different perspectives and opinions on every jury; coming to an agreement about a verdict is hard work.
  • It’s OK to disagree with a verdict, but please don’t judge me for my part in it.

So my heart goes out to the jurors from the Casey Anthony trial. One report said that the jurors cried and were sick to their stomachs after the verdict.

I can relate.

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Responses

  1. Very good & I agree completely. Having served also on a jury, I was seriously quite shocked at the public response. People have to understand that what is portrayed in the media–which tends to have a bias one way or another–can be very different from the evidence that is presented to a jury.

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  2. I didn’t follow the trial either, but I’ve seen this before. In the Rodney King trial in California what people didn’t understand was that the jury could not convict the defendants because they were not guilty of what they had been accused of. They weren’t accused of beating up Rodney King. They were accused of trying to murder him. And since they would have succeeded in murdering him if that was what they wanted to do, they weren’t guilty of trying to do it and failing.

    I don’t know what Casey Anthony was actually accused of in her trial, but it is likely that she was accused of the wrong thing. I don’t know if that was true in the trial you sat on as well, but it wouldn’t surprise me. That policeman might have been guilty of all kinds of things including the death of the prisoner, but not of what he was accused of which from what you wrote was manual strangulation.

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