Posted by: smstrouse | July 20, 2013

The Nightmare of Jury Duty

The juror said she never wants to be on a jury again. I can relate.

Much has been – and continues to be written – about the “Not Guilty” verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. I leave it to others to express our outrage, to inspire us to continue to work for justice for Trayvon Martin, and to urge us to have meaningful conversation about race and racism.

What I want to talk about is jury duty. All during the Zimmerman trial, I couldn’t stop thinking about the members of the jury – because I knew that, not matter how they decided, they would be the target of criticism, second-guessing and even harassment. I also knew that they would be emotionally drained and that it would take a very long time to get over the experience.

How do I know? Because I served on a jury trial back in the 90s, when a police lieutenant was on trail for allegedly murdering a man in police custody. The defendant, who was male, was accused by another lieutenant, who was female,  of manually strangling the man for 60 – 90 seconds. The jury listened to testimony from a parade of witnesses to the struggle to subdue, cuff and get the guy onto his stomach in the patrol car. They all said they believed at that time that he was alive, however when they reached the hospital, he was dead. The prosecution called it murder by manual strangulation; the defense presented it as an accidental death, a case of positional asphyxia. The verdict: Not Guilty.

And then the judgments against us began. How could we have been so stupid? How could we let him off? Didn’t we know police brutality when we saw it? Members of my own congregation left, writing in a letter that because of the verdict they could no longer have me as their pastor.

Here are just some of the ways that being on this jury was a horrific experience:

  • Awareness of the presence – and expectations – of members of both families sitting in the courtroom. Whichever way the verdict went, people were going to suffer.
  • Experiencing the “blue wall” in testimony by some police officers. Didn’t people think we were smart enough to know what was going on?
  • Grandstanding by lawyers and ‘expert’ witnesses. Even though we accepted his case, I didn’t want to shake the defense attorney’s hand as we were led out of the courtroom after we were dismissed.
  • Long hours. In reality, it was a 9-5 job for 6 weeks, with my real job squeezed in each evening.
  • Myth of juror anonymity. From the start, the media knew that a Lutheran pastor had been selected for the jury. It didn’t take long for them to put a name to that information.
  • The fact that the accusing officer was a female officer in a male profession broke my heart. Did the fact that she appeared weak and tearful on the stand influence my negative judgment of her story?

What I suspect my experience might have in common with the Zimmerman jurors:

  • There was always dissent among jury members. We never had a monolithic position. Unfortunately, the last two holdouts for a Guilty verdict were the ones who spoke to the media after the trial. What they said in no way represented me.
  • We were constrained by the limits of the law. In my opinion, something very bad happened that night, but the choices we were given did not allow for judgements about police procedures.
  • “Beyond Reasonable Doubt” is a very, very hard place to get to. “What is truth?” Pilate asked. Trying to answer that question is a heavy burden to place upon people.
  • It took a long time to recover. Judgementalism and second-guessing did not help. As I told people, I was one of 12; don’t put all the blame on me if you disagree with the verdict. Also, you weren’t there in the deliberation room; you don’t know how we managed to arrive at our verdict. It’s not easy. In fact, it stinks.

As you may be able to tell, after over 15 years have gone by, I still have strong emotions about my experience. I’m with the juror who said she never wants to be on a jury again. I’ve said that exact some thing many, many, times. I’ve already done my civic duty – for what it’s worth.

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Responses

  1. Zimmerman is free from the courts but his life will never be free again. He has to live with the blood of Trayvon Martin to end of his life. People, the prosecutors messed this thing up with the charges in the very beginning. The correct charges should have Criminal Neglience to wit: Manslaughter. The man holds a hand gun permit which means that he attended a class that instructed him on the law of deadly force and when it can be used. The jury asked the judge for the meaning of Manslaughter and she tells them just come back with a verdict and I will give you the meaning. A black man’s life is nothing to value from people of society. With that being said pull your pants up, take the gold out your mouth, get the education that you need, stop killing each other, and stand for something! Michael Vick went to jail for killing dogs and gay marriage issues but this guy walks. Walking is something he should have done after being instructed to do so by police dispatch. I ain’t saying this is a racial but Z profiled Martin.

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  2. […] published on July 20, 2013 by Pr. Susan M. […]

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  3. Morgan played back a recording of the juror’s comments about Jeantel’s education level and speech, and the witness said it made her sad and angry. Jeantel, who is black, said she also had a feeling that the jury would return a not-guilty verdict.

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  4. Zimmerman, who faced the possibility of life in prison, showed no reaction to the jury’s verdict.

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  5. “He was a son, he was a brother, he was a friend, and the last thing he did on this Earth was try to get home,” Guy told the jury, fleshing out lead prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda’s characterization of Zimmerman as a gun-toting vigilante who, instead of waiting for police to arrive after he called them, left his car and followed the boy.

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