The only thing I take seriously is my Freedom. And Bacon.

Monday, August 15, 2011

My 3 Days With An Attempted Murderer - Jury Duty Doylestown

I was terribly excited when I received my Jury Duty notice for Bucks County. The letter that arrived in the mail assigned me a number and starting on Friday at 4pm I was to call in and listen to the recording. If my number was called, I was to report to the Doylestown Court house.

On Monday night when I called in, my number was listed - meaning I had to report on Tuesday morning.
I stood in front of my closet like a school girl - pondering my fashion selection carefully. As I'm a writer full time now, I have plenty of flip flops and casual wear - and when it comes to dressing up, well, I have plenty of party dresses and don't own anything that screams: I HATE MY OFFICE JOB BUT SINCE I HAVE TO BE HERE I MIGHT AS WELL LOOK FABULOUS. In the end I wore white Capri's and a nice yellow/black blouse and brought a yellow light jacket figuring it might be cold in the courthouse (in actuality, it's like a got-damn freezer).

Most movies and TV I watch, most books I read - center on the light hearted/comedy/mindless entertainment that leaves me feeling good about life. However- I do love true crime stories.

And once upon a time, I wanted to be a lawyer. Until I realized all the paperwork involved. And that it's rarely about justice and more often about cutting deals.

So I was excited to be called to jury duty. Really. Excited. Seriously. Excited.

Getting to the court house was a breeze. Parked in the FREE lot on Broad and Union and then waited with some friendly people for a shuttle bus to drop us off at the front door of the court house.

It's extremely easy to find your way around and if you can't, the employees are more than kind and helpful.

After I, along with over a hundred other people, filled out paperwork and watched a brief movie (I was disappointed there was no complimentary breakfast bar - though we did have vending machines) - I was one of 54 people led away to a court room to be questioned (politely) by attorneys in a criminal hearing to determine if I would be among the 12 chosen.

The prosecutor and defense attorney ask questions and if your answer to the question is yes, you raise the number they assign to you. There are many questions. And then they whisper back and forth and decide who they want to keep and who they want to dismiss.

I was chosen.
Juror #5.

The case: The defendant was accused of stabbing the victim 11 times. We listened to eye witness testimony, and we listened to the victim himself. He showed us his stab wounds and they were horrific.

We left after the first day and I can tell you, it is incredibly hard to keep mum about the case. Until the case 'goes to the jury' - the jurors can't talk to each other about what they've heard - and of course, they can't speak of the case to friends/family/etc until after they've handed out a verdict and are excused by the judge.

Oh - the judge. She rocked! Judge Diane Gibbons. So down to earth, no nonsense, yet extremely warm and approachable.

The second day, the state and defense rested and then we went into deliberations. We took a vote and 4 voted right away the defendant was guilty of attempted murder ( I was the only woman that voted guilty that first vote). The others needed to think about the evidence/review evidence/etc.

We didn't leave until 8pm the second night - though they did order pizza and soda for us (for free!) for dinner (once in deliberations, you can't leave for lunch/dinner).

The third day - all but 2 people believed he was guilty.

I now understand WHY so many people 'get away with murder' - do you know how difficult it is to have 12 people come to a very important decision - one that impacts so many lives?

Hell, it took us forever to decide what we wanted from the lunch menu!!!

And of course, there were all different personalities:
The Critical Thinker (who carried around a French translation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) who wanted to see the good in everyone.
The Little Man With the Loud Voice.
The Comedian (a girl who switched her vote to guilty on day 2 and never looked back - a champion of the guilty verdict).
The Psychologist: Not so much about the crime - but he was juror that got into other jurors heads and tried to understand why they believed what they believed - he was also the guy who made it a point to include everyone. He would make a fine host as a party!
Then there were the quiet people.
I loved these people because they had little to say, so when they DID speak, people listened.
A few times it became heated - but a mild heat at best. Though we had some incredibly passionate people, 99% of the time, it was respectful.
When we finally got the last 2 "guilty of attempted murder" votes - I wanted to jump in the air with relief.
It wouldn't seem right, though, so instead, I hugged people.
Watching the defendant during the trial - he seemed to seethe with anger and hate. While the victim (a 6'3" - 250 pound black man) was soft spoken, came off as intelligent and sincere.
And when we walked out into the courtroom that final time, I met the victim's eyes and smiled. We fought long and hard for him to receive some sort of justice, and I was thrilled that we could give that to him.
Judge Gibbons came to the jury room after the verdict was read and we were dismissed. She said she agreed with our decision. She also informed us the defendant had a long violent criminal history (something we were never told during the trial).

It was a fascinating experience and if you are wondering why I didn't mention the defendant's name - I can tell you this - it was in the news - and the defendant hired a very expensive defensive attorney. I've no doubt he has some heavy criminal connections and really don't want him tracking me down.

If you're ever called to jury duty in Doylestown - here are a few things to keep in mind:

1) Bring a sweater. It's freezing inside!
2) Most restaurants around Doylestown accept jury checks as payment!!!!
3) If you make it onto a jury and spend a significant time together - when you leave, try to get email addresses. My biggest regret is that I was so damn relived to be done and so excited to get home and FINALLY talk to everyone about it, that I hurried off without finding a way to keep in touch.
4) If you're in Courtroom 1 and you're juror #5 - do NOT move around on the seat too much when a witness is on the stand or the Judge is talking. It's embarrassingly squeaky and you will receive less than disturbing glares from the attorneys.

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