Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Jury Duty: The End

I'm growing weary of recounting my jury duty experience, but feel like I should conclude it in some way. So here goes.

We switched courtrooms on Day Three. Our judge had been using another judge's courtroom while (I think) some high-tech equipment was installed in hers. Usually each juror left his/her notepad on the chair when dismissed from court and the notebook would be waiting for us on our chair when we returned. But because we switched courtrooms that day, the court clerk accidentally mixed up our notebooks. So we passed the notebooks down the row and picked ours out. A few people had already shuffled through the stack when it was handed to me. It was only then that I remembered the top item on the top page clearly stated "Catholic Faggot" in my handwriting (see previous jury duty entry for explanation). Nice.

We got to see the new high tech equipment 1st hand. Usually, if the judge asked or allowed counsel to approach the bench, they would converse in whispers. The court reporter had a set of headphones that connected to a mic on the judge's bench so she could take everything down, but the jury clearly wasn't supposed to hear what was discussed. On previous days, this had worked for the most part, but I'd be lying if I said I couldn't make out anything that was said. But, with the new hi tech courtroom, the judge could not only control the volume of all microphones in the courtroom (prosecution/defense tables, witness stand, etc), but activated a speaker above the jury box that played white noise while she was in discussions at the bench.

Witnesses on Day 3 were the victim and her mother. Victim testified as to where she and the defendant went that night (2 bar/restaurants, 1 one which I sometimes frequent) and detailed the events leading up to the assault. She also gave us some background info on how they met and came to date and some of his previous controlling/aggressive behavior. This included smashing her cell phone when she took a call from someone else and not allowing her to touch anything in his apartment. That night, she and the Defendant returned to his apartment, listening to music on the couch until she became tired and went to sleep. When she was unable to sleep because the music was too loud, she returned to the living room and turned off the stereo. So this is where the stereo comes in. He became enraged that she touched something without her permission. Might seem strange to some, but it is classic batterer behavior. Details of the assault aren't necessary here, but he attacked her. She was unable to get free until she bit him, but he caught and attacked again; she was unconscious when the police got there. She was upset at times on the stand, particularly when she had to look at photos of her injuries. She was noticeably irritated at times when the Defendant was cross examining her, and really, who could blame her. I couldn't help but wonder at one point if he had acted as his own counsel partly because she would have to talk to him one more time. I also think he was exceedingly arrogant in representing himself. I think he still felt justified in hitting her and thought a jury would have the same skewed outlook. The victim did have a court appointed victim advocate with her.

The victim's mother testified as to her daughter's appearance the day after the attack, after bruises had formed. The mother was the only witness that the Defendant did not cross-examine. The prosecution rested.

The defendant took the stand as a witness for the defense. He would be the only witness for the defense. Not only did he not have any character witnesses on his behalf, but I couldn't help but notice he never had a single observer sitting on his side of the courtroom to offer moral support. Including his mother, who we knew lives in town because it came up in previous testimony. Was the defendant going to ask himself questions, alternating between the witness box and the floor? He sat in the witness box and offered his testimony so that his version of events would be considered as evidence.

This is where I finally get to tell you about what I began calling in my head "the B.J.-Self
Defense" defense. He claimed that the victim was performing oral sex when he said the name of another girl. The victim became so upset that she bite him on his inner thigh and clamped on so hard and for so long that he had to hit her repeatedly to get her off him. Therefore, any injuries he inflicted were in self defense. But there were a lot of things he had to explain that we'd heard in court. The second attack that took place after she bit him and got away? Never happened. What about the slapping noises heard by the police? Could've been the cordless phone falling on the kitchen floor when it fell off the cradle after he called 911 (whatever). Why was he screaming about his stereo? After he was able to fight her off, he left her alone to calm down. He heard water running and discovered she had poured a glass of water into his stereo. The victim never turned off any music because there was no music because the neighbor testified under cross she hadn't heard any.

100 bucks says that stereo is still in his living room in perfect working condition.

The prosecutor cross examined the Defendant and was very merciful in my opinion. I think he realized that the jury would be more appreciative of a short cross examination than meticulously going through all of the inconsistencies of the Defendant's version of events (it would have been very easy for the prosecutor to do). The prosecutor did go through some of them: How was she able to scream and cry for help if her jaws her locked onto his leg? Why didn't he mention being attacked when he called 911? Why was he asking for help for her and not himself?

I have one I'd like to add: If there was no second attack and she was able to walk around pouring water onto stereos, how did she end up unconscious on the floor when the police arrived?

At some point during the defendant's testimony on Day Three, we ran out of time for the day and were given a time to return the on Day Four.

Day Four the jury showed up for service, but the Judge informed us that "there was an unexpected delay in the case" and we would resume the following day. We found out after the case was concluded that the delay was because the Defendant called in sick. But of course the judge couldn't tell us that at the time because it would've potentially biased the jury, some of whom were already very weary of how long the trial was taking.

Day Five we actually finished the rest of the Defendant's testimony and cross and rebuttal. Finally we got to closing arguments. Again, the prosecution was smart and kept things fairly short. And again, the defendant struggled to keep a concise train of thought and closing arguments carried over into Day Six. Day 5 was a Friday. The called the prosecutor and defendant to the bench where I think she may have given them the option of sequestering us. But, with the static coming out of the speaker, I can't be sure. All I know is that when she was done consulting with them, she told us "Not to worry. It's not like TV, you won't be sequestered over the weekend."

In his closing arguments, the Defendant tried to bring up some inconsistencies as grounds for reasonable doubt.

The red herrings that he tried to throw at us didn't really matter anyways.
He wanted us to accept the testimony of the neighbor having heard no music through the wall as valid, but at the same time dismiss her testimony that she heard a slap through the wall because that noise could've been "100s of things" and what can you really hear through the wall anyways?

He kept harping on the fact that the victim didn't initially testify in court that they had been kissing that night. Even though she did admit it under cross. She's a liar, she denied it. Um, no, she simply didn't mention it at first. Who wants to talk about kissing her attacker? Besides, what bearing does a kiss have on any of the charges?

He also harped on the fact that there were things she testified as not remembering. There were no glaring major gaps in her testimony, but details she did not remember. I think he wanted us to think she was drunk when it happened and not credible, but her testimony was very credible. Besides, any gaps in memory could be explained away by the fact she was unconscious at times. Not to mention she was having to recall a trauma 7 months after it happened and being questioned on the stand by the man who did it.

"I called 911 on her behalf! I was worried about her well-being. I said 'A friend' not 'Fred'". We did talk about this a during jury deliberations. Why did he call 911? The prosecution offered a theory in closing arguments: that he probably knew the neighbors could hear and thought he better try to get a different perception of events out there by calling 911 himself, yet be vague enough on the call so he could try to fill in the gaps later once he'd thought about it. I'm not sure the jury bought that, but thought he briefly scared himself enough that he was worried about what he was capable of doing if he didn't call. But why could police hear him hit her when they arrived? Was he really so stupid as to keep hitting her when he knew police would be coming? Apparently. I don't think the prosecutor ever tried to explain it. But when we talked about it during deliberations, the consensus was that he just couldn't control himself.

But I think what decided the case for me was this: Even if you were willing to accept his cock and bull story that she bit him unproked, the injuries she sustained far exceeded what would of been necessary for him to get her off of him. He is larger and stronger than her. And the law says that a person can defend him/herself until the threat of immediate danger are gone. If you continue to assault someone after that, it is no longer self defense. The only Self Defense that occurred that night was when she bit him to get him off of her.

We were finally given the case for deliberations the afternoon of Day five. The Judge gave us detailed instructions on our responsibilities and defined each element of all three charges. We would have to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of all elements of a charge to find him guilty of that charge. We, of course, had the option of finding him not guilty of all three, guilty of all three, or a mix. We were eventually dismissed into a deliberation room. We were provided with copies of the written instructions and definitions that the judge had given verbally, all state's and defense evidence exhibits if we chose to review them, and six verdict forms to be signed by the elected foreperson (guilty and not guilty version each of the three charges, only to sign the one that matched our decisions).

In the deliberation room, I was once again baffled as to why and how the Defendant chose this jury. The jury was 4 women and 2 men. Majority women on a domestic assault case? And I immediately felt relief when 2 other jurors admitted that too felt they wouldn't have been on this jury had the Defendant not represented himself. One of them is a psychologist who has testified repeatedly in Family court regarding family violence. And unlike my previous affiliation with the battered women's shelter, the Defendant knew that info about her during jury selection.

It may have been one of the shortest deliberations in history. And it would've been even shorter if they hadn't nominated me as foreperson. There was one juror in particular that made no attempt to conceal her desire to find him guilty of all charges and get out of there as soon as possible. Which made me a little nervous. Hey, I thought he was guilty too but felt we owed it to him to take our time and to the other jurors to each have their say. But when we went around the room, we all pretty much agreed immediately he was guilty. No one believed he acted in self-defense. Because the case was essentially he said/she said, there was a lot of conflicting testimony. Some believed certain elements more than others, but those details were insignificant when it came to an actual verdict. Regardless still caused fear and bodily harm to the victim. And no one contested the disorderly conduct. I figured he was guilty of that charge based on the neighbor's testimony alone, but the rest of jurors focused on his behavior towards the police.

At some point, I asked the room if they were really all comfortable having me as foreperson and were they okay with guilty verdicts on all three charges. They agreed and I signed the guilty papers. We informed the deputy outside the deliberation room and I guess she informed the court. It took awhile to be called into the courtroom. We took our same seats as usual in the jury box. The judge asked if we had selected a foreperson and reached a unanimous verdict. Lucikly, I didn't have to read the verdicts aloud myself. I presented the verdict sheets to the deputy and the Judge read them. But I messed up. I had only brought the signed forms with me and left the not guilty forms in the deliberation room. I had to go back to the room, walking right by the defendant, to retrieve them. The Judge read the verdicts, including my full name as the signature on the forms. I glanced over at the Defendant. He was pretty stonefaced. Judge said something about setting a time for sentencing and asked that the jury remain behind in the courtroom and everyone else was dismissed.

We were invited into the Judge's chambers. She thanked us for our service and said we could ask her any questions we might have. One juror asked what kind of sentence the defendant might receive. Turns out that the charges were 5th degree assault charges, a misdemeanor. The max is 90 days, but the Judge said she would give him less than that. If she gave him the max, then there is no option for additional probation and she said she "wanted to keep an eye on him for as long as we can." Someone else asked what had happened on Day Four and that is when we found out the Defendant had called in sick. One of the jurors seemed to scoff, but the Judge said she thinks he was mentally and physically exhausted from representing himself. I asked the Judge what she thought of our verdicts and she said she thought the evidence was certainly sufficient to find him guilty. Thankfully, someone else brought up the fact that he was uncomfortable with the Defendant knowing our names and cities we live in. Even though no contact info is put on the jury list, it would take all of ten seconds to find us on the internet. The Judge said she would ask for the jury list to be returned and include it in his probation to not contact any of us.

That thought had certainly crossed my mind and made me nervous and a woman who lives in a ground level apartment with another woman. It must have still been on my mind that night when I was home alone in bed and someone knocked on my window. It was the kind of thing where it is dark outside and I had lights on inside, so wouldn't be able to see anyone even if I did pull up the blinds, which I didn't want to do. I called out "Who's there?" while frantically looking around the room for potential weapons. No one answered my calls and then I remember that Allegra had just called to say she was on her way home. So I'm frantically trying to call her to tell her someone's outside the apartment and don't come home because he might be there when she opens the door to the apartment. Our neighbors upstairs were locked out so they had knocked on my window. But they didn't respond because then they saw Allegra pull up and she let them in. Sigh.

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