Wednesday. Alarm? I hate alarms, but there it is at 7:00 AM. The dog looks at me as I get up, rolls over and goes back to sleep. Shower, breakfast, dog fed and cuddled. No walks today. Drive the 30 minutes to Mercer. I really don’t want to be doing this!
The bailiff had shown us the jury room and the back stairs that we were to use to get to it. There was to be absolutely no contact with anyone else involved with the case, so I basically tip-toed up to the room on the third floor. Thermos of tea, chocolate. Some other jurors were already there, and this was the first chance I took to look at them, to size them up. Yellow “Juror” button on, sip of tea from my Thermos, idle chit chat. The tipstaff comes in to tell us she will come for us when everyone in the courtroom is ready, that it might be 10 minutes, might be an hour. Allrighty then. I get my knitting out. Knitting is great in a situation like this because I can look at people but still seem to be concentrating on knitting. I am uneasy, quiet, watching.
I start to take the measure of my fellow jurors, I want to see if any of them will be an asshole. The room is very small and stuffy, two windows looking out on the Mercer County countryside. The courthouse is on a hill, so we can see for miles. Chairs are comfortable, we have a coffee machine and a toilet we all have to share. Long table down the middle fills the room so our leather bottomed chairs are along the walls. Very close quarters. Courtroom is small. Damn! If I had to be on a jury, why couldn’t it be in one of the old fancy courtrooms? I sit along the inside wall so I can look out, fourth one down. Door on the right of me.
I knit, I listen, I talk quietly to the woman next to me. Black woman at the far end of the table, 30’s, prison guard, takes “Fifty Shades of Grey” from her bag. Drinks orange juice. Not loud, not ghetto, but she knows her shit. Only person to sit up to the table.
On her right; 30ish woman from Jamestown. Talks to woman next to her…they are friends, both from Jamestown…have kids in High School…both married when 18. They talk about the Lakeview basketball game the night before. Both have pleasant personalities. Been through some things in their lives…tough. They talk to “Basketball Guy”(as we came to know him)in the opposite corner of the room. Talk of the game. I join in and ask what the team’s chances are. We four talk basketball. Whoosh, that relaxes me a bit. I can fit in with one thing. I think I am the only teacher there…not sure how many have been to college, or are housewives.. I just watch, but try to speak when I can.
I keep knitting and listening. Still no word from the judge. What is taking so damn long? I go back to checking out the others. Woman next to the two from Jamestown is from Fredonia and could be trouble. Always has to have the last word, has no use for people who aren’t white, protestant and working. I sense a lot of resentment. Oh great, and the defendant is black.
The two women next to Fredonia Chick are same age as she, mid 70’s. Both talk quietly to each other, do not join in with any other conversations. They listen more than they talk. Pleasant faces. Housewives…husbands probably worked in the mills.
Man next to the two women is quiet, wonders when they will have a cigarette break. Grey hair, beard, could be a truck driver, late 40’s. Pleasant, calm face, nice smile. Probably is like me and would rather be anywhere else.
I keep knitting to fend off the claustrophobia. My mind is calm, but I feel the stress of all of it. The change in my daily ways, my shyness about meeting new people, uncertainty of what we will hear, and what will happen when we come to make a decision. I don’t want to let the stress build up…I know what can happen. That is the thing I am concerned about. Shit. I used the wrong pattern in this row. Not ripping it out, whoever gets this shawl will have to like it. Been in here a half hour. So glad I can look outside.
Woman next to Beard Guy knows the chicks from Jamestown. Her 14 year old daughter is having surgery on her feet today. She is concerned, but her mother and husband are with her daughter. She also talks about Lakeview basketball. Probably a Bar Chick…bit rough around the edges, been around…knows a few things..good, strong personality, like the Jamestown Chicks.
Black Chick talking to the Jamestown Chicks. Good sign.
Two men on my left are quiet. Basketball Guy sits next to me. In sales, father is not well, is tired of the cold.
Man next to Basketball Guy inspects pipelines. Not too upset to be here because of the snow and cold. He works outside all day. He looks forward to having a few days inside. He and Basketball Guy talk about deer hunting. Yup, I live in Pennsylvania.
So far everyone seems pleasant except for Fredonia Chick, who has an opinion on everything. I knit and wonder what will happen in the courtroom, how long this will take… I get up and use the toilet. Don’t want to have to wee when we go to the courtroom. I always worry about that. Just sip my tea. Have a bit of dark chocolate. Offer it to woman on my right.
Interesting to see how we all make an effort to get acquainted. I watch to see who listens, who smiles. The judge said yesterday he wanted us to bond. I wonder if keeping us in the jury room for so long this morning isn’t part of his plan. This judge knows exactly what he is doing. I will keep an eye on him.
Woman on my right works at Wal-mart. I am glad I am next to her. Think I might eat lunch with her. She seems shy, not used to “the city” Mercer has 4000 people. Husband raises Springers. I don’t want to get close to anyone here, just a feeling, but I think having someone to eat lunch with will be nice.
Still shy. I keep quiet and listen. Black Chick has started talking to Jamestown Chicks. Everyone is being polite and cautious, everyone but Fredonia Chick is a bit nervous. No one wants to be here. No one is complaining though. The process from the first day has worked. I wonder why it is that we follow orders so easily. But I always wonder that…think what would happen if I just left. No. Can’t Back to knitting to stay calm.
Young Black Guy is next to Wal-Mart Chick. Very, very quiet. Doesn’t drink anything, has no snacks, talks to no one. Not a gangbanger, not a professional. Heard him say to the Black Chick he does maintenance at Thiel College in Greenville. I wonder what he is thinking. I wonder what he thinks of the man on trial. We all must be thinking the same thing..and I think all but Fredonia woman will be fair. I could be wrong, but she keeps talking about “all these people on welfare”. Hmmm. I just keep knitting, talking a bit, glad I don’t wear a watch.
Last person on the jury is a man in his 80’s. He just sits and hums a bit. He is engaged!
I am very guarded, on edge, unsure of what will happen, unsure of the people I am with. Here comes the Tipstaff. “File in and sit where you sat yesterday. Don’t talk.” OK. Knitting put away. Shit! What pattern row was I on? Another mistake. Oh well. We stand, we get in order, we file into the courtroom and take our seats. OK. This is it. I’m on a jury. No one has told me there was a mistake and I can go home. I’m here. Juror #7. And I have to decide on what will happen to this man in front of me. It’s not something I want to do. All the other jurors are nervous, anxious…we all sit up straight. “All Rise!” The judge comes in. “You may all sit”. Shit. Hope I don’t embarrass myself! I’m on a jury! I can’t really comprehend that. Wonder what they would do if I just left, or threw up on Wal-Mart Chic sitting in front of me.
Young Black Dude is on my left. Beard Guy is on my right. Black Chick is behind me. This is new to all of us…wow.
Quiet, that’s what I notice…how quiet we all are. No one fidgets, coughs are muffled. So, what do we do? What happens? Here comes the Bailiff. Legal notepads and pencils. I wondered how we would keep track of things. “Each pad and clipboard are numbered. Make sure the number on your clipboard is correct.” Juror # 7, that’s me. “When you leave, the pad is to be placed face down on your seat.”
Judge Dobsen talks to us, I listen very carefully because I know I usually don’t, and I don’t want to mess up. “Don’t write too much. Keep one ear on what is happening while you write. The defendant is assumed to be innocent and does not have to testify either for or against himself.” Yeah…Fifth Amendment. Wow! Constitution! “The prosecution has to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that this man committed the crimes he is accused of. If they do not, if you have a reasonable doubt that this man is guilty, you cannot convict him. Mr. Kochems, you may begin.” Jeeze, I wonder what the evidence will be. OK…number the witnesses, number the evidence presented…keep track Caroline!.
Fidget a bit while the prosecution starts. No one around me looks anywhere but at the front. The judge has an inscrutable expression on his face.
Talk, talk, talk. Is any of this important? Little notes…will I be able to make sense of them at the end? All right. Clerk from the first robbery. Standard market in Ohio. Why this? He can’t be tried here for a crime committed in Ohio. Listen. #1 witness. Why the hell didn’t this girl take advantage of the education she was given so she didn’t have to work in a dinky store for minimum wage? That pisses me off to see people waste their lives. OK…two men…black, white…shotgun…$56.00…ran out. No car visible. Made to lie down on the floor. Didn’t see the face of the Black man. Two clerks? Where is the other one? Missing witness? Odd.
Video. Really? You’ve had a year to prepare and you can’t get the video to work? Look around…um…have no patience for this…judge, lawyers..all just sit and watch the assistant DA ..what…stand and watch the computer screen. Minutes…lots of minutes…I have a trip to plan! Wonder if I can volunteer to do the video. Why is the TV all the way across the room from us? We murmur. Judge shushes us. Jamestown Bar Chick pipes up quietly…”we can’t see because of the glare. Can you close the curtains behind the TV?” Bailiff obliges on Judges orders. Nothing happens unless the judge orders. WE all murmur thank you.
Valance is crooked. Black Chick ‘hmmmms’ about that. I smile.
Finally…video. One frame at a time. Look carefully, look at the defendant…his face is completely covered! Black shirt, black pants…this could be any black man…I can’t tell. I can’t say the man in the video is the defendant!
Defense…Stanley Booker. Nervous…does this thing with his lips…can the clerk ID the robber as the defendant? No. Duh…of course she can’t!
Witness #2. Arthur Novel. Seventeen at the time of the robberies. Nineteen now. Arthur Novel…one of the other robbers called to the stand. Blah, blah, blah… “Yes, Defendant and I robbed the Standard Market. He and Jeff went to a bar. I waited outside. I tried to rob McQuaid’s in Farrell alone, but I was laughed out of the store. Shawn made me do it. He threatened me. (uh huh…little twerp Wait…if Jeff was his mentor…why did he let Shawn threaten him? No sense.). Jeff and I robbed the Circle K in West Middlesex. Shawn(defendant)drove. Blah, blah, blah. I snorted three bars of Xanax the day of the robberies and smoked some weed. Jeff smoked weed too. So did I…just before we drove to Brookfield to get Shawn.(jury stirs…’What is a bar of Xanax? No, you can’t ask questions..Judge looks amused at us..Booker asks Art to tell us what a ‘bar of Xanax’ is. Piss ant drug. White boy drug.)
Booker on cross. “Plea deal? Is this the first version of your statement? Your fourth? Explain why you changed your story. Did Ed’s wife send a letter to you in jail to say the black man’s name was Shawn? Oh, she did. Where is that letter?(Black chick-prison guard behind me coughs..judge looks at her and ..was that a smile?) Your mother made you turn yourself in? Where was your mother the day of the robberies? The Mustang Bar in Mercer. (Jamestown bar chick giggles. We all smile. I think Artie is going to cry) What has the DA promised you? Oh really? Nothing? (Black Chick murmurs ‘Uh huh’) That’s all I have for this witness Your Honor”
Booker is good. I believe Arthur is telling the truth…but where is Jeff’s wife then? Evidently jeff is dead. So…Arthur’s testimony is all they have? Oh.
Witness #3 from the Circle K. Wait! No witnesses from McQuaids? No video? What bar had they stopped in? Had to be the Lighthouse…wouldn’t have been a ghetto bar in Farrell…they would have stuck out. Great witness, but…Jeff and Arty robbed the Circle K…not Shawn…no sign of Shawn in the video. So……watch the video…Jeff and Arty.
Witness #4. Cop from West Middlesex. “Yeah, we knew right away it was Jeff.” On and on about Jeff and Artie…but not a word about Shawn. I sit back. Four witness and no direct evidence against Shawn except the suspect testimony from Artie. Shit! I have reasonable doubts! I can’t vote to convict! I have seen tons of evidence against Jeff and Artie..and only suspect testimony against Shawn. I know he’s guilty! Artie drew a map to Shawn’s house for the cops when he turned himself in. I know where that apartment is. But…you can’t tell who the black man is in the Standard Market…and there is no car or black man at the Circle K. Shit. Oh damn. Nothing at all from McQuaids. What if we can’t all decide…what if I’m back here next week? Shit, shit, shit. Lunch break.
Talk to Wal-mart Chick. Walk to Sheetz’s for a sandwich. She is unfamiliar with traffic lights. Nice woman. Get our food and eat on a bench on the bottom floor of the courthouse, yellow badges displayed. Second husband. First husband was abusive. She finally got the courage to leave him, met her second husband at a bar…been married twenty years. Helped raise her kids. Loves meeting the people in Wal-Mart.
Back to the Jury room. Talk of basketball, Black Chick is joshin with Old Guy. Asking him about his Fiance. Cool. Jamestown Bar Chick, Pipeline Guy and Basketball Guy talk about hunting coyotes and how old they were when they got their first gun. I can talk about that. No one discusses the case. Fredonia Chick is spouting off about welfare queens. Why is there always one.
Back in. We know our order now so we wait for each other before we line up. One more robbery. Stand. Sit. Court in session.
Cop from Greenville. Pictures from Veado’s Mrket of a white Neon. Photos from Ed’s apartment of a white Neon. On and on..OK..it’s the same one. We see the rust stains. We see the wheels. Burns oil…see the black by the tail pipe. I get it…same car. But wait. The night pictures weren’t taken at Veado’s. Then where? From the farm store up the road. White Neon goes down the road at 10:22. White Neon comes back up the road at 10:40. Is there a picture of the Neon at Veado’s? No. Um…so what does this prove, and did we have to take a damn hour on it? I want a picture of the Neon at Veado’s!
Witness #5 Clerk from Veado’s. Black man robbed her. Face covered. No, she can’t say that Shawn is the man who robbed her. You go Booker! So…what proof other than a picture of a white Neon driving down the road???
Video from Veado’s. Tall, skinny black man. Black jeans and shirt. Can’t see face. I want to see these videos again! I want to see them closer.
That’s it for day 2. Sit in the jury room while court is cleared. Talk of going to the game. Too far away for me. I just want to take a bath and have a glass of wine. So very tiring to sit and concentrate all day. Will they finish tomorrow? Tipstaff says they might. Then we deliberate. Tipstaff says to tell everyone we might be very late tomorrow because once we start to deliberate we stay until we have a verdict. Shit! Have to arrange for someone to take care of Maggie in case… Not happy at all.