Judge is finished. We walk to the jury room. Order lunch. What kind of pizza. I suggest one of each. OK. Pop. That’s done. We all wait till the tipstaff leaves. The physical evidence is brought in. The pictures, Arthur’s testimony. Do I volunteer? Don’t have to…. Black Chick speaks. “It’s the teacher.” She points at me and smiles. I knew we’d bonded…even though we hadn’t spoken much…just knew. Jamestown Girls repeat what Black Chick said. “It’s you. None of us want it.” I smile. “I’ll take it unless someone else…” Black Chick stops me. “Let’s vote. All in favor of Caroline being the Foreperson raise your hand.” Fredonia chick raises her hand glumly. I knew she wanted it. Old Guy is confused, thinks they want him to do it. Young Black Guy whispers to him. “Oh! OK then. The teacher.” Wal-Mart Chick pokes me and smiles…OK
I know how red my face is. OK Lets get to it. I have to make sure this is done fairly and that no one is pressured to vote one way or another and that each person has a say in it without Fredonia Chick taking over. How? OK….I’ll read the charges. Elaine said when she was foreperson she just started with a vote. I don’t want to do that. We can’t. We have to discuss the evidence. Would be easier though. I read the charges. Fredonia Woman starts spouting about welfare. Upscale Jamestown Chick says “That’s right, but we have to just go on the evidence presented to us here.” Nice. I have back-up.
No one is in a hurry to rush this. Wow. “Let’s take a minute and look over our notes before we begin.” They do! OK Now what? I look over my notes. Everyone is quiet. I smile. How cool is this? Here we all are…only the Jamestown Chicks knew each other…and here we are…no one is rushing…I still don’t have an idea of how to proceed…there are only twelve of us. One jamestown Chick and Pipeline Guy are in the courtroom as alternates….but the group has some strong, good people…all of them but Fredonia Chick. They are concerned with doing the right thing..not worried about time. It won’t be a matter of me ‘leading’ them(which I don’t want to do), but of some sort of ‘herding cats’ approach. OK…here goes.
“I want to see the videos again” says Black Chick. Everyone says yes!! Only we want to see it close up. I open the door and call the tipstaff. “Yes, we want to see the videos. No, not the one of the Neon at night.” She comes into the room. Jamestown Bar Chick looks up from her notes. “We want to see them up close, so tell the judge he either moves that TV in front of us or we stand in front of it.” We all nod. Tipstaff says she will see what can be done. Wal-Mart Chick says the Young Black Guy should be able to figure how to move the tv over if the lawyers can’t. She gives him a little punch on the arm. We all smile. Love how she is getting him onto the group. Tipstaff leaves.
Things aren’t organized yet… I let them go…can’t be pushy…have to give everyone a say…but have to organize things in my head…very organic process.
Basketball Guy asks to see the jeans and the bandannas. We get all the physical evidence out while we wait for lunch. No one is in a hurry to make a decision. Everyone but Fredonia Woman seems to be in the process of organizing evidence and looking to see if guilt was proven. Upscale Jamestown Chick shyly asks Young Black Guy to stand with the jeans in front of him…then turn around so we can see if the t-shirt exposes the pockets. OK…Lunch.
Discussion continues. I slowly begin to take charge of the discussion…but not strictly. I will be a guide…and evenI still haven’t decided on which way I will vote. I want to make sure I don’t influence anyone’s decision. We look at our notes, pass the pictures around. We ask the Tipstaff for more pop.
I begin to feel that most of us have doubts, that the Prosecution proved the white guys were guilty, but didn’t really give us the goods on Shawn. Fredonia Woman will be different…and not because of evidence…because she made up her mind when she saw he was black. I can’t pressure her…what argument can I use… Old Guy is not really with it. I have to make sure he understands why people think a certain way. I won’t have a vote until we have all had our say.
Tipstaff comes in. Videos are ready.
Oh! They moved the TV right in front of us. We all have our legal pads for notes. Damn prosecutor’s intern can’t get the vids to play at the right point. Judge looked bemused when we came in…as if he was proud of us for demanding to see the vids close up. Interesting. Now he just looks exasperated at the Prosecution. He has this half grin when he looks at us.
Yes, we want to see all the videos I say. Might as well speak. “Play that part again” says Jamestown Bar Chick. We all lean forward. “Again” Four times we watch the Standard Market vid. We want to see the tears in the hems of the jeans. We will go back and check them again. I love that we are assertive, but polite. We’ve sat here in silence for three days and had to remain passive. Yes, we were told by the judge the one time we couldn’t ask questions of the witnesses…and I know it frustrated us all. Many good, strong personalities on this jury, and we want to make sure we do what is right. So now we have a little power. “Play it again. No, farther back. That’s it.” Lean forward. “Can you slow it down? OK. Well, show it again then.”
“No, we don’t want to see the video of the Neon driving along 18.” Prosecutor looks up suddenly, quizzically. We watch each vid three-four times. We have specific reasons to watch each vid. This has made up my mind. There is an overabundance of proof against the two white guys. The only evidence against Shawn is the torn jeans and Arthur’s testimony…his fourth version. Booker did his job. Damn.
We watch the video of the Veado’s robbery four times. I know what the rest are thinking. We can’t tell who the man is. It could be our Quiet Black Dude. The evidence isn’t there. I look at the judge, he nods and asks us if there is another video we want to see. We all shake our heads. I say no. Everyone but the judge stands as we file back into our jury room and take our seats.
I let everyone go to the toilet. The tipstaff has brought more pop and some ice. We all get something to drink. Small talk, but I feel that there is agreement amongst most of us. Oh yeah, I’m nervous, but I have backup. The Jamestown Chicks feel as I do. So does Wal-Mart Chick and Black Chick. When we had lunch with one of the Quiet ladies yesterday she made the comment that Booker was doing a great job. Old Guy doesn’t really have a clue. Basketball Guy is reasonable. Trucker ….I don’t know.
I have to start. I have to get this done. How? I have seconds to come up with a process, with a plan. I know…I say to myself…make sure no one is pressured. Make sure everyone has their say. Whichever way they decide to vote…and this just comes to me…they have to be able to back it up with evidence. We can’t convict if the evidence against this one man is not there. But, we all know he is guilty. I have to present that idea…I have to get all twelve disparate people to agree.
How? I don’t think the evidence is there. Too much talk back and forth. I can’t let Fredonia Chick talk anymore. She interrupts. She doesn’t listen. I will have to ask her if she votes guilty to show us the evidence. I use a teacher voice…
They all get quiet and look at me. I honestly don’t know if I am up to this challenge. I don’t know how this will turn out. I’m shaking inside…nervous as hell. But …
How to do this. When we came in we all sort of slumped in our seats. The vids didn’t show us anything to convict Shawn. Upscale Jamestown Chick made the comment that the evidence just wasn’t there. Black Chick said the same.
I take the three sheets with the charges on them and start. Fredonia Chick interrupts…I ask her(in a teacher voice…I can’t let her take over the process)to let me finish…that everyone will get a chance to speak when we go around and vote. She shuts up and sits back. Good sign.
I read the first charge. I look around and ask what evidence we have to show Shawn is guilty of this…the robbery at the Circle K. We all look at each other. Fredonia woman blurts out, “Well, he just did it!” I look at her and ask…point blank…and nicely..lets look at the evidence and find proof he was there, driving the getaway car. I go over the evidence. “Was Shawn on the Circle K video? Was there a shot of the Neon at the Circle K? Was there anything at all other than Arthur’s suspect testimony to show Shawn was there? Do you have doubts that Shawn was there?” We are all frustrated, but this has to be done, I know now, in this analytical way. This keeps the emotion out of our decision. We can’t find evidence beyond a doubt that he was at the Circle K. Shit.
Straight up…read the charge…get the evidence out and see if we have what we need to convict.
I read the charge again and I start. “Listen, I think he did it. I know he did it, and there is nothing I would like more than to vote ‘guilty’. But I don’t see any evidence to prove beyond a doubt that he did it. He is presumed innocent. We have to follow the law and the judge’s instructions. Other than Arthur’s testimony there is nothing to put him at the Circle K that night. I vote not guilty because I don’t see the evidence(I stress the word ‘evidence’)to convict him.”
I start with Basketball Guy. We are twelve now. I tell him to vote however he wants, but to show us the evidence…that we would all love to see the evidence we need. He sighs and says “Not guilty. The prosecution didn’t prove he was at the Circle K.” Jamestown Bar Chick says the same…adds how angry she is that the Prosecution didn’t do their job. The two Quiet Ladies quietly say not guilty. That’s all they say.
Fredonia Woman. “Well, I know he’s guilty. We all know…” Black Chick interrupts her. “We all know he did it! We all want to convict him, and let me tell you, he”l be back in jail before the year is out. I’ll see him on my cell block. But unless the evidence is there…” I start, “Please!” I move the pictures in front of her. “Just find the evidence and we will all vote to convict!” I want her to feel part of us. I don’t want to alienate her or belittle what she has to say because then we will never reach a verdict. I have to walk a fine line between placating her and using peer pressure to get her to see what I’m saying. Wal-Mart Chick speaks up. “She’s right! The prosecution didn’t give us the evidence we need to convict! I wish they did! We all know he did it. But he is innocent until proven guilty, like the judge said. Show us the evidence to prove that…because I don’t see it.”
That was great. Jamestown Bar Chick says the same. I know we are pressuring her, but she isn’t ever going to judge Shawn on the presented evidence. She is always going to want to do her own thing. This is the pivotal point here. I ask her again…plead with her…butter her up a bit…not too much…show us the evidence here in this room and we will all vote to convict. Black Chick says “Amen!!” The two Quiet Ladies nod their heads. Wal Mart Chick asks the Young Black Guy what he thinks. “Evidence isn’t there.”
Fredonia Woman really just cares about spouting off. I know she didn’t listen at all in the courtroom. I ask her again to find the evidence to convict. If she did, I would vote to convict! It isn’t that I think I’m all that right…I’m not happy about this. I tell her that.
She sighs and votes Not Guilty. We finish with the first charge. Seven more to go.
For each charge I read it, give my opinion, and start with a different person each time to vote. I tell them to tell us why they vote the way they do. I ask them to talk as much as they want. I want each of them to be equally important. I think…where is this coming from? Am I doing this the right way? Am I pressuring these people to vote a certain way? Should we have a secret ballot? No. We, for some reason, have bonded…all but Fredonia Woman…I think this is a good way to do this. What do I know?? I am just trying to be as fair as possible. Please! If you see evidence to convict…show us! Don’t listen to me…do what you see as right on the evidence.
We finish the Circle K charges. Not Guilty on all three. Fredonia Woman has to have her say on each charge, but we all know the rhythm to this now. She spouts her hate, then I ask her to show us the evidence…Black Chick reassures her that we all think he is guilty…she votes Not Guilty.
On to McQuaids. Two charges. There was no video from there, or witnesses…and Arthur said he did it alone anyway. So…why was Shawn charged? Oh. “Terroristic threats against Arthur”. Jamestown Chicks laugh. “Yeah, Arty boy sat outside the Lighthouse in July in a car without air conditioning. Oh, they had to be at the Lighthouse…it’s right across the street from McQuaids. They ain’t goin’ down to the bars in Farrell…they’d be laughed out of them.” Black Chick concurs. “Arty was in the Lighthouse drinkin’ with the older guys and thought he would show what a big man he is so he walked over to McQuaids with the shotgun. Didn’t he say they laughed at him? Shiiit. He’s lucky they didn’t shoot him then and there. All those Arab boys is armed. Arty is damn lucky to be alive. What drugs did he do that day? Xanax? Piss ant drug. Shiiiit.”
Not Guilty on the charge of terroristic threats.
Last one. Veado’s. Trucker is fed up with the prosecution. I let him have his say…he speaks for all of us…gets out his frustration. We have three charges to go. I don’t want to rush, and I feel that I am. I stop everything and get the Veado’s pictures out. We go over what we saw in the videos. That was the video we watched to see if the robber wore the jeans with the tears in the hems. He did not. We review what we have. We discuss the Neon. Yes, that was the robbers driving to rob Veado’s…but is there any evidence that puts the Neon at Veado’s? Pictures? Testimony? The other white guy is dead. Suicide by cop. What about the rose he bought for his wife?
The testimony of the chick from Arby’s? We get sidetracked. She said she went to the car to talk to Jeff while Shawn waited in the store. Her name tag was ‘lost’ in the backseat of the Neon? Uh huh. Black Chick snorts. “Oh, she was usin’ her mouth all right, but not for talkin’.” We all nod. What was that about? Was she jealous of Jeff’s wife? The prosecution can’t find her?
“Bullshit.’ says upscale Jamestown Chick. We nod. The men are suddenly quiet. Upscale Jamestown Chick elaborates, “She had a baby to Jeff and they can’t find her? Oh HELL no! She’s on Facebook. She has to get Welfare and food stamps. She’s from Greenville? Betcha she’s still around there. She ain’t going anywhere away from her family. Maybe Transfer or Reynolds, but…give me a day and I could find her. Someone knows where she is. Arthur knows where she is.”
“Is this enough evidence to prove Shawn is the guy in Veado’s?” I ask. I can see them all think…then Black Chick speaks. “No. It could be anyone. I know it’s Shawn, but from the video and the clerk’s testimony, we cannot say for sure it’s Shawn. We have no proof they stopped the Neon at Veado’s. We just don’t.”
I start on the last three charges. Not Guilty on all three. I get no sense that people are voting not guilty just to be done and go home. No one is restless. No one wants to hurry. I go over all eight charges one more time and ask for a general yes or no to the Not Guiltys. All twelve of us say yes. I open the door and tell the tipstaff we have decided. We have a verdict. We started at 10:00. It is 4:00 now.
I feel that we did the right thing by the law. I take my time to write ‘Not Guilty’ for each charge. I have to sign my name. Oh.
We file in. The verdict papers are given to the judge. Black Chick pokes me in the back. “You get to read them!” I know. Face is red again.
The judge gives them to the bailiff and he to me. I look at him for instructions. He nods. “Jury foreperson shall stand and read the verdicts.” OK Is that sweat down my back? I stand. I look at the judge. “Should I read everything?” He nods. I begin.
I don’t really remember reading the charges. I don’t look at anyone. Not Shawn, Booker, the Prosecutors or the Judge. I finish. The Bailiff takes the papers and gives them to the court reporter(who is awake for once…it seems).
Judge asks if the Prosecution wishes to poll the jury. He does. I look at him…he seems shocked. Why? He didn’t do his damn job! We had to vote to let a guilty man go free! He should have done his job!.
The judge asks us by our numbers. “Juror number 1, do you agree with each and every verdict?” “Yes.” They get to Juror number 7…me…”Yes”. Unanimous.
Judge dismisses Shawn. Tells him he is free to go. The deputy unlocks his handcuffs. He looks at us, I don’t think anyone looks at him. The judge clears the courtroom and comes over to talk to us. We all relax…we have so much to say to him!
“You did the right thing, all of you. The prosecution didn’t prove the defendant was guilty. The prosecution did not do their job.” He looks disgusted…this was a waste of all of our time…and a guilty man is free. All because of the incompetence of people I vote for! Not next election. We all start talking…Black Chick speaks for all of us. I have said enough today.
“What the…what was wrong with them? They had all this proof about the white boys, and nothing that showed Shawn was guilty. Come on judge, we all knew he did it, and we wanted to convict him, but we weren’t given the stuff to do it with!”
Judge smiles. He talks and talks about the Prosecutor…we ask why his assistant was so bad…he laughs and says she has a lot to learn…she sure does we say..we talk about the problems with the video, that they need to move it closer to the juries…he tells us we’re the first jury he’s ever had ask to have the screen moved closer…he had a chuckle about that…that he knew we were serious and would do a good job. We tell him to go tell the prosecutor what we’ve said, that we want criminals convicted. He tells us the other white guy, the dead one…was raped by his father when he was a boy. We get very quiet. Judge tells us he had hoped the dead guy would get it together, but that he was too wounded.
Arthur? Another lost boy. Who knows what had happened to him. And Shawn? Probably the same.
I just think…if these kids had mill jobs to go to…where they could make a living wage…but…not the time.
We talk a little longer. The judge thanks us. We get our coats and walk out…for most of us to never see each other again.
What struck me about this experience is how regular people can step up and do extraordinary things. I know it was about three petty criminals, three lost boys…and the crimes were for a few hundred dollars,but we all took it as a serious thing…our job to maintain the justice system…to give Shawn a fair trial based on law and evidence. I watched people struggle to make sure they looked at all the evidence, at people who listened to each other, who respected each other…who became a unit. But then we all left and went home to vacation plans, children who had been through surgery. It was also amazing that the two alternate jurors stayed all day. They couldn’t be in the jury room with us, but they wanted to see it through to the end…and in the end they sat with us and we were 14 again.
We were all just regular people…the people who are never asked about things…the people who make everything right. The people who serve.