Lesson 8: The Debriefing

The trial is over, Dear Reader.  If you haven’t been reading this series of Lessons, you might want to begin at the beginningsince what follows will be a bit of a SPOILER.
The judge invited the jury back into the courtroom for a debriefing once everyone else had left.  The lawyers and the detective who had assisted the prosecution remained so that we could ask questions and get clarification on issues raised in the trial, issues we couldn’t research or read about, such as DNA testing—and more specifically how much DNA is enoughDNA.
The defendant, July 2011

One of the first things we discussed was the absence of DNA on the red jacket, and we told the judge and the prosecutor we determined the defendant must have worn a hoodie under the jacket as we could see something pointy on his head and assumed it was a hood or ski mask.  The lawyers and judge chuckled and shook their heads—and the judge handed the bailiff his laptop for us to look at.  There was a picture of the defendant at his first court appearance sporting a very different hairdo than the one he wore for the trial: Well, the photo certainly explained the pointy head in the video, and I felt much better about the conviction.  Still, I wondered why we couldn’t have seen this picture during the trial as it sure would have made our decision easier.  But I think we all breathed a huge sigh of relief when we finally did get to see this photo.  We’d convicted the right person.
We asked about the DNA and if one nanogram was enough DNA for a conviction.  Turns out that touch DNA (i.e. DNA gathered from touch rather than from blood, semen, or other bodily fluids) is quite a new technology and one nanogram is quite a lot.  What about the possibility that the DNA jumped from the paper envelope containing the defendant’s sample DNA to the paper envelope in which the pieces of latex gloves resided?  Why didn’t law enforcement agencies utilize plastic tamper-proof envelopes?  The  prosecutor explained that they had, once, used plastic, but the evidence contained within had putrified in transit, ruining their entire case.  No agencies anywhere used plastic envelopes for just this reason.  Makes so much more sense now, I thought.  If only I’d thought of that.
We then discussed the glasses, which had played a pivotal role in our decision-making.  The defense lawyer had another engagement and wasn’t there to answer our questions, but the prosecutor told us that he hadn’t even considered the glasses until the defense attorney brought them up in his closing arguments when he pointed out that it was impossible to see glasses in the video, that the gray face we could see clearly did not have glasses on it.  But our review of the video indeed confirmed the presence of glasses on the suspect’s face.  The defense’s mention of the glasses allowed the prosecutor to address the issue further in his final comments to the jury.  Immediately I had to wonder if the defense attorney had handed us the case in that moment.  Did he know his client was guilty?  Did he want us to know as well?
One of the jury’s primary concerns during the trial had been for the little boy, the defendant’s and murder victim’s seven year-old son.  The prosecution assured us he was being well-taken care of by his mother’s family in Missouri; he was receiving counseling and lots of love.  Still, his new status as an orphan would be with him forever, and when he learned the details of the crime later in life, how would he deal with the knowledge that his father killed his mother in cold blood?  Life for the boy was not going to be easy, but we all felt better knowing he was with his mother’s family.
Why had no one from the defendant’s family shown up at the trial?  As we considered the sides of the courtroom each day, it became clear that the defendant was pretty much on his own; no support system, no friends or co-workers testified in his defense.  Turns out he had about eight other girlfriends, besides the ones who had testified against him, and he was a product of the foster-care system.  No time for friends, obviously, and no family. 
The prosecutor felt certain the defendant was a psychopath, he told us.  He was also sure that the crazy girlfriend, aka CFCP, was next on the defendant’s list of women to kill, given that in his pickup truck the cops found a shovel, a huge roll of plastic wrap (like that used to wrap things onto pallets), lighter fluid, and buckets. I pondered this information—it could explain why, upon conviction, the defendant didn’t even flinch.  He didn’t cry out or tear up.  He stood without emotion as the court clerk read the verdict. 
One juror asked what the prosecutor thought about CFCP, how he could trust what she said, and he shared with us that he did think she was nuts, but that her craziness stemmed from being abused as a child.  He told us that the first time he met with her, he walked out in frustration as her comments and answers to questions were all met with airy-fairy psychobabble rather than facts.  When she attempted suicide he told us, she was serious, cutting deeply and vertically up both wrists.  Her need to be loved and needed surpassed her common sense, and “Monster” was indeed a protector and not capable of murder.
What sort of sentence would the defendant face, now that we had convicted him of first degree murder with the special circumstance of being committed with a firearm?  The death penalty?  Life in prison without parole? I am not a fan of the death penalty—too many innocent people have been murdered by the state at great expense to the taxpayers.  I have long had a fear of being unwrongly convicted of a crime and being sentenced to death (I know, weird, right?), and can not imagine being led to the execution chamber.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.  Killing someone will not bring the murder victim back.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think televisions and air conditioning have a place in prisons either.  Punishment should be punishing.  But who are we to decide if someone lives or dies? 
Turns out the maximum penalty the defendant could get would be around 30 years in prison, an extra five for the commission of the crime with a firearm.  With parole and time off for good behavior he could be out in twenty or fewer.  Somehow that sentence did not seem severe enough.  What was the criteria for a harsher sentence?  The prosecutor told us that in his 40 years practicing law, he’d had only two death penalty cases:  Kenneth Bianchi (who ultimately ended up in the California penal system) and some guy who had driven a spike through his daughter’s head. 
As we left the courthouse, a few of my co-jurors stopped me and thanked me for my “bravery.”  One asked me if I was going to be “okay” and said she was worried for me.  I have to say, this sort of attention surprised me, and I didn’t quite know what to make of it all.  My intention going in had been to make sure this guy, presumed innocent at the outset, got a fair hearing.  I wanted to make sure we did not convict him based on feelings or prejudice, that we not jump to conclusions.  The thought of sending an innocent person to prison, or worse, weighed heavily on me.  So did the possibility of letting a killer go unpunished.   
The defendant would be sentenced the following week, and the bailiff promised to let us know in case we wanted to be in court for it.  I doubted my work would pay for me to attend the sentencing, so I let it go. 
He ended up getting 32 years.  I still don’t know what one has to do to merit a life without parole sentence.  And as white-collar criminals get lifetime sentences for fraud and the like, I do have to wonder about our priorities as a nation. 
Lesson 8:  The system works when we all participate.

Lesson 7

Welcome back to the courthouse, Dear Reader.  SPOILER ALERT! If you’ve not been reading the Lessons, you might want to read Lessons 1-6.5 before launching into this one.
On our second day of deliberations, I found myself on the receiving end of many anxious sideways glances.  Even the reasonable people seemed to have taken my incessant questions as a sign that I would be a lone holdout, either keeping us in deliberations for days or causing a mistrial.  I had left the building after our first day of deliberations in a bit of a quandary, so I spent the evening thinking about the evidence. 
We took another vote, this time just by raising our hands, and I was the only one who voted not guilty.  One woman demonstrated her equivocation by tilting one hand back and forth, like a see saw, but only I raised my hand to definitively vote “not guilty.”  I still wanted to talk about reasonable doubt and the evidence.  I reminded  them that the girlfriend clearly had mental and emotional issues and that she actually had confessed and had lied about other things.  So, we pondered the evidence we had without Cuckoo For Cocoa Puff’s testimony.  We still had the following:
  1. ·      CFCP’s car was at the scene of the murder at the approximate time of the murder
  2. ·      A dark-skinned man exited that car and walked down the street toward the murdered woman’s apartment.  Carrying an object that appeared to be a largish gun.
  3. ·       The defendant and the murdered woman were getting a divorce and the defendant might lose custody of his son.
  4. ·      The other girlfriend had heard the defendant say he would have to murder his wife in order to keep custody of his son.
  5. ·       The defendant’s DNA was on the glove found at the murder scene.

Headlines tell us everyday what a huge risk it is to be a woman getting a divorce and how that risk increases exponentially if a custody battle exists as well.  Besides, what were the odds that CFCP knew another dark-skinned man and asked him to kill her boyfriend’s wife?  And why, if she did ask someone to kill the woman, would she then throw the defendant under the bus instead of the actual killer?  Clearly she loved the defendant. 
We discussed more about the DNA “expert” and the chances of the DNA actually jumping from the swab to the finger of the glove found at the scene.  We did not actually know if the two packages were close together during transport to the Washington State Patrol crime lab.  Why didn’t the DNA jump also onto the red jacket? And if using plastic bags was really the better standard, why didn’t more agencies employ the practice?  Only one state in 50 actually required evidence to be sealed into plastic/impervious envelopes.
The longer we discussed, the fewer doubts I had about the defendant’s guilt. I knew I had to vote to convict the defendant.  However, everyone else on the jury seemed to expect me to vote not guilty. I could tell.  They told me they admired my strength.  They cocked their heads and addressed me as they might a stubborn child.   By this time, it was nearly 11:30, so we decided to take another vote before the lunch break.  We raised our hands again, and this time I voted guilty. 
We convicted him dear reader.  And I was not without my qualms, but my reasoning won out.  I maybe had a bit of doubt, but I was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.  My doubts began to seem quite unreasonable to me in the face of the evidence.  I think my doubts ran the gamut of the normal doubts one might have knowing that they held the balance of someone’s life in their hands.  As a Gemini, I can always see both sides of an issue or a story.  I tend to sympathize with the underdog, and I abhor unfairness.
We let the bailiff know we had reached a verdict, and everyone assembled in short order.  As we filed back into the courtroom and took our seats in the jury box, I felt confident.  And powerful.  Only the twelve of us knew the verdict.  The rest of the people in the courtroom could only speculate.  The foreman handed the verdict to the court clerk.  The court clerk opened the folder and read the verdict aloud:  “On the charge of murder in the first degree, we find the defendant guilty.”  We also agreed that the murder had been committed with a gun (seemed pretty obvious), and that it had occurred in Washington State (also obvious) which meant the sentence would be more severe.
One by one the court clerk asked if indeed we had reached this verdict and if it was our actual verdict.  We each said “it is.”  And with that, they handcuffed the defendant and led him away to await sentencing, which, mercifully, was not our issue.  The judge thanked us and told us we were free to go, that we could receive counseling should we be in any way traumatized by this trial, and that we were welcome to stick around for a debriefing with the lawyers and the judge.
I decided to stay.  I needed some closure.  I needed to be sure.
Lesson Seven: Occam’s Razor, lex parsimoniae:  the simplest answer is often the correct answer.

Lesson 6.5

We interrupt this story to bring you details from the past two weeks.  Taylor graduated from high school and made the honor roll in this, her final semester.  Parties ensued. 

Two grads and their  Proud Mama
Nancy and Pam actually went to Mexico to celebrate Taylor’s graduation (Taylor and Pam were originally scheduled to go, but that’s another story).  Pam and Nancy completely enjoyed their time on the Nayarit coast, visiting with Dad and Marilyn, swimming in the warm warm ocean, and dining on really great Mexican food.  Then they went to Puerta Vallarta, got stopped by the Police, got extorted for $50, bought some vanilla, had to check a bag for another $50 so they could actually get the vanilla home as it weighed more than three ounces and could not be carried on. 

Yesterday, Pam and Nancy drove to Sea-Tac and got a hotel room so Nancy could make her early morning flight to Alaska where she is going to cook for two months (read about that adventure here:  http://runrambleon.blogspot.com/Unfortunately on the way to Sea-Tac, Pam changed lanes while doing the slow crawl into Seattle from Northgate and rammed her beautiful black Jeep Wrangler into a crappy little 1980s vintage Toyota pick up truck.  Fortunately, damage to the Jeep was minimal. 
Unfortunately, the Toyota got a really big dent all down the driver’s side.  Fortunately the guy in the Toyota was very, very nice and did not shoot Pam or Nancy.  Unfortunately, Pam got a big fat ticket for an “unsafe lane change.”  Ugh.
We felt like crap after that experience, and we were ravenous, so we went out to dinner at 13 Coins, which was awesome, and we bought a super cool electric pepper grinder that has a light on it! 
Nancy got on the plane to Alaska.  I drove to work.  At this point, I know she’s made it as far as Anchorage.  I’m waiting for the call that tells me she has made it all the way to Chignik Bay Adventures.
The past few days have been tumultuous and full of change.  Writing took a back seat.  But, it’s time to settle down into a routine for the next two months.  So, here’s Lesson 6.5 (of what, it turns out, will be a total of 8.5).
Lesson 6.5:  Shit happens.  Resistance is futile.

Lesson Six

Lesson Six–in which we begin deliberations.  If you’ve not read the first five Lessons, you can begin here.
After closing arguments, the bailiff took her oath to not let us (the jury) out of her sight until we’d reached a verdict (except to let us go home), and the judge read aloud to us the twelve pages of jury instructions.  Finally we were allowed to talk to one another.  Of course we had to in order to begin our deliberations, and we were all excited to be able to discuss the case and the evidence after three weeks of silence on the subject.
I was anxious to take a quick poll to see where we all stood as far as the verdict:  guilty or not guilty, but first we had to elect a foreperson. Once we got that formality out of the way we could request to review evidence since the foreperson had to sign each of our requests.  Everyone started talking at once and for a while chaos reigned as we all got some of our biggest questions out on the table for discussion.  I still wanted to take a quick anonymous vote and finally got everyone to agree.  I was pretty sure that we would be split on the verdict, but as the foreman counted the little slips of paper, the guilty pile got larger and larger, and when he finished we stood at 10 guilty and two not guilty.  So there was at least one other person beside myself who thought maybe we should carefully deliberate before we sent the defendant up-river for the rest of his life.
At this point, I wasn’t sure if this was a death penalty case or not, and one of the instructions the judge read to us was that we should not concern ourselves with the sentence the defendant might get if we found him guilty, except that in considering the sentence we should be careful.  I took that to mean, don’t send this guy to the gallows unless we are really, really, super certain he did it.  Which I wasn’t.  Not sure at all.  I looked around at my compatriots and felt slightly terrified.  This was all it took to convince them, I wondered?  What if I ended up being the lone hold out?  Could I do it if I had to?  What if I did and the case ended up a mistrial and this guy really did it? Could I live with that? Could I live with putting him away or sending him to die?  I began to doubt the entire process.  Who was I?  Who were we to make such a critical decision?  And why couldn’t the lawyers give us some better evidence? Or a more solid defense?
The first evidence we chose to review was the video.  In his closing arguments, the defense attorney had referred to the fact that his client wore glasses and that no glasses were evident in the video we had seen.  In his rebuttal to the defense’s closing statements, the prosecutor said that in fact there was some evidence that the person in the video indeed did have glasses on.  We had to settle this question first because if the person in the video had glasses on, it could be the defendant.  The other thing we wanted to clarify was why there was no DNA on the red jacket if in fact the defendant had worn it.  We wanted to determine if the person in the video had some other shirt on which would have blocked his DNA from getting on the jacket.
The judge accepted our request and we spent the next hour or so going over the video in the darkened courtroom, one frame at a time. Tedious, yes, but also enlightening.  Apparently the person who got out of the car did have another shirt on, possibly a hoodie or maybe just another shirt and a hat.  He appeared to have something pointy or poufy on his head.  Well, that makes sense, we all said, why none of the defendant’s DNA was on the jacket.  And, it kind of looked like the person in the video had on a ski mask as the space around the eyes appeared lighter.  As we continued frame by frame, we all noticed that at one point, the person on video brought his left hand up to the side of his face, either adjusting a pair of glasses or tugging on the hood of the jacket.  We stopped on another frame and could make out two reflective dots, symmetrical just below the person’s eyes.  Could those be reflections from a pair of glasses?   Still, the only thing I was 100 percent sure of was that the car in the video, the car from which the defendant allegedly emerged, definitely belonged to Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs (CFCP, aka the crazy girlfriend)—it was an exact match of the car the police had impounded from her carport and had the same markings, same out parking light, same rims, same hubcaps, same sticker on the left back bumper, same shaped objects in the back window.
We returned to the jury room to continue our deliberations.  Everyone but me seemed determined to convict based on the glasses question being answered, but I wanted to see more, hear more before I made up my mind one way or the other.  Juror number four, to my right seemed to have her mind all made up, and juror number six, on my other side seemed ready to go with whatever the rest of us thought.  I pressed on with my questions:  what about the DNA expert, I asked.  Didn’t his testimony merit some consideration?   One juror, who had just started a new job working for the university police, appeared to be losing patience with me and with my questions.  The foreman, however, as well as the other lesbian juror and a guy who worked at a local mission, were willing to discuss the situation further. How do we know the crazy girlfriend didn’t have someone take her car and kill the wife, I asked?  After all, she had confessed AND she had that “monster” living in her.  And she had texted the defendant, saying she was sorry for killing his wife.  Seemed like a possibility, I thought.  Or at least reasonable doubt. 
I began to worry about groupthink.  I’d read about the dangers of making important decisions in groups, how most people choose the path of least resistance and how difficult it was for one person with a dissenting opinion to be heard.  I’d watched the video of the Stanford Prison Experiment, witnessing how quickly people could lose their very identities and give up their rights without a fight.  I’d spent several semesters teaching units in English class based on the Milgram’s authority experiments, and how easily people believed things just because someone in a white coat said so.  So, I listened to my co-deliberators with more than a little skepticism.
The guy from the mission talked at length about the CFCP and how she just did not seem capable of planning the murder and getting someone to whack the boyfriend’s wife.  And why would she be throwing him under the bus now, instead of whomever she had hired?  Well, I posited, she could have had her husband do it, or her son.  We hadn’t heard from either of them on the witness stand.  Why? I asked.  What if one of them was dark-skinned and wore glasses?  Maybe she was protecting family. 
Why would her husband kill her boyfriend’s wife, someone asked.  Good point, I conceded.  This is why I wanted to continue discussions.  Ok, but what about the DNA?  Could it have escaped the paper envelope and gotten on the latex glove?  I could feel the eyes roll, but I wanted to know.  What did I know about DNA?  Maybe someone among us knew more.    We had this guy’s life in our hands—I believed we owed him an honest and rigorous deliberation.  I knew that should I somehow ever end up at the defendant’s table, I’d appreciate an open-minded jury and at least a couple of days of deliberation before they handed down a decision.  I hoped they’d be willing to examine any evidence that raised a reasonable doubt.
We seemed to have reached an impasse, and the foreman suggested we take the night to think things over, to process.  Perhaps in the morning everything would look different.  Perhaps.  But I didn’t think that all of them would change their minds that fast.
Lesson 6:  Speak up.  Ask questions.  Don’t worry about what people think. 

Lesson Five

Ok, sorry for the delay, dear Readers.  That darn work thing gets in the way of my writing.  I’m ready to retire, but my IRA has other plans.  So, what’s a girl to do? 
If you’ve been following my adventures as a juror on the murder trial, read on.  If this is your first visit, then you’ll want to start here, at the beginning.
Psycho girlfriend (hereafter referred to as CFCP, as in Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs) finished testifying, finally, not really making things any clearer at all.  The prosecution called three more of the defendant’s girlfriends (he was dating them all at the time of his wife’s murder, and none of them knew about one another).  None of them were happy, but only one had anything remotely relevant to say, and still, I wasn’t sure I could believe her.  Evidently she’d spent a few hours talking to a detective about the defendant a couple of days after the murder, and while she mentioned that the defendant was in the midst of a custody dispute, she had no idea he was still married.  She told the detectives he was a good father.  Then a few days later, she called the detective back and told him that, in fact, he had once said that his wife needed to die and that he would have to kill her.  She didn’t take him seriously at the time and only remembered about it a few days later.  I don’t know about you, but I think I’d remember something like that if I were discussing my boyfriend’s wife’s murder with the police.
Both of the other girlfriends said only that he was a good father and that he didn’t seem to be terribly concerned about the custody issue. Yes, he knew his ex might take the kid back to her hometown at some point, but he did not seem terribly concerned about the issue.  I wondered why the prosecution would call such lukewarm witnesses.  I still had reasonable doubt—so what that he said he wanted to kill his ex over the custody?  Nearly everyone who has ever been through a custody battle ends up hating their ex, most of them wish the ex would die.  I bet a lot even threaten to kill them.  I wasn’t convinced that he would have killed her over the custody thing.  After all, they’d been sharing custody successfully for a few years.  His child support payments were only $20/mo (a fact that did not escape my attention—clearly I’d hired the wrong lawyer those many years ago).  I still wasn’t seeing it.
The only thing that I knew for certain at this point was that the defendant liked big-bottomed girls.  Boy liked booty.  Bootay. He definitely had a type:  Low self-esteem.  Willing to let him control how much they saw of each other.   He liked big butts and he could not lie.  Bay-bee got back.  Like Kim Kardashian, but without any money. Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs had spent the last year in jail and had lost 100 pounds, which explained why she looked like such a waif in comparison.
Intellectually I knew that women who were in the midst of a divorce are probably at the highest risk of becoming murder victims.  I read the paper (online).  I know that just about every week a woman and/or her children die at the hands of husband or boyfriend: Susan Powell and her boys being the most notorious recent statistics, yet I couldn’t reconcile this knowledge with the testimony.  I certainly was in no way prepared to convict a man based on the evidence thus far. 
The prosecution rested.  That’s it? I couldn’t believe it.  That’s all they’ve got?  How were we supposed to reach a conclusion based on what we’d seen so far? No wonder so many criminals walked the streets.  Help me out here, I thought.  Give me something. 
The defense called only two witnesses:  the police detective who accompanied the suicidal girlfriend to Harborview, and a DNA expert.  The detective, a female, recounted Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs’ demeanor when questioned about the defendant, telling the courtroom how her face lighted up when she heard his name, how she smiled while reflecting on their time together.  Did she seem distraught? The defense asked.  Not at all, answered the detective, and added that CFCP beamed when questioned about him.
The DNA expert took the stand. Once the defense attorney established the DNA guy’s credentials, he asked him what he thought about storing DNA samples in paper envelopes and paper bags, as seems to be the BPD’s standard operating procedure. Well, said DNA guy, it’s possible that DNA could get through a paper envelope to contaminate a DNA sample in a paper bag if they were in close proximity.  Turns out that the DNA sample from the defendant and the latex glove found at the scene traveled together in a box to the Washington State Patrol’s forensic lab, protected only in paper bags.  Standard lab practice, said the DNA guy, is to use impervious (i.e. plastic) bags for the storage and transportation of evidence.  That made sense to me.  He also testified that one nanogram was a very insignificant amount of DNA and could easily be the result of cross contamination in the lab.  After all, the WSP lab did process  known samples in the same area that the processed evidence.
How much doubt is reasonable doubt?  The judge had told us clearly before the jury had been chosen, reasonable doubt was doubt for which a reason existed.  Not that that helped me at all.  The judge had also said that a shadow of a doubt is not the same as reasonable doubt.  We could convict if we had a shadow of a doubt, but not if we had reasonable doubt. I’m surprised my brain didn’t explode. 
The defense rested and after a short recess, we launched into closing arguments.  The prosecution rehashed the entire case and reminded us of all of the evidence:  the  red jacket, the dark-skinned man in the video, the DNA on the glove, the girlfriend’s car; the girlfriends’ testimony.  The photographs of the dead woman.  The divorce.  Bunk, the prosecution said about the DNA expert’s testimony.  Red herring, he said about the defense wanting testimony from CFCP’s son and husband.  We must convict based on the evidence.
The defense attorney insisted he had presented us with enough to raise reasonable doubt:  the crazy girlfriend and her “monster,” the lack of DNA on the red jacket, the possibility of contamination of the evidence.  The apparent lack of acrimony regarding the custody dispute.  The fact that the defendant always wore glasses and that the person in the surveillance video clearly was not wearing glasses. 
Lesson Five: Sometimes, less really is more.  

Lesson Four

Dear Reader–
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that the past three entries have detailed a murder trial in which I recently sat as a juror.  This is my fourth entry, and where things start to get weird.  If you want to start from the beginning, click here.  Otherwise, we pick up with the second day of the trial after a five day break (mostly due to Memorial Day):
On Tuesday after five days to think about the dead naked woman, we viewed video of the alleged killer parking and exiting what appeared to be his girlfriend’s car.  A shadowy figure emerges from the driver’s side door, struggles to put on a jacket and strides down the street with what appears to be a gun in his right hand, along the right side of his body, between his body and the buildings.  He disappears around the street corner and three minutes later the camera picks him up walking back toward the car. This time the apparent gun is in his left hand, between the left side of his body and the buildings.  He passes out of view of one camera and is picked up by another camera, which records him getting back into the car and driving away.
As luck would have it, the building the killer chose to park near had about 13 video cameras aimed all over the vicinity.  The date and time stamps on the videos coincided with the deceased’s time of death, about two days before a co-worker discovered her body.  One of the detectives spent weeks going through hours and hours of video recordings looking for something, anything that would provide a clue about what happened to the victim.  And now we had this video. 
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see.  Yes, a person got out of the car and walked down the street, toward the victim’s apartment carrying something.  But we couldn’t really see the person’s face or clearly determine what exactly the person was carrying.  And who even knew if the person was African American or just dark due to the infrared and pre-dawn lighting?  And, the person in the video disappeared around the corner.  There wasn’t any record of him or her actually going to the victim’s apartment.
We viewed police recordings from the same cameras, made to assist us in determining the gender and height of the person in the videos.  But the videos weren’t made at the same time of day and could only tell us that the person was about 5 foot 10 inches  tall and most likely not a female.  We did have the jacket, though.  On one video clip we could tell the jacket was possibly red, and it had all the same features of the red jacket introduced into evidence:  white reflective strips on each sleeve, a vent across the back, and an attached hood, which the person in the video had worn.  But the jacket had not tested positive for the defendant’s DNA, only for an unknown male. This jacket, we learned, had been found in the girlfriend’s other vehicle when the police responded to her attempted suicide. 
Real life is no CSI or NCIS or Criminal Minds.  We had no Abby or McGeek to zoom in and magically clarify our video for us.  No forensic experts with definitive amounts of DNA on hair follicles, no shoe prints that matched the suspect’s.  No one matching bugs from the scene of the crime to the suspect’s apartment.  Instead, we had a fuzzy video and one nanogram of DNA on a piece of a latex glove.  One nanogram—that is one one-billionth of a gram.  Infinitesimal.  Hardly even there. 
The local medical examiner was not as erudite or witty or cultured as Ducky, the detectives nowhere as handsome as Dinozzo, and tech whizzes like Abby and Garcia don’t really exist.  The medical examiner works part time and is one strange dude—which really, when you think about it makes sense.  The tech guy?  He’s a regular detective with some additional coursework in video technology, but he has to work with actual technology, not TV technology. The detectives?  Meh.  Regular Joes without any superpowers whatsoever. No one produced a smoking gun.  And after a morning of testimony from these folks, I had plenty of reasonable doubt when we broke for lunch.  
Maybe the smoking gun would come in the afternoon, I thought as I dined on a potato burrito, when the star witness (the defendant’s girlfriend at the time of the murder) for the prosecution took the stand.  After all, the prosecutor seemed to think her testimony would tie it all together for us.
We held our collective breath as she walked in and took her oath and sat in the witness box.  And when she opened her mouth to speak it became very clear, very quickly that she was cuckoo for cocoa puffs.  A damaged co-dependent soul who spun a twisted tale of need and abuse and low-self-esteem.  She’d only know the defendant for two months when the murder occurred, but by that time she’d given him access to her bank accounts and fallen in love with his child. She lived in a house, a commune really, where all sorts of people came and went freely, taking what they needed.  She kept a shotgun in her bathroom, though she claimed she didn’t know how to shoot it, and her Vicodon tablets in a lock box under the bathroom sink as they “tended to disappear.”
The day after the police contacted her about the murder, after she had provided an alibi for the defendant, she called and left a voice mail for a detective, confessing to the murder and threatening to kill herself.  Detectives found her on a beach, her wrists slit parallel to her veins, an empty bottle of pain killers in her jacket.  We saw a picture of the blood soaked log on which they found her.  After they airlifted her to Harborview bandaged her up and pumped her stomach, the police arrested her for murder in the first degree.  After all, she’d confessed.
She had a “monster” inside her, she had told the police, and she thought perhaps “Monster” had gotten out and harmed her boyfriend’s wife.  Monster protected her, and since she’d discovered her boyfriend had other girlfriends, well, who knew what Monster might do?  Monster bought a Trac Phone and sent text messages to the other girlfriends as well as to her own daughter.  Monster lied and said her husband had done it (she was still married to a guy who now lived across the country and had given her permission to date other men). 
But now, here in the courtroom, she was recanting her original confession and, instead, confessing that she had lied about the defendant’s alibi.  He wasn’t with her the night his wife was murdered.  Rather, in the middle of the night, he had taken her car and killed his wife.  Then he came back, cleaned the car, burnt some evidence, washed the red jacket, raped her, and then celebrated the 4thof July with her family and his son.  It was, she told the detectives who arrested her, “a perfect day.”
But now she insisted she’d been so heartbroken for the defendant’s son that she confessed to the murder so he wouldn’t lose both his mother and his father.  She confessed to save the boy. Now she had traded her Murder 1 charge for her testimony against her boyfriend, the defendant. In throwing him under the bus, she would face only the relatively minor charge of rendering criminal assistance. 
By the time this woman completed her testimony, I had more than reasonable doubt.  I didn’t know what to think. All I knew was that I still couldn’t talk about any of this, not with my fellow jurors, not even with the little woman.  I resisted the strong urge to Google the effects of infra-red light on dark skin.  I did not succumb to the temptation to research just how much DNA is enough DNA.
Lesson Four:  TV has made crime all too neat and tidy.  Real life is messy. 

With Liberty and Justice for All: Lesson 3

With Liberty and Justice for All—Lesson Three (for lessons one and two, see my previous posts)

The jury room crackled with anticipation as the fifteen of us (including alternate jurors) waited expectantly for the wheels of justice to start turning.  Waiting would become part of our routine, we quickly learned.  The small room pressed in on us, stuffy, crowded, and awkwardly silent (except for the loud screams coming from the nearby jail) since we had been ordered not to discuss the case with anyone, including our fellow jurors.  This first day we were still sizing one another up, or at least that’s what I was doing.  As I scanned the faces around the table in our cramped quarters, I wondered about my compatriots:  who might be racist, who had children, how many might be retired, and where those who weren’t retired might work. 
One of us appeared to be Hispanic, the rest white.  We seemed to be a fairly conservative group in that I did not see any tattoos, radical hair styles, funky thrift store outfits, or multiple piercings among the 11 women and four men. About half of us were under 50, a couple of us appeared to be younger than 30.  As juror number 5, I sat between jurors number 6 and 4—a woman about my age (probably younger) and an older fellow who seemed slightly overwhelmed, but who was reading a book about investing in the stock market so I judged him as competent.  A woman across the table appeared to be a lesbian about my age, with short brown hair and neatly but casually dressed.
Before I could complete my assessment, the bailiff came to fetch us, and we filed out into the jury box.  Everyone in the courtroom stood as we walked in, and when the bailiff announced “You may be seated,” my stomach clenched.  The weight of our mission heavy upon me as I settled into the wooden chair.  I looked around.  A smattering of people dotted the courtroom, a few on each side of the aisle like a wedding:  friends of the defense on my left, friends of the prosecution on my right. 
The lawyers made their opening statements, expounding upon what they had indicated the day before: the prosecution asserted that the defendant had murdered his estranged wife.  The defense proclaimed it could raise enough reasonable doubt about the evidence that we would have no choice but to acquit.
And then with no further fanfare, the trial began.  The prosecution opened with a blast of evidence, a series of photographs from the crime scene, the most startling of which were of the murder victim clad in only a blood-soaked t-shirt lying on a blood-soaked carpet.  Other photos included pieces of the shotgun slug, bits of shotgun wadding, pieces of a latex glove, a bunch of Vicodin tablets scattered about.  We saw photos of her purse, contents intact, which, the prosecution pointed out, meant this murder was not a robbery.  She lived in a tiny apartment, her bed only a foot or so from the front door, the shelves crammed with books, the walls decorated with her child’s artwork. 
The prosecution continued to introduce evidence:  the bits of latex gloves from which they claim to have lifted the suspect’s DNA, photos of the accused’s girlfriend’s house, pictures of the girlfriend’s car, pictures of the suspect’s truck, the buckle swabs on which resided the accused’s “known sample” of DNA (what they got when they swabbed his cheeks), a red Gap jacket with fluorescent stripes on the sleeves, and a pile of melted/burned trash that may or may not be rags or clothes or buckets used in the murder.
The hours flew by as I took notes and tried to process the preponderance of information, but I could not get that very first picture out of my head:  the poor dead woman, naked except for the t-shirt, and not a small woman either.  What a horribly tragic way to go, but even worse I thought, an awful way to be remembered:  her ample naked butt writ large upon the courtroom wall.
The judge dismissed us at 4:30 and reminded us not to discuss the trial with anyone, not to do any research on our own, and not to read any news articles about the trial.   We would reconvene in five days.  
And so I went home with a new Life Rule:  Never, ever answer the door in the middle of the night with nothing on but a t-shirt.

With Liberty and Justice for All: Lesson Number Two

I continued to call in for jury duty but was not needed for the remainder of that first week.  However, on the second Sunday of my term, the court’s phone recording asked jurors 1-200 and jurors 400-600 to please return to the courthouse the next day for another selection process.  This time, prior to taking us upstairs to meet the attorneys, the court workers excused anyone who had surgeries scheduled or had purchased airline tickets for travel in the next three weeks.  
We were being selected for jury duty on a murder trial. I was both horrified and intrigued. Then we had to fill out an extensive questionnaire, answering questions on everything from our views of the US justice system to our suitability as potential jurors. 
I remembered lesson number one, and I kept my answers simple and short.  I did not share my rather complex views on the death penalty.   I did not throw the US justice system under the bus.  I did not tout my education, my career experience, my status as a homeowner, as a mother.  I did answer the questions honestly, and as I looked around when I left, I could see lots of people writing paragraph upon paragraph.  I smirked somewhat smugly—they weren’t going to get picked.
The next day, we again assembled and followed the bailiff to the courtroom, like so many ducklings.  The defendant sat near the front of the courtroom, at a table between his public defenders—an African American male.  Shit.  A jury of his peers?  In Whatcom county?  Riiight.  Two people in the sea of possible jurors appeared to be people of color; otherwise we were white, white, white.  A vast sea of WASPishness.
I listened intently as the judge expounded on our justice system:  innocent until proven guilty; the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty; the defense had no burden to prove innocence, only to cast doubt on the evidence.  The defendant did not have to testify in his own defense.  His lack of testimony could not be construed as guilt.  I watched the defendant—he looked nice enough.  He pulled the chair out for the female defense attorney.  He had nice glasses and was clean-shaven.  True? False?
I continued to listen to the judge’s lengthy civics lesson, and were again invited by the attorneys (different ones this time:  the DA and a public defender) to participate in a question and answer session.  Now I was juror number 13, and even if none of the first twelve jurors were dismissed, I would be at least an alternate.  Based on the previous week’s experience, I kept quiet as the lawyers thumbed through our questionnaires and began the jury selection process. 
Finally someone mentioned the “elephant in the room” (her words) and wondered aloud to all of us if this guy could possibly get a fair trial.  Thus began a round of questions from the judge and the attorneys if anyone present could not be fair and unbiased.  One woman mentioned that she was the mother of African American teenagers and said she would be very empathetic to the defendant.  Her admission made me wonder if I too was obligated to mention my African American children.  Hmmm.  I remained silent, unwilling to tip my hand, thinking that I really wanted to be on this jury.
I listened as potential juror or after potential juror offered up just about every life experience imaginable:  ones father was a cop, another’s sister a murder victim, someone’s  distant uncle twice removed a member of border patrol.  I didn’t have anything to say.  No one in my close circle of family or friends had been the victim of a serious crime—I once had my wallet ski parka stolen out of my unlocked car.  No one I knew worked in law enforcement or was a lawyer. 
The clock ticked, the lawyers worked through the stacks of questionnaires festooned with yellow post-its,  and I was perhaps the only one in the courtroom who hadn’t either been asked a direct question or offered an opinion beyond a nod or shake of my head.  The defense attorney finally noticed my silence and thumbed through my questionnaire, which appeared to be Post-It-less.  He asked me what I meant when I wrote that I was a Senior Field IT Administrator.   I told him that meant I helped folks find the power buttons on their computers.  Everyone laughed, and the selection process began.
“The state thanks and respectfully dismisses juror number 2.”  Good, I thought.  She seemed a bit unbalanced.
“The defense thanks and respectfully dismisses juror number 5.” Thank god.  What a blowhard.  He’s probably a serial killer himself.
“The state thanks and respectfully dismisses juror number 8.”
“The defense thanks and respectfully dismisses juror number 12.” That guy had a brother who was murdered and still had huge issues with the ordeal. I couldn’t imagine the energy he might suck from the rest of the jury. Plus he’d probably never shut up long enough to listen to anyone else.
“The state thanks and respectfully dismisses juror number 25.”  She clearly had suffered as the victim of a serious crime and being a juror would only traumatize her further.
And on it went.  I was no longer a potential alternate; I was now a full-fledged potential juror with the elimination of many jurors between 1 and 12.  My stomach tightened. I held my breath, still not quite sure I wanted to be a juror or not, a bit worried that this trial might stretch through the month of June (i.e. interrupting my upcoming vacation) even though they’d promised only three weeks (the wheels of justice seemed to move slowly).  Finally, the attorneys had made their allotted uncontested dismissals, and we all moved up numerically to fill the empty slots.  I moved into the jury box and became Juror Number 5.
The rest of the jury pool was dismissed.  The judge gave us our oath.  The bailiff explained how things worked and told us to show up the next morning when the trial would begin.
Lesson #2—be careful what you wish for.

With Liberty and Justice For All

Dear Readers,

Three weeks ago the fates plucked me from my everyday life (which you should all know by now is thus:  Sleep, work, eat, run, sleep, work, eat, run, the occasional load of laundry, repeat) and dropped me into a drama about which one usually only reads or sees on the news.   For the foreseeable future, my intention is to write here about the lessons I learned before, during, and after this experience.  I hope you will find my musings thought-provoking, educational, and occasionally witty.  I took my duty very seriously, but as you all well know, life experience colors every situation we encounter and our minds often wander to the absurd and the macabre as we struggle to make sense of it all. 
Lesson 1
Nearly two months ago the little woman burst through the front door, mail in hand, and gleefully announced I’d received my very first ever summons for jury duty.  I peered at the summons, checked the date (still weeks away at that point) and tossed it on my stack of shame (those bits of paper I’m afraid to throw away).  I’d get back to it, but our impending trip to Scottsdale was much more interesting at that moment. 
Over the course of the next two weeks, I mentioned the summons to various folks, all of who expressed their sympathy and offered generous, if unsolicited, advice about how to avoid being chosen.  But I have to admit, I was kind of excited about this opportunity (yes, I said opportunity), particularly once I learned that my company would pay me for my jury duty time.  
Off to the courthouse I trundled on my appointed Monday—strangely proud to be juror #57. Those of us with numbers 1-196 were to come this day, but I estimated that only about 60 people actually showed up. Among the attendees were many who seemed very unhappy to be there. One older guy lambasted the poor courthouse worker bee when the coffee machine failed to deliver his coffee properly. Many grumbled about the poor attendance. Others talked rumbly amongst themselves, reminding me of school children denied recess. Once the young women in charge got us settled, we watched a video about our justice system, a nice refresher in civics, actually, and awaited further instructions. And waited.  And waited some more. The wheels of justice seemed to be turning awfully slowly.
I spent my time gazing at the potential pool of jurors–and grew a little alarmed at the thought that some of these folks could be entrusted with a life and death decision. At that point, none of us yet knew the type of trial we might be chosen for. Would I want the smelly guy behind me sitting in judgment of anyone I knew? How about the lady in front who slept through most of the instructions?  Or the “gentleman” who got angry about the coffee?  Or the people who clearly did not want to be there?  The gravity of my duty as a citizen began to sneak up on me.
Finally, the bailiff herded  us upstairs to the courtroom where we would meet the lawyers who would then choose fourteen of us (two alternates) for their upcoming case. The bailiff reordered us and gave us bright yellow numbered badges to wear. Via some sort of fuzzy lawyer math my juror number jumped from #57 to #15, and I found myself seated alarmingly close to the jury box.  
Visions of Law and Order danced in my head, along with 12 Angry Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, and oddly, long repressed black and white memories of Ironsides.  Before the lawyers were introduced, the judge waxed philosophically for quite a long time (maybe an hour and a half)  on the history of our judicial system, its roots in 13th century England, the cruelty of King John resulting in the Magna Carta.  Fascinating. I had finally arrived at the point in my life where all of those K-12 social studies classes became relevant.  This moment was what Mr. Football Coach/ history teacher was referring to when he so eloquently bellowed at us that “History is LIFE!”  
The lawyers outlined the basics of the case (a divorce gone awry resulting in charges against the husband:  burglary, violation of a no contact order, and assault) and began asking questions, encouraging all potential jurors to participate.   Gone, they said, were the long days of individual juror interviews.  The  defendant looked so hang dog, I felt sorry for him. And having had some experience myself with family law, I had a few choice thoughts on the efficacy said system.  I took their invitation to participate seriously,  piping up a few times during the questioning, as did many other potential jurors.  Clearly some folks had axes to grind, others had been children of divorce, their childhoods products of the court’s decision-making process; one lady knew the defendant and expressed her dismay at finding him in such a spot, genuinely sad for him.
Each lawyer got six uncontested juror dismissals, and I was amazed at how quickly the jury box began emptying as the lawyers began whittling down the pool:
“The state thanks and respectfully dismisses juror number 1.”
“The defense thanks and respectfully dismisses juror number 3.”
“The state thanks and respectfully dismisses juror number 5.”  
Until,  “The state thanks and respectfully dismisses juror number 15.”
And so on.  We The Dismissed were asked to stand along the courtroom wall, and by the time each attorney had used up his six uncontested dismissals, most of those who had spoken up during questioning lined the walls.  The bailiff collected our jury number badges and freed us with a reminder that we still had two weeks in which we could be called for another trial.
Lesson #1:  Keep my mouth shut if I want to serve on a jury. 

I Break With Thee, I Break With Thee, I Break With Thee

The men in dresses and funny hats really don’t know when to quit, do they?  Yesterday I read about the Vatican’s latest censure, Sister Margaret Farley for her book, Just Love:  A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.  The Yale theologian touches on the all too human subjects of masturbation, same sex relationships, and divorce/remarriage. The official Vatican statement insists that homosexuality is a “grave depravity” and that the other topics are “contrary to natural law.”
Why do we, in America, in the 21st century give any credence to what these out-of-touch, antediluvian, luddites think about sex and marriage?  As an institution, the Catholic church really has no moral standing to have an official opinion on anything related to sex, except, perhaps, to look inward and figure out why their clergy rape little boys.   Maybe it’s just me, but it seems the absence of women in power might have some bearing on the pedophile problem.
Secondly, masturbation, homosexuality, and marriage/divorce seem to have everything to do with “natural law.”   What is unnatural is an institution that so closely regulates the sexual predilections of its members while ignoring the blatant abuse of children at the hands of its priests and works tirelessly to impose its archaic and unnatural beliefs on the rest of the world.
Moreover, the Vatican apparently hates women—the latest crusade against American nuns, its refusal to allow women into the priesthood, and the deplorable way in which the church treats nuns in general (no retirement plans, no health care, the garnishment of nuns’ wages, the enforced poverty—poverty which priests are also supposed to embrace but do not).  The church’s ignorant stance on the use of birth control, particularly in poor and disease-ridden parts of the world stands in direct contrast to the work of the nuns to heal and educate in these same places.
I know many intelligent and wise Catholics.  For eight mostly enjoyable years, I worked at a Catholic school with some of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with.  People who worked tirelessly for social justice, who instilled solid moral values (do unto others, judge not, help the poor) in young people. People who actually walked their talk. Most of these folks reflected the values of the nuns and not the values of the Vatican. They formed a community of support, not a community of judgment.  Unfortunately as part of a Catholic parish, ultimately this community has to support the Vatican, no matter how forward thinking each individual member might be.   And this is what so puzzles me.
Why do so many intelligent people continue to give credence and power to the men in funny hats and dresses, with their unfathomable wealth and consistent protection of criminal sexual abusers? Maybe it’s time America divorced the Vatican.  It only seems natural.