Editor’s Note: This post first appeared August 1, 2011.
It was the last day of jury duty for this particular cattle call. No one wanted to be chosen – especially for the murder case requiring a voir dire that day. Maybe an additional month! Maybe sequestered in an Airline Highway motel! Oh, god, how bad could this semiannual nightmare get?
One hundred and fifty people were called for voir dire on the Big Murder Case. He was one. Almost the entire pool had their immediate futures on the line. The courtroom seated the whole group. A sub-set of fourteen was called in each round for questioning in the jury box. The usual. “Do you know the defendant?” “Have you been a victim of crime?” and – wait a minute! “Would you be reluctant to return a verdict of guilty knowing that several witness feel too intimidated to testify in court?” Why is everyone saying no to what seems to me a pretty important little question? A small window opened.
Oddly, according to his previous experiences, the prosecutor ended each set of questions with, “Do you have any questions for me?” Some were then dismissed; others were taken into the dark recesses behind the judge’s bench. An idea spawned in his slightly numbed brain, even after sitting in that basement for three weeks.
This could be dangerous, but it could get him out of jury duty today. Too it could get him held in contempt by a nasty judge. He had seen something similar before.
His turn came to sit in the box. He was juror number 38. Front row. The defendant was twenty feet away looking straight at him it seemed. The potential juror’s turn came and he was asked the usual questions and answered pretty much the same as everyone else had. The opening he was waiting for finally came with the last of the gang of fourteen’s questioning. “Do you have any questions for me.” Number 38’s hand went up. “Yes sir, you have a question?”
“Yes, can you tell me why we, as a jury, should not be afraid of the defendant if there are witnesses too afraid to even testify against him?” Silence. The prosecutor started to mutter something about the defendant not knowing who we are or where we lived. That didn’t really convince us since that information was in the hands of the attorneys. Plus, everyone in the room had just been watching us and listening to our names being used!
By now the back rows of our fourteen were saying things like “Yeah, what he said?” and “I was thinking about that too.”
The judge quickly called the attorneys to the bench. Much mumbling in the audience and discussion at the bench ensued. Was number 38 going to jail? No one seemed all that happy. He thought he saw the defendant give him a victory sign.
Then the attorneys returned to their tables. The judge told the entire courtroom to refrain from discussing the case and they were all dismissed to return to the jury pool. Everyone filed out. Number 38 kept his eyes focused on his shoes and moved with the crowd. At the staircase the pats on the back, high-fives, and “you the man” accompanied the boisterous crowd down to the basement where everyone was checking out and leaving for home. A momentary hero among those who were doing their civic duty walked into the daylight that was left outside the basement “prison”.