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2012-04-09 7:31 PM
Recently I served on a jury. I might have mentioned that already. There were actually twelve of us, plus two alternates. Some were young, some old (though none, I'm pretty sure, older than I was). Some were professionals, with degrees and credentials, while others were tradespeople. We had an ex-Marine and a retired economics professor and a quiet young man in a wheelchair and a woman who could never remember to turn off her cell phone. That's America for you. A real melting pot.
The defendant in our case was a young man in his late twenties. He was accused of two counts of misdemeanor vandalism: kicking in the garage door of his ex-girlfriend, and slashing the tires of her roommate. During opening arguments, the lawyers were very clear that we would be given facts that led to only one conclusion. It was pretty much true. There was one conclusion for each of the two sets of facts we were told we'd hear.
I thought about using real names here, but I don't want to be Googled and tracked down. The defendant looked like a Spike. The girlfriend was kind of a Lucy, in both attitude and appearance. The roommate we'll call Satchel, because he was sort of big and goofy. And Lucy's current boyfriend? Easily a Casper. The two defense witnesses were Spike's sister Luna and Luna's neighbor Bucky.
The prosecutor said that Spike and Lucy had a three-year, off again-on again relationship. They had been involved in several bad breakups, but this last time Spike couldn't let it go. He texted her constantly, asking to get back together. He would drive up and down her street, and knock on her door in the middle of the night. At about midnight on the night of the crime, he slashed the tires on Satchel's work van which was parked in front of the house. He then kicked in the garage door so badly that they still haven't been able to get it fixed, several months later. He was seen doing this, we were told.
This sounded very bad, but at this point we had heard no evidence and therefore still presumed that Spike was innocent. Still, if all this could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, it would be an easy case to decide. For this to get all the way to trial, there had to be some exculpatory evidence, right? Spike's lawyer must have a really good case, or at least enough of a case. Or a case, period.
To the defense attorney, it was easy. We would hear Luna tell us that her brother Spike was at her house all evening the night of the crime. Perfect, airtight alibi. It had to be somebody else. Left unsaid but implied was that the people in the house had a vendetta against Spike and set him up. The evidence wouldn't show that, but all he needed to give us was reasonable doubt.
At this point, we had heard no witnesses, seen no evidence, and had nothing to base an opinion on. Later, in the jury room, one of my fellow jurors accused some of the others of not liking Spike's looks and pre-judging him. This was not kindly received, though, and rightly so, I think. From the discussions we had after we got the case, it became clear to me that everyone took the job seriously and no one wanted to make a decision based on anything but the law and the evidence. I certainly wasn't ready to vote either way, just based on the opening arguments.
But I was intrigued. I was missing my soaps for this trial, but it looked as if it might be almost as dramatic. Real life has its cliffhangers, and after leaving the courtroom that first day, I was for the first time excited and eager to return for the next chapter.
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