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2012-04-17 10:10 PM
The closing arguments were mostly a repetition of the opening arguments, except that the prosecutor added a high school-level Power Point presentation. It was mostly a list of the evidence we'd seen, with some of the photos that had been entered into the record. It didn't exactly dazzle us. It did condense the trial into a few key points, but the jury had the case itself (if not the outcome) in pretty clear perspective already. The defense attorney assured us, as we expected, that we hadn't heard enough to convict his client beyond a reasonable doubt.
The judge then read us our instructions. He warned us before he began that he would be talking for a long time, but advised us to pay close attention. We did as well as we could, but when later, when we were on our own, we referred to the written version the court provided us. We went over the definition of "reasonable doubt" thoroughly enough to internalize it. It became part of how we thought of ourselves as a jury.
After reading the instructions, the judge officially lifted the restriction against talking about the case, and sent us off to begin our deliberations. It was near the end of the day by the time we started, but nobody wanted to go home yet. The judge had suggested we pick a foreperson and get as far as possible before we were kicked out for the day. We asked the bailiff how long we could stay, and he said we probably wouldn't be allowed to keep going past 5:00 pm.
We didn't exactly elect our foreman. The retired Marine sat at the head of the table and told us he didn't mind doing it, if nobody else wanted to, and nobody else wanted to. He had the most commanding presence anyway, and I fully expected him to lead all discussions, whether he was foreman or not.
The first official act of the jury was to exhale. It was a collective moment of relief and release, even though we knew that the hardest part of our job was ahead of us. We didn't want to force a decision on anyone by suggesting that we could reach a verdict that afternoon. It was unanimous that we wouldn't even try, and that we would come back the next day.
When we started talking, it became clear that our opinions of the witnesses, the evidence, and the defendant were all over the map. There were two things most of us agreed on from the start. One was that we all thought the defendant was guilty, although we didn't all believe there was enough evidence to convict him. The other was that most of us didn't believe the one eyewitness, Satchel. In fact, I was surprised that any of us believed him.
My contribution to the early stages of the discussion was to express an opinion that if we did believe Satchel, we could indeed get out of there in half an hour. If we were convinced he'd seen Spike slash the tires and had seen him kick the garage door, we had no choice but to find him guilty.
That was the wrong thing to say, however. Some people took it to mean that I thought we couldn't convict Spike unless we did believe Satchel. I hadn't thought of that angle when I said it, and I didn't want to make it sound as if I'd made up my mind. I went into the jury room with some ideas, but ready to be convinced that other ideas made more sense. I really, really wanted to hear what everyone else thought.
To my surprise (and I don't know why that should have been the case), the other eleven jurors felt the same way. Nobody wanted to rush to judgment, and everybody wanted to know what the others thought. We unanimously resisted the idea of taking even a preliminary poll on that first day of deliberations.
And it wasn't just the guilt or innocence of the defendant that we wanted to talk about. We were prepared to dissect every moment of the trial, every word we'd heard, every nuance, if it would get us to a point where we agreed on the facts. That's pretty much where we stood when the bailiff knocked at 5:15 and told us that we had to go home for the day.
We didn't know how long a day we had ahead of us before we could finish. In fact, we weren't sure whether we could possibly finish in one day. That's how seriously we took our job.
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