The joke is…those who end up on jury duty are those not smart enough to get out of jury duty. But sometimes, someone doesn’t try and get out of jury duty. Sometimes, a person wants to do it. Either because they’ve never done it and want to see behind the curtain, so to speak. Or because they feel like it’s their civic duty…which it is, as far as I’m concerned.
Sandy Smith is a relative of mine who looms large in my own personal mythology. He and I are not that far separated in age and way back in the day, just as Rush’s ‘Moving Pictures’ was first making noise, he turned me on to music that was heavier and harder than what I’d been listening to. Specifically, I remember discovering Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers through Sandy. In fact, there might even have been a poster on his bedroom wall. Of the ‘Damn The Torpedos’ album? Can’t remember for sure.
Anyway, Sandy lives in a major American city now and spends his time building and rebuilding Harleys. He had felony jury duty recently and not only did he do it, he wrote the family about it. I asked if I could post his short email and he was good with that.
It’s an interesting look inside the part of the system that I rarely get to see because most of my cases get pleaded out or dropped long before we get to trial. Even the largest case I’ve so far had, a sexual predator with multiple counts of grooming, of criminal sexual abuse, of various other felonies, was negotiated (because, I believe, the bad guy didn’t want to sit in front of a jury of parents and have me explain why he was having sex with young girls).
Therefore, I don’t get to see the jury part of criminal justice too often. So here is a quick look. Enjoy.
I got called into jury duty at Dallas county court house last Tuesday.
After I got there I got assigned with the first group of 65 people to a court room. We all got assigned seating in the audience area of the court room, I was in the very back row.
The prosecuting attorney got up and started speaking to us about the felony murder trial that was about to take place. Later he called the process of picking jurors deselecting.
Both the prosecuting and defense attorneys ask us specific and individual questions about our ability to be open minded and fair. They had us fill out a questionnaire and they started crossing out the names of the potential jurors on the assigned seating charts they were marking on according to the answers they were getting from people.
A lot of people were bailing out due to religious, health, personal and other reasons. Anyway I got picked as juror #11, Yay me!
All that took from 8:00am till about 3:00pm Tuesday and they cut us loose for the day.
Wednesday morning at 9:30am the trial started.
The Judge started by reading the charges and letting us know that the defendant elected to have the jury decide the sentencing if there is a guilty verdict.
Right off the bat I was surprised to find out this 29 year old son is being accused of killing his 58 year old mother!
The prosecuting attorney tells us the story of how he attacked her from behind in the kitchen. He took a braided leather belt, wrapped it around her neck twice, looped it through the buckle and started strangling her. During the struggle she ended up on the floor on her back, they were looking at each other in the eyes while he held her down by standing on both of her arms and pulling tight on the belt for approximately 2 to 3 minuets until she was dead.
For the rest of Wednesday and all day Thursday the prosecuting attorney brought in all kinds of witnesses and specialists. There were the first responder police officers and EMT’s, Garland and Dallas county dectives, field evidence techs, lab evidence techs, dna evidence scientists, coroners and lots of other people with great big brains.
He showed us about 150 photos of all kinds of stuff. The house and every room in it, the crime scene, the evidence of the struggle in the kitchen and the body! Yuck! Lots of pictures of the body! Lots of close ups of the ligature marks on her neck and the shoe prints on her arms. Close up pictures from the coroner’s lab of her eyeballs showing the red spots on her eyeballs and eyelids that happen when someone is strangled and tiny blood vessels pop in and around your eyes.
Yuck! Double yuck!
He brought in about 15 people as witnesses, submitted over 150 photos and a big box of stuff like the belt, the shoes, the shirt with blood on it, broken jewelry and other stuff.
Friday morning the Prosecuting attorney gave his final thoughts and turns it over to the defense…
Crickets and tumbleweeds, this guy’s got nothing.
Throughout all the prosecuting attorneys evidence the defense lawyer has plenty of oppertunies to cross examine the witnesses. All he can do is try to place a shadow of a doubt into our heads. He keeps suggesting to all the scientists and lab techs that there is a probable chance of their dna swabs and other evidence being corrupted by mishandling and contamination.
Nobody’s buying it.
He only brings in 2 pieces of physical evidence and 1 witness. One is an independent lab testing results of the belt that showed inconclusive evidence of dna on the belt.
There are several kinds of test results you can get from dna testing depending on how extensive the testing is. The defense attorneys testing was done in a way to show the least amount of dna results.
The prosecutor cross examined and brought one of his big brained witnesses back to shred the defenses lab report to pieces. The other was a picture of the body in the morgue where the shoe prints on her arm were not visible the next day.
The coroner never did see the shoe prints in person, he was only able to examine them from the photos taken at the crime scene.
Well the prosecutor whipped out the pictures of the shoe prints on her arms and the shoes for everybody to look at again. Yuck!
I don’t know why but the defense brought in the lead detective on the case as his only witness. It completely backfired on him and he had to excuse the witness before the hole he was digging got any deeper.
They both gave their final arguments and shuffled us off to deliberate whether he is guilty or not guilty.
Oh hell yea, he’s guilty!
It took us about a half an hour to come up with a guilty verdict.
We went back into the court room we gave the bailiff the verdict, the judge read the charges again and the guilty verdict.
Almost immediately it was like another mini trail started when the sentencing phase started. Now we are getting the entire back story from different kinds of witnesses. Family, friends, teachers, counselors, doctors, preachers. Nothing scientific at all, it was all emotional.
A felony murder penalty is anywhere between 5 and 99 years or life in prison and we had to decide what it will be.
There wasn’t enough time to finish everything Friday afternoon so they cut us loose and we were told to come back Monday morning.
Monday morning both attorneys gave their final thoughts and arguments and we were sent to deliberate on the sentencing. It took us about 2 hours to come up with 99 years in prison.
Back to the court room again and the judge read the charges again and then the sentence. Nobody in the audience really seemed surprised.
After the sentencing was read the judge let 3 family members read several impact statements to everybody. It got real emotional, lots of people crying and upset.
When the younger brother was reading the last statement the defendant started getting mouthy and belligerent. He was yelling, cussing and saying “Y’all all full of shit! I don’t know who killed her!
It was the first time he said anything or showed any type of emotion. The bailiffs had to cuff him and carry him out.
We got to speak to the Judge and prosecuting attorney for a little while before we all left.
It took 5 days start to finish and was kind of draining.
I didn’t think it would be hard for me to make those kinds of decisions but I get wrapped up in the whole situation and all the raw emotions of everybody involved including the other jurors.
I’m glad it’s over.