The morning continues with more questions first from the judge. Randomly, she selects various prospective jurors to answer questions about themselves. What do they do for a living? Where do they live? Do they reside with any other adults in the household? What are their hobbies? Were they born and raised in the Twin Cities? As the judge hears their responses, she is prompted to ask more questions based on what they had shared. This goes on for 19 prospective jurors.
After a brief break, we return to the courtroom and the defense attorney begins with his questions first. He probes further on certain responses the judge had received earlier. He is zooming in to make sure that the prospective juror can be fair, unbiased and will be impartial to both the defense and the prosecution. “Some of you had raised your hands earlier to indicate that you had an initial reaction to the reading of the charges” he states. “I will ask some further questions for clarification”. He calls upon one woman who looks to be in her mid twenties. He asks her to elaborate on her initial reaction to the complaint filed. “I just felt off balance” she says. “I am a woman after all, and this type of crime is one that one hears too often” she adds. The defense attorney presses her “do you believe that based on your feelings you can still evaluate the evidence before you” she begins nodding as he continues his question “regardless of your feelings, that you can deliver an unbiased verdict based merely on the facts presented?” She finished her up and down quick nodding with her affirmative statement “Yes, definitely yes.”.
The defense attorney addresses the judge, indicating that he is finished with his questions. The judge then motions to the prosecutorial attorney to begin her list of questions. What stood out for me with her questions was her focus on the prospective jurors potential reaction to witnessing a crime “have any of you personally witnessed a crime and called 911?” she asks. Many hands are raised and stay raised as she writes down their names. She starts with the one furthest to her right and addresses him by name. “What crime did you witness?”. The prospective juror answers “I saw a man attacking another man outside my house and I called 911.” She continues probing “Did you wait for the response team to arrive, and did you make a statement?” “Yes, I did” he answers. “Did the call result in a trial and were you called as a witness?” “No, there was not a trial that I know of” he answers. She moves on to the next one with similar questions. None of them had needed to appear. For all of them, she also asked “did you expect a response team to arrive when you called 911?” All of them had answered that question in the affirmative. And I thought, of course, wouldn’t that have been a reasonable expectations?
After all questioning was completed, there was a quiet time that lasted about fifteen minutes during which time the attorneys were completing a sheet of paper. I assumed that they were making selections and crossing out others. The attorneys would take turn with this sheet of paper, making their notes, crossing things out and then would turn the page face down on the table and slide it to the other attorney. This process went on for what seemed like forever. With one last push of the paper, one attorney nodded to the other who nodded in return. They wer ready.
The defense attorney addressed the judge who had been waiting on the bench sipping her tea and blowing her nose. She had a bit of a cold starting, it seemed. The judge summoned the attorneys to her bench. They spoke in hushed whispers while the judge held the paper up to shield her face from the jury box. Discussion went on like this for about two to three minutes. Then, when they were satisfied with their discussion, the judge nodded to the attorneys and they both returned to the table and took their seats.
The judge instructed all present that she was about to read the names of those that were excused from the jury box and advised all of us to wait until all names were read. When she was finished with the list of names, we were to all file out of the courtroom and we were excused from this trial. We were to report back to the jury room on the lower level for further instructions.
As she read the names, I recognized only one. The woman who had been molested at age 13. I was relieved for her that she would be spared. Then, six more names were read and we all rose and filed out. We were done. And I wondered about the defendant. And, I wondered about the young girl of 13. I knew that in my gut, that although the critical premise of innocence until proven guilty is a vital part of our judicial system. That it offers fairness, impartiality, and an assurance to some degree that people are not prosecuted and convicted for crimes they did not commit. That even though I know all that to be true and right, that there is this part of me that knows also that there are hundreds if not thousands of victims who never report. That there are factors that hold them back from reporting, like shame, guilt for potentially having been responsible for the crime having been inflicted in the first place, doubt, embarrassment and the most important one of all: sheer exhaustion in the emotionally delicate state that makes any kind of thinking and action almost impossible to bear. The physical punishment already inflicted has broken the spirit and makes it difficult to form words let alone be brave enough to say something to someone who might do something about it. So this 13 year old who has caused this older man who looks to be in his late 50s, to be seated at the defense table in the first place- what is her story? Who did she tell? How long did it go on before she spoke out and asked for help? Or, did someone witness it? Did another family member come forward? Is he family? Her uncle, her father, her neighbor, a friend of her parents? Who is he to her? And all these questions come from a deep part of my soul as I reach for that 13 year old stranger and believe that in some ways, her and I share something private and now public.
Or, did she make it up? I find that hard to believe but it’s possible. My interior mechanism suggests that the likelihood of her innocence lost through abuse is a stronger possibility than her creating all this fuss out of a lie.
So glad I did not end up on that jury.