Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Verdict

As you may have heard, I had jury duty this month. A fellow juror told us that one of his co-workers had asked him if he was on a fun case or a boring case. The answer is neither. Ours was a case of the rape of an eleven year old girl.

The prosecution's star witness was the victim, now sixteen. She looked and acted like an average teenage girl. She told her story, occasionally fighting back tears, in stark, simple terms. It was not easy to listen to. She was very credible, and nothing was presented that suggested any reason that she might lie.

The defense's star witness was the defendant himself. He did not do himself any favors on the stand. He was defensive, evasive, and not credible at all. He was a gift to the prosecutor. During cross examination I looked over at his attorney. Her head was down and her face was hidden behind her hands. She looked unwell.

To make things worse for the defendant, we learned that he had been in possession of child pornography. When the prosecution rested we didn't know much about that. Was it just a few images along with lots of adult porn? Details were sketchy. After the defendant's testimony we knew for certain that he had a fairly keen interest in the subject, and did not deny that he had posted child porn to more than one on-line group.

We deliberated for about five and a half hours. My fellow jurors wanted to go over every detail of the case, to deal fully with every possible doubt, and even a few impossible doubts. No one wanted to get it wrong. No one wanted to send an innocent man to jail. For some of us even the possibility was too much to bear.

Over time and after much discussion, thought, and agonizing, we came to the only reasonable conclusion. Guilty.

Marching back into the courtroom to deliver the verdict was a bit difficult. In that courtroom the jury enters from behind the judge's desk and walks past the defense table. I suppose the defendant was watching us as we came in, looking for some sign. I don't really know. I tried not to focus on anything. When we got to the jury box I looked around the room. The victim was near the back on the prosecution side, surrounded by friends and family. Sitting just behind the defendant were his father and brothers. I had noticed the father earlier in the trial. He was bent over with age and troubles, but he had the look of a tough old guy. The Eagle, Globe, and Anchor on his jacket told me how he had served our country. He deserved better than to have to hear this. He had sat there while his son had revealed his sexual inadequacies and his fondness for naked children. As this had gone on he was slumped over. He was devastated. I was glad that his other sons were with him.

Our foreman read the verdict. Guilty. “So say you all?” Yes. For some reason I still couldn't look right at the defendant, now the convicted child rapist. I glanced at him from the corner of my eye, almost like looking at the sun. I saw no reaction, as if he was prepared for it. One of his brothers fell back into his seat in obvious disappointment. From my angle I couldn't see the victim.

The court officer walked us out of the courtroom and back into the deliberation room. We had to wait a few minutes. The judge wanted to speak to us, thank us for our service, that sort of thing. The alternates rejoined us (it is a 12 person jury who deliberates, but 14 hear the case; two alternates are chosen randomly). They both said that they agreed with the verdict. One of the court officers congratulated us. That officer, who had seen far more of the proceedings than the jury, said that it was “a great, good verdict.” The judge joined us. He told us something that couldn't have been revealed to us before. The bad guy had not only been investigated for child porn, but had served a three year probation after having been convicted of the crime. The judge said that in his experience child rape was a terrible crime (of course) that left victims struggling and pained for years. He told us that he interviewed potential jurors for cases like this one in the past. That is done, of course, to determine if they have any bias. He has had grown men tell him that they were sexually assaulted as children, then break down, cry, and say that until that moment they had never told that to anyone before. It's hard to imagine that much pain hidden away in a human soul. He said that this sort of crime occurred far more frequently than most people imagine, and that the pattern of moving from child porn to child rape was something he saw often.

I thought the judge did a fine job. He explained things clearly and impressed upon us his feeling that the jury is the most important part of any trial. I was also impressed by the court officers. They did their jobs with professionalism and courtesy. It is good to know that justice is administered by such people.

It is a dark, miserable thing to deal with this side of humanity. It must be done, and in a free society it must be done by the citizens. This time it fell to me, and to thirteen other people, all of whom displayed decency, thoughtfulness, and good will. It was an honor to serve with them.

1 comment:

DM said...

Well done, Glenn. I'm sorry you had to bear witness to that, but well done. Thanks for sharing your experience here.

I hope the verdict gives closure to the victim. Most of the victims of child rape that I have known never had their day in court, and their rapists walk free.