In 1994 I was called to be a jury in a rape case. A black man had supposedly attacked a young woman in a park, and raped her. He was apprehended by the police only hours later and faced up to 30 years in jail (including aggravated assault). I received the letter one morning and immediately was angry at it as it would waste much of my time in the coming months. However, I have a strong sense of honor, and felt it was my duty.
The interview was kind of weird. After the first questions by the judge, both parties went to ask questions about me and my opinions. First, the defendant had a public defendant who asked me almost no questions (for those not familiar with the law, with a jury trial, both parties select jury members according to strict rules). The prosecutor was very direct and, in my mind, completely unethical. He asked me some VERY direct questions. It went something like this:
PROSECUTION: Hello sir Glad to see you here. In your mind, do you think the defendant is guilty or not? ME: Uhhhh… I don’t know, I didn’t hear all the case details… PROSECUTION: Yes, but considering he was arrested by the police and they have a whole file on him… ME: I will wait to see the whole file on him.
At this point, I understood something. If I acted like I was racist, surely would they dismiss me from being part of the jury!! I thought about it for a second, thought about the month of underpaid work I’d saved, and decided it was worth a shot.
PROSECUTION: Consider the defendant. Do you think his ‘situation’ make him more likely to commit this crime? ME: Huhh… I don’t know… PROSECUTION: A poor woman was viciously attacked, beat and raped. I think we can both agree it was a horrible crime? ME: Yes, absolutely. PROSECUTION: She described the man exactly as he is standing there. He was arrested and interrogated by the police. Do you agree this man might have committed this crime? ME: Yes, I do. PROSECUTION: What is your view on black people? ME(lies): Not particularly dislike them, but not particularly like them. PROSECUTION: Explain? ME(lies): They are human and they have a right to live, but I don’t see them exactly like us.
The prosecution party seemed satisfied of the answers. Keep in mind this was in front of the judge and at this point I was 100% sure I would be dismissed, with a “RACIST” tag over my head forever.
Not at all.
I was informed a bit later, to my great surprise, that I would be part of the jury. If I could describe the case in one word, it would be: “long”. It was terribly long. Hours and hours passed, hours became days and days became weeks. Then, each parties had its final hearing. To my surprise, the public defendant was doing a very decent job in front of the prosecution party.
Then, we went inside, all 12 of us, to discuss.
I had made my mind close to the end of the trial. He was not guilty. There was definitely not enough evidence to convict him. The woman had given (a really tearful) testimony but admitted she couldn’t identify him. The police, after a few questions, had to admit they had no prior file of this man. An expert psychiatrist, hired by the defense, said the man was “happily married with childrens and unlikely to commit that kind of crime. But what really helped me make my mind was when the police admitted they had no DNA evidence at all (which was kind of new at the time). However, the police had a signed confession (which I supposed coerced) and the women had identified a mark the defendant had on the bottom of the neck. Also, he had no alibis and was, to his admission, “walking around at the time”. Finally, a witness supposedly saw a man running away with the same clothes as the defendant.
The jury hearing looked like it would last less than an hour. By the 45-minutes mark, most jury member had made their minds: he was guilty. By the 1h15 mark, all jury members decided he was guilty.
Except for me.
I still wasn’t convinced. I told them I would say he was not guilty. Everyone sighed. “For christ-sake this is the 5th time we vote, I think it’s time we decide already”. We kept talking, and one jury member even got mad: “ARE YOU SAYING THE 11 OF US ARE WRONG? Look at us, there are women and men alike here. This guy IS guilty.” One even told me I was a “nigger-defendant” which made me doubt of the composition of the jury.
The day ended and we all went home.
I spent the night without sleeping. In the morning, I was even more sure: he was not guilty. And then came the second day, long as hell. A fat man became seriously mad and asked to get out (which he couldn’t). I could feel, at the end of the day, that they were all mad at me.
Then came the third day and the 1235235th vote. Again, we failed to reach consensus. They all guessed who voted not guilty. Then, one man flipped out.
MAN: Look out son. I don’t know what your freaking problem is… We have his confession. The woman identified him. A FREAKING WITNESS SAW HIM! What the fuck do you need? ME: I am not convinced by any of the evidence.
Then, things became weirder. The prosecution attorney came to talk to me. To my surprise, he was very kind to me.
PROSECUTION: Hey sir,I heard you thought the defendant was not guilty? ME: WHAT??? Sir, this is supposed to be confidential! PROSECUTION: And it will. Behind us. Sir, I just want to tell this: twenty police officers worked on it. Twenty. I wouldn’t take a man to trial without the absolute proof he is guilty. ME: Thanks… I will consider it…
But I already made up my mind. Fourth day passed and at this point no one was talking. At the end of the fifth day, the judge made us all appear in front of us. Every jury member was looking at me.
JUDGE: Has the jury reached a verdict? CHIEF JURY: No, your honor. JUDGE (really surprised): Do you need more time to reach a verdict? CHIEF JURY: No, your honor. JUDGE: You… You don’t think you can reach a verdict? CHIEFT JURY: No, your honor.
Everyone in the audience sighed. Not one second I put my head down. After a couple of days, a hung jury verdict was given. And everything was to be started again. My life took a turn to the worst, I was bullied, intimidated in my life. My car was frequently arrested by patrolling police officers for no reason. I started to think about moving out.
Two months later, before the new trial began, a man confessed to the crime at a police station. He was also black, although looked nothing like the first man, even in terms of weight/height. He gave a crying confession to which he admitted everything. Then, he gave details that were kept private (not shared with any outsider) and that he could in no way know unless he was the perpretator of the crime. He said he followed the long trial, and was tortured thinking about everything that happened. When the woman saw him, she immediately said it was him, and I had the feeling police told her it was the first black man who did it.
Later on he was convicted, served a prison time, and was released after many years. Sorry to make this so long. AMA.
I’m floored that this guy was selected for the jury despite expressing racist sentiments. I’m even more floored that the prosecutor attempted to pressure him into changing his vote during deliberations. Surely, that’s waaaay out-of-bounds, right?