The Uphill Slide

There is always something.

Juries

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I’ve often wondered what went on in the jury room at Jacob’s trial. The decision on the five charges was split finding him not guilty of the most serious charges and guilty on three. It was anti-climatic as the not guilty verdicts were read first, giving us the fleeting second of hope until guilty, guilty, guilty was read. I was suspicious that the accuser and his mother were not in the courtroom as the verdict was read. I asked Jacob’s attorney, “Did they already know?” but then how could they?

I wonder about this jury’s deliberations because they did not take a long time—an hour or two at the end of Thursday and then only another hour or two, at most, the next morning. By lunch we were returning home to Jacob’s house in anger and without him. What was the reason for that split decision? Was it a compromise? Was it to deliver a verdict of uncertainty, the what if precaution? The jury instructions seemed to dismiss reasonable doubt in favor of the one credible witness for verdict-deciding. But like the 50-50 chance of discerning lies, so is credibility 50-50.

Judge Rangos discharged the jury saying she hoped they had found the experience enjoyable. I thought the word ‘enjoyable’ an odd choice; perhaps that was because my son’s entire life was decided by those 12 jury members based on no evidence and just the testimony of that accuser against my son’s testimony denying each accusation. And of course, there was the testimony of Jacob’s ex-wife, testimony that offered no evidence about the charges and was simply designed to impugn Jacob’s character and lay blame for their disastrous marriage on him. Is a bitter ex-wife really a credible witness in such a trial involving family? Did she just want to have the last word and steal a little of the show for herself, since she had no evidence as to her statements; and more importantly, the problems in the marriage had nothing to do with the charges.

Roy was called for jury duty in Arizona once and excused because of financial hardship. I was called in Armstrong County and not selected. Just a few weeks ago, Jacob was called in Allegheny County and released as an ineligible felon. I might want him to be on my jury because he, above all of us, knows the momentous effect of a jury’s decision. I will dread ever being called for jury duty again and having someone’s life in my hands. It is our system and our duty, but I know that I will most likely be disqualified in any criminal case by my honest answers to the lawyers’ questions.

12 Angry Men

Tonight I watched 12 Angry Mena story of a jury’s deliberations. These 12 men were deciding the verdict for an 18-year-old boy accused of stabbing and killing his abusive father. Conviction meant the electric chair. Eleven of these men entered deliberations with their minds made up. Several just wanted to get it over quickly. A couple of them entered with extreme biases against the defendant, not as an individual, but as representative of a group. It was one man who prevented the miscarriage of justice by refusing to follow the pack. He questioned the evidence presented by the prosecution and the witnesses. Was the evidence presented actually the facts? Did the evidence make sense and fit the details of the crime? Were the witnesses wrong? Were the witnesses lying? Of course, this is just a movie where 12 men deliver justice because they ask questions about what was presented to them in that courtroom. They did not blindly accept the prosecution’s case. They questioned the competence of the defense lawyer. If only…

The dialogue delivered by some of these jurors in a movie 60 years old, sad to say, can still be heard today.

Juror #2: John Fiedler

“I just think he’s guilty. I thought it was obvious from the word go. Nobody proved otherwise.”

Juror #3: Lee J.Cobb

“…an open and shut case like this one.”
“You sat in court with the rest of us. You heard what we did. The kid’s a dangerous killer. You can see it.”
“It’s these kids, the way they are nowadays.”

Juror #4: E.G. Marshall

“He was born in a slum. Slums are breeding grounds for criminals. I know it, and so do you. It’s no secret kids born in slums are potential menaces to society.”

Juror #7: Jack Warden

“I happen to have tickets to the ball game tonight”
“This kid is 5 for 0. Look at his record.”
“I’m getting a little tired of this yakety yaking back and forth. It’s getting us nowhere, so I guess I’ll have to break this up. I change my vote to not guilty.”

Juror #10: Ed Begley

“…you know what we’re dealing with.”
“You’re not gonna’ tell me that we’re supposed to believe this kid knowing what he is. Listen, I’ve lived among them all my life. You can’t believe a word they say. You know that. I mean, they’re born liars.”
“The kids who crawl out of these places are real trash.”
“Look, you know how these people lie. It’s born in them. I mean what the heck. I don’t have to tell you. They don’t know what the truth is. Let me tell you. They don’t need any real big reason to kill someone either. No sir, they get drunk. Oh, they’re real big drinkers, all of em. You know that. And bang, someone’s lying in the gutter. Well, nobody’s blaming them for it. That’s the way they are, by nature. You know what I mean. Violent…Human life don’t mean as much to them as it does to us….Oh sure, there’s some good things about ’em too. I’m the first one to say that. I’ve known a couple who were OK, but that’s the exception, you know what I mean.”

Finally from the one hold-out:

Juror #8:  Henry Fonda

“I began to get the feeling that the defense counsel wasn’t conducting a thorough enough cross-examination. I mean, he let too many things go by, little things. I mean, if I was on trial for my life, I’d want my lawyer to tear the prosecution witnesses to shreds or at least try to.”
“It’s always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. Where ever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth.”

 

 

12 Angry Men. Directed by Sidney Lumet, Performances by Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, Orion-Nova Productions, 1957.

 

 

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