We left the jury deliberation room last night after reaching a consensus on 3 of the 4 counts. The Aggravated Stalking charge was our sticking point and with a 9-3 vote of guilt it appeared that we might be in for a long Friday. Instructed to report back at 8:30 this morning, I endured the traffic home with a heavy head. I was surprised at how much this whole process was affecting me. It is hard to describe the whole experience and everything that goes through your mind but a few of the words that came to my mind were "sobering" and "sad". The rational part of me was focused on the "facts" of the case and coming to a common sense conclusion of what the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The human side of me calculated the consequences of our actions and conclusions as jurors and there were no happy endings there. The whole case brought home the level of insulation I (and I would propose most of the bloggers I read) have from a lot of the ugliness in this world. I would venture that all of us are above the poverty level and do not have to deal with the decisions, problems, and ramifications that I was witnessing in the courtroom. The preposterousness of someone assaulting me outside of my mobile home, physically forcing me inside and then to get naked and smoke crack is not even something that I could come up with in a crazy nightmare. Who does that?!!? Who has to deal with that possibility when they wake up?
The case was as such: The defendant was charged with Home Invasion 1, Aggravated Stalking, Domestic Violence, and Resisting/Obstructing. The prosecutor put the 911 caller who notified the police about the struggle on the stand first.
He was awoken around 3:30 AM on April 5th, 2007 by the sounds of a struggle outside. He looked out his window and saw two people fighting. He thought it was two guys at first and was ready to go back to sleep but realized that it was a woman and a man so he called 911. While on the phone he witnessed the man pull the woman so hard that the porch railing she was clinging on to broke. He watched him drag her into the mobile home and the light come on and then go out. He stayed on the phone to talk to the cops in to the mobile home park and to the right lot. we read a transcript of his call and listened to a recording of it.
Next, the victim took the stand. She was led by the prosecution through telling the story of multiple contacts with the defendant (important for satisfying some of the charges but this was not obvious to us at the time). According to her, he was stealing her garbage and on April 1st, against all the rules of the Personal Protection Order in place since March 2nd, 2007 against him, she caught him looking in windows of her trailer. She opened the back door to confront him and they exchanged words. It was detailed to us that the back door was about 4 feet off the ground and there were no steps. He parked in the lot of a store close by despite the available parking in the trailer park. Then, on April 4th he called the victim to ask if she was working the next day. She was and her shift as a package handler starts at 4 AM. She has to walk to work as she has no transportation and when she was leaving at 3:30 that morning she was attacked by him outside the mobile home. In the struggle, her company ballcap was knocked off, her wallet was dropped and left outside the home. This was important since the cops found this outside on arrival and it was suspicious.
During the struggle, after the porch collapsed, the defendant bit her on the face and she thought she was bleeding (felt something running down her face) and she gave in. She gave him the keys and they went inside and then it got really weird. According to her (and not denied by the defense) he forced her to get naked and then smoke crack. She said that he smoked too. She knew the "lingo" telling us that she "hit the crack pipe twice" which makes you wonder some, but she was not on trial. Anyway, the cops got there and were banging on the door and shining flashlights in the windows. The defendant made her crawl to the bathroom and put on her clothes telling her that he was going to run out the back when the cops left. Then the phone rang. She did not answer it the first time and when it started ringing again she told him that it was work because they knew about her domestic situation and if she did not answer they would call the police. On the phone was a dispatcher for the police and she pretended it was work. She answered a few of his questions with Yes/No/Yeah answers and ended the call abruptly with the message that she was not feeling well and would not be coming in to work. With that, the cops made forced entry and the defendant hid in the closet. She ran towards the cops and they found the defendant and cuffed him. Other questions were asked during cross examination but overall her story was believable and corroborated with pictures of her bitten face, bruises, the trailer porch and the eyewitness 911 caller.
The arresting officer took the stand and gave details about the call and the subsequent chase of the defendant. Apparently (the defendant was a pretty big dude) they had trouble cuffing him behind so they cuffed him in the front and took his shoe laces. While escorting him to the patrol car he took off running and they gave chase on foot. Sporting the stereotypical cop doughnut eating very large gut I chuckled to myself thinking no way this dude caught the running guy. I was right, it was his partner that caught him when he tripped (he was running in socks now, his shoes fell off) in a parking lot across the major road near the park. The re-arrested him and kept a much tighter grip on him. Once they knew he was "arrestable" they left the personal property he had on him (he claimed he lived there) at the trailer. Among these items were his car keys. The victim testified earlier that she used these keys to find his car. It was parked down the street and in there she found and listened to a very disturbing tape. That was among the most telling and confusing evidence in the case.
The tape was accepted into evidence without objection by the defense (not sure why) and it apparently was the defendant talking to his mother. The transcript was one and a half typed single spaced pages of profanity laced rampaging by the defendant. The tape was played and it was pretty disturbing. The person raging on the tape was far different than the man sitting in front of us. At the time I was not sure why they were playing the tape but parts of it became important during deliberations and I suppose it set the reference for the character/personality of the defendant. It was a vulgar roller coaster and I was almost uncomfortable for the older ladies in the jury with me when he was dropping the "F-ing C U Next Tuesday" line.
The prosecution rested and then the defense called his mother to the stand. She did not add much and mostly talked about things before the dates in question (although this was not obvious at the time). We were sent to deliberate around 3:45 PM and finally had to leave a little after 5 PM as we were unable to reach an agreement on all of the charges. We agreed to guilty on 3 of the 4, the aggravated stalking was our sticking point. I was not looking forward to today and getting back in that room with these people.
We started back in a couple minutes after 8:30 today and it was quickly obvious that we were in the same spot as last night. 9 for, 3 against. There were 7 factors that had to be satisfied to meet the charge and two of them involved assessing if the victim was caused emotional distress and if the victim felt intimidated, harassed, etc. 2 of the jurors did not think she was distressed on the April 1st incident. This was important since the charge said there had to be 2 non continuous incidents that met the conditions. They reasoned that since she did not call the cops, she was not distressed. One gentleman did not believe her testimony when she said she was terrified. "If she was" he reasoned, "why did she open the trailer door and try to confront him?". Mentally, the night before I had rationalized with myself and was prepared to go with a Not Guilty verdict on this charge if it meant that we would not have a mistrial. This was a minor charge, the major charge was the Home Invasion 1. As it turned out, after 2 plus hours of debate it became a moot point.
The clerk came in and told us that the judge wanted us to present the 3 counts we agreed on. (and the communication while in deliberation is very weird. There can be no contact with the judge or any parties. We would buzz for a "runner" person and then we could submit a question that we wrote on paper. The reply would be written by the judge on the paper and run back to us. This was an obstacle to communication and dragged out the process as we had several clarification questions.) We were summoned back to the court room and instructed to read our verdict on the three counts. We did, were polled individually as to our answers, and then we were sent back to the room. When we announced Home Invasion 1, the guy started crying and was pretty upset. I reminded myself of the times I have made a mistake and regretted it... and that there are consequences for actions. The mother remained pretty stoic and the victim, his wife started crying too. Not sure if the tears were relief, sadness, or both. My money is on both.
Back in the room, we started deliberating again and pretty soon the clerk came in and told us the judge was coming to see us. Some postulated that we were going to get talked to about reaching a verdict but that was not the case. He advised us that he let the prosecution drop the charge that we were stuck on and that a sentencing date had been set. Since the trial was concluded, his demeanor with us changed completely. Suddenly, he was sharing his opinion with us and information that we were not allowed to know during the trail. He told us that we had reached the correct conclusions (in his opinion) and even brought in the prosecutor to give us more background that we could not have considered legally during the trial. I think that helped ease some the burden from our minds that naturally comes when you make a decision like that.
The clerk handed out a personalized and hand signed "Certificate of Appreciation" to each one of us. I found that odd. Would I frame that and hang it? Where?!? I don't think that I want to dwell on this whole experience. I understand the concept of civic duty and I am embrace it. I would gladly serve as a juror again and expect I will (just not in the next year, I am exempt for 12 months I think). That said, the human side of this whole thing is pretty depressing. I don't know how the court staff, the victim advocacy/support groups, detention facility staff deal with this ugliness all the time. It really is sad. Here is a 28 year old woman who looks like she is older than 40. She has been beaten into submission on many levels, among them physically, and she has two kids with her husband: a crack addict with sever anger management issues and an unfathomable attitude towards women. What is her future? What are the kids' futures? The father's future in prison. It is a zero sum game and outside of the prosecutor's office there were definitely no winners today.
I headed back to my milquetoast upper class neighborhood in my well running comfortable car and appreciated my position in life. I am a happily married, expecting father to be, working at a job I enjoy at a company that appreciates me, lucky person.
Jury duty helps your perspective.