I didn't want to be selected to serve on the jury -- I had a lot of stuff going on at work and the case sounded awful. In fact I ended up being the very last person selected to comprise the 14-member jury (that quickly became 13 members only one hour into the trial). But at the end of the three or four days of testimony I wanted nothing more than to be one of the 12 jurors that would go off and decide the defendant's fate -- sitting through the entire trial but to miss the very purpose of being a juror, ending up as the unlucky alternate juror at that point seemed like a fate worse than death. Lucky for me my number was called. Such is the emotional roller coaster that was my recent experience at jury duty.
Jurors get really good at waiting for long stretches of time with little understanding as to why. The 70 people called in to jury duty that Monday sat and waited for hours for the selection process to begin. After finally making our way up to the court room we sat and waited while the judge met with each and every person who felt he/she may have had a bias on the case. Once on the jury we sat and waited each morning for the proceedings to start and at times during the trial were excused from the courtroom and waited while the attorneys hashed out various motions and such.
The defendant was charged with first degree child molestation and child exploitation of his step-daughter. Of all trials to get assigned to, I couldn't think of a worse crime. At times the trial was awkward, uncomfortable and everything you would think a trial involving a child victim would be. The primary source of evidence was the testimony of the victim; there was no physical evidence -- pictures, etc -- to corroborate the victims testimony. To make matters even more difficult, the victim had been involved in a serious auto accident which impaired her memory, so her testimony was inconsistent at times. There were times in her testimony I believed what she had to say and others I felt she was sinking her own ship. If we had only had her testimony I don't think we would have returned the verdict we did.
After about 2.5 hours of deliberation we arrived at a unanimous guilty verdict on both counts. And while we had to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, that didn't mean we were without any doubt. After all, we were talking about a man's life here and there was always the possibility, no matter how small, that we could be putting an innocent man in prison for crimes he didn't commit, and if that happened I don't think I could live with myself. I was a nervous wreck walking back into the juror box.
As the first charge was being read by the clerk and the jury foreman announced the verdict I glanced to my right and saw the prosecutor look back over her shoulder and smile at the victim and her family seated in the gallery. As the second "guilty" was being announced I glanced over as I heard a very emotionally-exhausted "yes!" come from the gallery and I saw a smile and tears streaming down the face of the victim's mother. I felt my nerves start to calm a bit more at that moment.
After the conclusion of the trial we assembled back in the deliberation room and were visited by the judge who spoke with us about the trial and our experience. As he was talking I could feel his satisfaction with the verdict we delivered and we soon found out why. The judge was discussing some of the evidence that didn't make it into trial for various legal reasons and one of the things that didn't come out, because the defendant didn't take the witness stand, was that this was not the defendant's first experience with this type of crime. The defendant had plead no contest to 2nd degree molestation before and had somehow convinced the victim's mother that he was innocent and it was no longer an issue. For me, and I expect for my fellow jurors as well, that eased any remaining doubt I had about our decision.
We convicted a guilty man and that felt really good.