Tuesday, March 25, 2014

12 Angry Jurors from Queens

Jury duty is finally over! It took almost a month (I first reported for duty on March 2), and I am exhausted.

I'm thinking of writing a play called 12 Angry Jurors from Queens so at least I'll have something out of the experience, because it was not pretty - 12 Angry Men looks like a picnic in comparison to my jury experience.

In "12 Angry Men" there is definitely conflict and jurors insulting each other, and even a moment when Lee J. Cobb attempts to assault Henry Fonda. But for the most part in the movie each juror argues quietly and states their objections clearly to Fonda's not-guilty verdict, and then Fonda argues against them clearly and calmly until he convinces them, one-by-one to change their vote.

In our case, at least 8 out of the 12 jurors, including the jury foreman (and me) yelled at somebody at least once. And nobody changed their vote.

There were actually 10 good people on the jury, and two people who basically sabotaged the entire process. The case was a second-degree murder trial of an African American man. The actual crime happened in October 2008 and it's taken all this time to get to us - and it appears that it was already tried once before.

Early on in the deliberation process nine of us arrived at the conclusion that there was not enough evidence to convict the defendant. There were only two eye-witnesses and their testimony conflicted - one claimed she saw the defendant pull the trigger on the left side of the double-parked car she was in, but the other witness placed the defendant on the right side of the car that the first witness was in, and on the sidewalk, past the line of single-parked cars.

Now it's still possible that the defendant somehow was the killer, but it was very unlikely, and on top of that the first witness contradicted herself. And she was only 17 (back in 2008) when she saw the murder, and she didn't actually identify the defendant until a week after the crime, at a line-up after being shown a mug shot of the defendant.

So although we couldn't say with 100% certainty that the defendant was innocent, there was certainly a reasonable doubt about his guilt. One of the reasons why the movie "12 Angry Men" is so valuable is because Henry Fonda's character helps walk the other jurors through the concept of reasonable doubt.

It's safe to say that the two saboteur jurors have never seen 12 Angry Men. One of the bad jurors, Juror K (I forget everybody's numbers so I'll use their first initial) was an African American woman who basically refused to consider the fact that the two witnesses' testimonies were in conflict - or anything else. She believed the 17-year-old witness (prior to her contradiction) and that was that. She literally said, after several of us asked her to explain why she wouldn't consider other evidence "I'm shutting down now." Which is contrary to the judge's instructions, which were that we were to listen to each others' arguments. So that juror alone was enough to screw the process.

The other juror, whom I'll call Juror D was a real piece of work - a classic Angry White Man who insisted that the majority who voted not guilty had "closed minds." He told me, personally that I was never impartial because I was one of those people who wanted to "help the underprivileged." Which is an echo of some of the jurors in "12 Angry Men" who used the term "bleeding hearts" when jurors voted not guilty.

Juror H, a bright and street-wise young woman, called Juror D a racist to his face. I'm not 100% sure he was a racist - having been falsely tagged as a racist by Mikki Kendall for a stupid reason (I disagreed with friends of her that John Lennon and Yoko Ono were/are racists) I am not so quick to label someone a racist without hard evidence. It's true that Juror D is a science teacher in the Bronx and said many nasty things about his students - for whom, I got the impression, he has nothing but contempt - but I heard nothing specifically racist.

When we all first met I heard Juror D say he was a science teacher. I asked him if he liked Neil DeGrass Tyson and was amazed when he said he'd never heard of Tyson. How could a science teacher not know who Neil DeGrass Tyson is? I said "you know, he's been on the Daily Show" and Juror D said he didn't watch the Daily Show. That's probably when Juror D decided I was a liberal, since I said nothing about politics the entire run of the case.

I strongly suspect Juror D is a fan of Fox News - he didn't come out and say it, but some of the things he said in casual conversation sounded like right-wing talking points.

He also appeared to be homophobic. He told this joke to us:
A guy walks into a bar and says to the bartender, "I just experienced my first blowjob today." "Congratulations," said the bartender, "your next beer is on me." "Thanks" says the guy, "but it's going to take more than one beer to get the taste out of my mouth."
Get it? It's a joke because the idea of a man giving a blowjob is just so wacky it's funny!

It wasn't enough that he was aggressively attacking the other jurors as closed-minded, for no good reason, but as we were discussing the case he would mumble little insults about what we were saying, and kept lecturing us on using evidence instead of emotion to decide the verdict.

Meanwhile it was clear to all of us, by the way he kept referring to the murder victim ("Think of poor Jimmy!") that he wanted somebody to pay for the murder and the guy in custody was just as good as anybody. And he seemed to think that it was his job to solve a mystery. When we pointed out to him that the evidence was not conclusive, he would invent little scenarios to try to make it conclusive - in other words, to do the DA's job all over again.

Thanks to Jurors D and K, we knew early on that this would be a hung jury and by yesterday (Monday) morning sent a letter to the judge saying so. But the judge said we hadn't deliberated long enough and sent us back. It looked like we were in for a looong week of frustration and insults from Juror D.

I should say here that the deliberation process was dragged out more than it should have because Juror D didn't remember important details of the testimony that the rest of us all remembered and so he kept dragging us back into the courtroom to re-listen to the testimony. Which only succeeded in convincing the not-guilty jurors that we were correct in the first place.

This morning there seemed to be a glimmer of hope - Juror L, a pleasant young woman who was leaning towards guilty, initially, was actually listening to our arguments on issues of reasonable doubt and she began to try to talk to Juror D. (Nobody even tried to talk to Juror K after she "shut down.") It appeared that Juror D took this as a betrayal by Juror L and he began to get angry and started talking about how the not-guilty jurors were corrupt because the mother of Juror V lived in a neighborhood near the crime scene. Juror D suggested that Juror V deliberately withheld that information in order to get into the jury and contaminate the jury pool. He indicated he would never change his verdict from guilty ever because of the corruption of the not-guilty jurors.

I told you Juror D was a piece of work.

Well that was enough for me. I was sick of Juror D impugning the not-guilty jurors ethics in general, and mine in particular, and I said we were wasting our time - Juror D was saying he would never budge due to his allegation of "corruption." I said if he felt that way he should complain to the judge about our corruption - that's a serious issue. We all yelled at each other about that for awhile, and the foreman, who was usually a quiet and even-tempered guy, screamed at Juror D about the stupidity of claiming that Juror V was prejudiced because of his mother's neighborhood. Juror M yelled at Juror D that he was "sick of your bullshit."

But Juror D would not budge and so finally Juror D passed a note to the judge asking if he could speak to him.

Well we all went back into the courtroom again and the judge told us that jurors are not allowed to speak directly to the judge. And then, finally, he said we should go back to the deliberation room, write out a statement saying we could not come to a unanimous decision in a timely manner - if that was the case - and send it to him.

So after we went back to the deliberation room, Juror H, Juror S and Juror M and I made one last-ditch effort to argue with Jurors D and K, but it was futile. So we sent the note, were declared a hung jury, and sent home.

On Facebook today somebody posted this essay New York Doesn't Love You which refers to Queens as "the Borough of Misfit Toys." It's certainly a heterogenous place and our jury reflected that. Here is the gender/ethnicity breakdown, including the 4 alternates:

Foreman - black male
Juror L - white female
Juror K - black female
Juror Y - Asian female
Juror B - Latina
Juror D - white male
Juror H - white female
Juror M - black male
Juror J - white male
Juror N (not me) - Latino
Juror A - black female
Juror S - white female
Juror C - white male
Juror Z - black female (with distinct Jamaican dialect)
Juror V - black male
And me.

I am so glad it's over although I will miss Gary, the officer of the court assigned to our juror group. I'm not generally interested in cops, but with his salt-and-pepper hair, dimples, dry wit, and somehow Bruce Springsteen-esque demeanor, I had a major crush on Gary. Who is married, of course.