Runaway Jury in Polk County
Feb 28, 2017
|Jury summons arrives.
Ang texts me the info since I'm in Dallas, Texas at the time I should be serving. In the past, I would have tried to find a way out of the jury summons. Retirement changes things. I now felt it was my civic duty to serve so I call to reschedule when in town at the end of February.
Tuesday, February 21, I along with approximately 200 other citizens arrive at the judicial center. There are 3 trials to be chosen so they divide us into thirds...one to show up on Thursday, one to stay in the courtroom for jury selection, and the rest of us to come back to the courtroom at 1:30 p.m. I'm, of course, in the last batch.
As we arrive at 1:30 p.m., there are 48 of us in which to select a jury. Each of us are provided a number in which to sit. I receive #13. Lucky 13?? Let's see. There are 12 members of the jury and one alternate. 13. Doesn't look good.
30 to 45 minutes of questions to the group later, I'm chosen as a jury member. As the judge discusses the case to us...assault of a household member (read woman) by the defendant (read white male with numerous tattoos)...he mentions the case will be heard on Friday, and IF not completed on Friday, will be settled on Monday.
Crap! I leave for Joshua Tree on Saturday morning...early. What is that saying...don't tell God your plans??
Friday, February 24. As I'm driving into Livingston, a foreboding heaviness begins to encroach on me as I realize that a decision I have to make will possibly make a man go to prison for 2 to 10 years. This isn't a trivial case.
The plaintiff (assaulted woman) takes the stand. White woman, uneducated, tattooed, missing her front teeth. She doesn't do herself or the case any favors. A deputy comes on the witness stand. Verifies the woman had been abused (we clearly got that message thanks to the enlarged photos...busted eye and bruises on neck and arms). Plaintiff's sister testifies. She is nervous. I understand. Been there myself one year ago this month as I had to testify in the civil trial of a terminated Service Representative. Nerve racking experience. I felt for the sister. Her story (similar to her sister's) wasn't iron clad.
Then, the strongest testimony of the prosecution. The sheriff deputy that went to the house of the defendant to arrest him for assault. The defendant stayed in the home with his father for over 4 hours. The SWAT team had to bust the door down in an effort to reach the defendant.
He has to be guilty, right??
Prosecution rests. Defense had the defendant's father testify. Absolutely no teeth and not much education, if any. He will say anything to protect his son. That is obvious. Then, the defendant testifies. He is calm, cool and collected. He passionately denies assaulting the victim. The prosector doesn't rattle him. Even when asked why he stayed in the home for over 4 hours. We learn the defendant is on probation from another assault...this one a vehicular assault in Ohio.
He has to be guilty, right??
We break for lunch. I have no idea where to go, but I need to think, so Sonic it is. And, I need to pray. I play it out in my head....
Who/Motive? Yes, the defendant had motive. His girlfriend, the victim, had cheated on him.
What? Assault for 12 hours.
Where? In the defendants garage with his father asleep in the home.
When? The Thursday evening before Valentine's Day 2016.
How? The defendant used his fist and his hands to choke the victim.
He has to be guilty, right??
Yet, something wasn't adding up to me. I walked through the timeline. The defendant worked driving a truck every Monday through Friday. He rarely went home during the week. The victim traveled with the defendant in his truck.
The incident happened on a Thursday in the defendant's garage. He says he was working and dropped the victim off at a Nacogdoches truck stop on Thursday night, then spent the night in the parking lot of CalTex where he had to load the next morning. The victim says they slept late, then went for a motorcycle ride for a few hours, then back to the house and garage, where the assault happened.
So, prosecution, prove he wasn't at work on Thursday. You prove that, then this guy is guilty and on his way to prison. But, the prosecution doesn't do that, among other things.
The jury is released to start deliberations. We start off by taking a secret vote. 7 vote Guilty, 5 Not Guilty. We discuss. This should be easy, right? He clearly assaulted this woman. Every person in the room knew it. But, that wasn't what we were asked to do. We were asked to deliver a unanimous verdict based on the evidence we were provided and deliver the verdict beyond a reasonable doubt.
There was reasonable doubt. Did the defendant go to work on Thursday? If he did, then the assault might have happened, but it did not happen that night by the defendant. The whole case rested on the assault happening on Thursday night in the defendant's garage.
We revote. 3 Guilty, 9 Not Guilty. We discuss more. Yes, we are in Polk County, Texas. Yes, the case involves some people that might be called a bit redneck. But, there are no rednecks in that jury room! The discussions were genuine, educated, and concerned about doing the right thing for the justice system.
Of the final 3 voting Guilty, 2 were women. The man folded pretty quickly to change his vote to Not Guilty, but the 2 women felt strongly he was guilty. He was, no question. But, the evidence provided did not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. They both agreed, but struggled to let this guy walk. I understood. I felt the same way.
By 4:00 p.m., we had an unanimous decision. We headed back in the jury room. I watched the victim and her sister melt as the verdict of Not Guilty was read. The expression on the defendant's face never changed. My heart broke.
After the verdict, we went out into the hallway, where the prosecutor joined us. She blamed the verdict on everything but herself. No accountability at all. Not enough resources...got the case too late...yada, yada, yada. I was frustrated. She lost the case. Pure and simple. A few jury members cried.
I headed to the car. After 20+ years, I finally understood the O.J. verdict. Everyone knew he was guilty. Just like our defendant. But, the prosecution didn't prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Period. Beyond a reasonable doubt. Fill the holes. Not the defense's job, but the prosecution's job.
I served my civic duty. My first time in the jury pool. Much harder than it looks. I still think about it and the look on the victim's face when the verdict was read. She did nothing wrong. She was clearly assaulted by someone...probably the defendant. But, I followed the law and voted, not with my conscience, but with the letter of the law.
Was justice served? Only God, the defendant, and the victim really know....