Saturday, August 14, 2010

Jury Duty called and I answered

This was an interesting and trying week. I was called for jury duty and ended up sitting on a jury. This blog post will explain what jury duty is like in my little corner of Georgia. It all started with a summons that arrived in the mail telling me to report on Aug. 9. Even though all of this is now a matter of public record, I'm not going to use real names when I talk about the victim and the defendant.

On Mon., all the people summoned were seated in a large meeting room. The Clerk of Courts called the roll, then divided us into two groups-Panel 1 and Panel 2. We were told that this would be the seating order and to remember who we were sitting next to. I was in Panel 1. After a few minutes, Panel 2 was called to go into a courtroom where a civil suit was being heard. Some time passed before Panel 1 was called into the criminal courtroom. We walked single file into the courtroom and I wasn't sure if I felt like a sheep being herded or if I was back in elementary school. The front 14 people filed into the jury box and the rest of us sat in the courtroom seats.

The judge addressed us by telling us what the young man at the defense table was charged with. Then the District Attorney and the Defense Attorney asked us several questions-did we know any of the attorneys, did we know the defendant or the victim and things like that. The attorneys conferred among themselves, then chose 14 people-12 jurors and and 2 alternates-and the rest of us went back to the original meeting room. All of this had taken about 2 ½ hours, so the Clerk of Courts told us we could break for lunch and to be back in 90 minutes.

After the lunch break, we all returned to the meeting room where we sat for abut 45 minutes. Then we we called back to the criminal courtroom where the same procedure was repeated. The judge told us what the defendant was charged with and the attorneys asked us questions. One new question included this time was asking us if we had children. We went by rows and stood and stated how many children we had and their ages. You see, this defendant was charged with child molestation. The attorneys then conferred with the attorneys at their respective tables and then names were called for the jury. I heard my name. After the people who were not chosen had been let go, we were given instructions to report back to court on Wednesday morning and to not discuss this case with each other or anybody else.

What this case was is this: A girl had gone out of town on a family emergency-her father had had a massive heart attack. She left her 3 ½ year old son with her 23 year old live in boyfriend. She was gone for 5 days. After she returned, the little boy, Josh, told his mom, “that Papa Bill  put his weenie in my mouth and dirty water came out and went all over the blue blanket”.

Wednesday morning, I reported to court-dreading it the whole time. In the jury room, we were given notepads and pencils and told to write our names on the top page, but to use the pages under that for our notes. We were also told that from that point on, except for lunch, we would be escorted everywhere by a bailiff. So, we went into the courtroom and were sworn in. The District Attorney made her opening statement and the Defense Attorney made his. Then, the District Attorney presented their case. We heard from the first person to interview Josh and saw the video of that interview. Then we heard testimony from the police Lt. who interviewed Bill and saw the video of that interview. Bill denied several times that he had done it, then said that he had been at a neighbors smoking pot. When he got home, he put Josh to bed and started watching some porn. He said he didn't hear Josh get up until Josh tripped over a pair of shoes and fell so his mouth landed exactly where it did to bring these charges. Of course the detective did not believe this outrageous story, so Bill changed his story 2 more times before finally saying he did it. After that video interview, we heard testimony from a forensic interviewer who specializes in interviewing child victims of sexual abuse. We heard from her and saw the video of her interview with Josh. That took about an hour. Through it all, the little boy stayed consistent with his side of the story. Some of the things he did in his interview with the forensic interviewer were also good indicators of abuse. When the interview pointed to the mouth on the drawing of the little boy, Josh would not name the mouth but his words were “I didn't do that. Bill did”. Then we heard from Josh himself. After he took the stand, the DA was careful to ask him a couple of questions about his ability to know the difference between telling the truth and telling a lie. He repeated what Bill had done. Then, we heard from his mom. She stated that after she had confronted Bill about what he had done, she took Josh and went and stayed with friends. Bill packed up his belongings, including the blue blanket, and vacated the apartment. The District Attorney then rested her case. The judge then recessed us for lunch with the caution about not talking to anybody about the case. We got 90 minutes for lunch. I ate, but while I was eating I kept going over in my mind what I had heard that morning. Not in a looking at the evidence kind of way, but wondering what leads people to make some of the horrible choices they make sometimes.

After the lunch break, the Defense put Bill on the stand. I, along with most of the jury, had been watching him throughout the morning. He showed no emotion during anything. Bill testified to the fact that he had been smoking pot and eating Xanax before going home, and putting Josh to bed and everything else. He also mentioned that there were others who could have done this to Josh. Suddenly, there are other suspects in this case. Don't think so. He went on to say that he dropped out of school halfway through 10th grade and that his dad and stepdad had beaten him. Happens to thousands of others and they don't go out and sexually abuse kids. He also stated that he confessed because he was intimidated by the police Lt., but his body language didn't show that at all. There was supposed to be another witness for the defense that afternoon, but since he couldn't be located, we were released for the day and told to report back the next morning. The next morning, the witness who could not be located had been located. He was a character witness for the defense. He got on the stand, stated his name, and when asked if he knew the reputation Bill had in the community he said that he did. When asked if that reputation was good or bad, he replied good. When the District Attorney was asked if she had any questions for the witness, she did not. I was left with the feeling of “who was this masked man?”

We then heard closing arguments from both sides and got instructions from the judge before retuning to the jury room for deliberations. We had to wait to start deliberating until we got Bill's signed confession, the paper he signed where he waived his Miranda rights and the written jury instructions. While we were waiting, we chose a foreperson. Once we got the paperwork,, it didn't take long to find him guilty on one count of aggravated child molestation and one count of child molestation. When Bill heard the first guilty verdict, he kind of sagged on his feet, but his face again showed nothing. In Ga., the sentence for aggravated child molestation is a mandatory 25 years with no possibility of parole. He will serve everyday of that 25 years. He got 20 years for the child molestation charge. The sentences are to run consecutively. That means he will probably still have time to serve after doing the 25 years-if a person like that even survives prison. Even if he gets out, he will be a registered sex offender, and be on probation for the rest of his life.

Do I think that this guy is a threat to any kid walking home from school past his house? No, I don't. He didn't seem to be that ambitious. Do I think this guy is a threat to any kid in his home? Yes, I sure do. If he had been found not guilty, I bet he would have found another girlfriend with a small child and done the same thing. It's just the vibe I got while watching him for a couple of days. He's a pedophile, but too lazy to hunt for victims.

After it was over, I was home, I had a deep melancholy feeling descend on me. I'm not sure why. After all, this guy wasn't going to hurt any more kids. Maybe it was the fact that he had changed so many lives by his actions. Hopefully, Josh is young enough, he can get past this without much of a memory. The lives of Josh's loved ones are all changed because of Bill's actions and Bill's life is surely changed.

I know that having this small glimpse inside of a pedophile has changed me. I'm not sure I will feel clean again for a very long time.

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