Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Jury Journal: Rounds 8 and 9 (the Penultimate and Ultimate Rounds)

So how did the last week go? Kind of weird (in a weird weird way, as opposed to the regular sort of weird, like the rest of the time). Let's review:

Round 8 (last Monday):

Decidedly not business as usual:
  • They called up fifty of us a 9 a.m. This itself was unusual. We normally twiddled our thumbs for a good hour or two before anything ever happened. I was #34. (I wrote my number on my hand, as always, so I didn't forget it during the remainder of our elaborate numerical proceedings.*) We filed into Section G (the same court as Round 3). The first panel of fourteen took their seats in the jury box. The rest of us filled the audience.
  • Also unusual, the defendant didn't look like the usual kid-nabbed-off-some-corner: a white guy, fortyish, with a goatee, wire-rim specs, a dazed bemused expression, and a hopelessly askew tie.
  • Also unusual, the audience, which typically contained no more than a handful of concerned family members, was populated by a sizable gaggle of legal-ish aide- and intern-like professional sorts.
  • Also unusual, the judge talked extra-a-bunch. Instead of a few cursory remarks preceding the voir dire, he discoursed at length (in his hardcore New Orleans accent), standing the whole time. At first, I thought maybe he'd just had too much coffee and was feeling particularly loquacious, but as we learned the charges (2nd degree murder) and their potential implications (life in prison, no chance of parole), I gradually came to understand that we were running in deeper waters, and this wouldn't be the typical brisk rote affair.
  • Not unusual: We were once again asked if we or anyone close to us had been the victim of a crime. I was once again amazed at the number of people who responded that someone close to them had been murdered. Like a lot. Like maybe a third.
  • The prosecutors were young serious women in pantsuits.
  • The defense attorney was smooooth, almost ridiculously so, an older guy, the sort of archetypal embodiment of the genial Southern lawyer from some movie or TV show (except with an N.O., not Southern, accent), bellying up to the jury box, putting both hands on the rail, leaning in real casual-like, then turning emphatically to address the whole court, conducting his entire questioning without notes, addressing each juror personally (rather impressively having memorized all of our names and even our occupations in the minutes before), slipping into to casual interludes about, "Oh, so you work at _______, Mr. _______, great restaruant, making me hungry..." or "Mr. _______, I see you work in finance. My son works at _______. Do you know him?" or "Ms. _______, you're a writer, yes? May I ask what genre? Well, we'll be looking for you on the best seller list," before steering gracefully back to main line of questioning.
  • Metaphor watch: Old Testament, Charlton Heston, Hawaii Five-O (again), cookies, apples, ladders, arithmetic, CSI**, Pete Rose...
  • At one point during the instructions, we were informed that, "If you take 'prejudge' and change around the letters, you get 'prejudice'." I summoned my best anagrammatic skills but couldn't quite get that one to work.
  • When it was revealed that one of the jurors was a DNA specialist at the N.O.P.D. crime lab, she was immediately dismissed from the proceedings.
  • Typically, they read us a list of potential witnesses and ask if we know any of them. This time, there were bookoo witnesses, like two minutes worth of list-reading.
  • The prosecution asked if anybody remembered "anything about this case?", remembered "reading anything about it in the newspaper...? in October, 2005?"*** The prosecutor then approached the bench and whispered to the judge, then crossed the room and whispered to the defense, then turned back to the jury, "anything about... a trunk?" This sounded ominous, but at that moment, rang no bell.
  • As voir dire stretched into a fourth hour, we, the third panel of jurors, were called up and took our seats in the jury box. (Panel 1: jurors 1-14; Panel 2: 15-28; Panel 3: 29-42; Panel 4:.... There was no Panel 4. After the first three panels, they'd picked their jury, and the remaining eight jurors were never questioned, having watched four hours of the proceedings without ever actively participating.) By now, the judge was clearly in a move it along mood, and nobody, prosecution or defense, made much of a fuss, asking only just enough questions to make sure that none of us were stark raving mad,**** then working numerically through us, accepting us in sequential order to fill the remaining slots:
    "...#30, juror eleven; #31, juror twelve; #32, first alternate; #33, second alternate. Okay, we're done."
    And I, juror #34 (along with jurors #35-50), was sent home from the day, one randomized tick away from serving as an alternate on the jury of (what would prove to be) an exceptionally nasty trial.
  • That evening, recounting the days events to Sarah, we suddenly both vaguely recalled: Oh yeah! Clean up crews found a body in a trunk or something. Remember that?
Round 8Epilogue:

On Wednesday morning, this article graced the top left of the Times-Picayune's front page, detailing the allegations that the defendant, John Morgan, had killed his girlfriend, Dana Pastori, in 2002, dismembered her, and kept her remains in a trunk in his apartment, later moving with the trunk to another residence, where it was ultimately discovered after he evacuated for Katrina. Most unsettling detail (from a potential juror's perspective):
"Prosecutors have ghastly evidence—starting with the trunk that reeked inside Judge Julian Parker's courtroom, prompting him to call in janitors to spray sanitizer and sweep the new carpeting..."
And then, on Thursday, this article announced the guilty verdict, further detailing the grisly details of the case, and reporting that:
"The jury of nine men and three women deliberated for about 40 minutes before unanimously finding Morgan guilty of second-degree murder."
Round 9 (last Wednesday):

Wednesday, the final day, was largely anticlimactic. No courts called for any jurors, and the morning passed quietly, with nothing more than the usual murmuring hum of conversation (including several about that morning's front page article) and daytime TV. Then, just as it was looking like we might have to return after lunch, the counter dropped to zero. A great sigh was sighed. And then, a surprising amount of emotion: hand shakes, hugs, swapped numbers, fist bumps, back slaps, and we all went our separate ways.

* The calls always have a touch of the cattle herding about them, like maybe they should punch a number tag through our ear like we do with the sheep back home, for easier ordering, sorting, and parceling. (I've always thought that livestock-tag earrings would make a good punk accoutrement: garish plastic tags with a big ugly number, coarsely punched through the earlobe—We're just sheep, man, being led to the slaughter!)

** The jurors were asked if any of them watched CSI, and if so, why? (The gist of the line of questioning was essentially: Don't expect the N.O.P.D crime lab to be the least damn bit like the gleaming high-tech folks on TV.) Much to my delight, one of the jurors responded that, yes, he watched "CSI: Miami" just because it was so hilarious to watch that David Caruso guy put on his sunglasses.

*** In October, 2005, most of us were scratching our heads, figuring out what the hell to do with our moldy flooded houses, and possess only blurrily addled recollections of anything that didn't directly relate to our immediate crises.

**** After my one month experience, I can assure you, there are some serious kooks in the jury pool. And the kooks got selected more than I did.


  1. craic-head1:52 PM

    Whoa. That toting in the locker to the court room that had remnant smells of rotting flesh...what the hell?! And then looking at the pics and evidence - ugh. Interesting how those jurors were given a future pardoning from further jury duty...I've never heard of doing that before.

    I'm glad you weren't picked for that.

    Good Lord. Fascinating stuff, Slimbo.

  2. mother-in-law5:06 PM

    Son in-law, this is great fun. John Grishom move over. Your character descriptions from a jurors point of view are good reading.

    Remember what I told you about juries? I never met one I could trust to stay awake never mind pay attention (Of course we had that language barrier in Miami).

    I am proud of you for not getting out of jury duty which many do.

  3. Hello, slim
    I was on the witness list, luckily, I didn’t get called. John’s sick that plain to see and had been for a very long time. I appreciate your article you’ve helped me see a glimpse into those days inside the court room. It’s enough to mess with anyone’s head for a life time. I still have nightmare and probably always will.