The jury speaks

Waiting on the jury to reach a verdict for the recent murder trial. We sat. We read. We walked out asking to be called when they returned. As the supper hour approached, we stared at the door silently begging for a verdict.

A knock sounded.

“They knocked! They knocked.” The message spread across the courtroom. The court officer opened the door

“We need a 10-minute break,” the juror said. Other times they needed lunch, the water pitchers refreshed or an explanation about the verdict options.

We anticipated we would be done and gone by noon, by three, by fivellAll wrng.

At 5:30 another knock.. We all turned and watched the officer open the door. “We are ready!”  Three years after the shooting, a jury had finally decided guilty or not.

Only the footsteps of the jurors filling the jury box broke the silence of the courtroom. 

Before reading the verdict, the judge acknowledged that emotional reactions followed any verdict, but he would not tolerate any disruptions. The number of uniformed officers had doubled in anticipation of such responses to the verdict. They lined the walls around the spectators.  

The judge picked up the verdict papers and silently read. He sent the verdict back to the foreperson. She read it aloud. Four times she pronounced “Guilty.” Guilty of first degree murder. Guilty of attempted murder. And guilty two times for the use of a firearm.

Four rows behind the prosecution’s table, the mother of the deceased dropped her head and  wiped away tears. Her sister and her grandchild’s mother reached out to her..

Behind the accused, rows of family, friends and parents silently absorbed the finality of the verdict.­­ Some swallowed hard to not react.

The defense attorney said he would like to have the judge poll the jurors. To each of the twelve jurors, the judge read the same four questions in a monotonous litany, “In the charge of murder in the first degree, how do you find? In the charge of attempted murder in the first degree how do you find? In the matter of the use of a firearm in the first-degree murder, how do you find? In the matter of use of a firearm in the first-degree attempted murder, how do you find?” To each question each juror answered, “guilty.” Before the second juror finished answering, two family members of the accused abruptly stood up and strode out.

Preparing the jury for the sentencing phase, the judge read the potential sentences. Ten to 40 years or life for the murder or attempted murder. Up to 15 years for each use of a firearm.

The defendant’s head dropped. He wiped away tears.

During the impact statements, the family of the deceased did not ask for the maximum. They said they had been hurt with their son’s death. Life would never be the same. But they forgave him. They prayed for him. Maybe that made a difference with the jurors. They returned with a total sentence of 35 years. The judge made the murder charges concurrent reducing the sentence to 29 years.

Then it was over. Four days of witnesses, waiting and wiping tears. The convicted man stood up. His mother grabbed him for a fierce hug before he left in the black suit, white shirt and black shoes that the court permitted him to wear instead of the orange jumpsuit issued by the county jail. 

He put his hands behind his back. The sheriff snapped on handcuffs. Officers flanked the prisoner as he disappeared into the elevator.

 Outside under the newly risen moon, the sentenced man entered a waiting vehicle. An escort of official vehicles sounded their sirens as they paraded away from the courthouse east to the jail.

The jury had reached its verdict. 

About jottingjoan

retired former newspaper writer. Many children and grandchildren. One husband.
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