Hai Kids. Welcome to another edition of SFS. I was in contact with Jim Blackburn this morning and he has been out of town on some sort of business. He promises we will have his interview for next Saturday and sends his humble apologies that it is late. I assured him that we all understand that he is very busy and we know it will be worth the wait.
I know you are all concerned with the current state of my health as am I. I have to go for two more tests which will be immediate, no waiting and then they will see what can be done about it. I seem to have some congenital heart problem called Ebsteins Anomoly. He tried to explain it but truthfully it was a shellshock moment and I didn’t really understand much of what he said. I heard replacement of the tricuspid valve and atrial repair which would be done at the same time and I kind of flaked after that. I have started to do research, I still have to have a couple of tests like I said and we will go from there. I do NOT have any intention of dropping dead. Actually, I plan to live forever so don’t worry. DO NOT WORRY!! He said no stress and no exertion until we get these other tests and we see where we are so I am not stressing or exerting.
I am getting ready to do the run of coffee mugs. You have two choices. The one that I already showed you that says Really Big Mean Dog with the picture of Happy with his gavel, OR Really Big Mean Dog School Of Law – Assistant Dean of Fuckery with the same picture of Happy. Please let me know on here or twitter so I can get an accurate count. They are 16 oz mugs. Thank you.
My collection of ignorant, strange and downright bizarre messages continues to grow and I am going to post them all in one big blog and we can all try and figure out who they are actually from. It will be fun.
Our very own BlueWhiteRed did their civic duty and sat on a DP Jury in 1994. Since I invited anyone interested to guest blog, they were kind enough to take me up on the offer and let us get a general idea of what a DP case is like from the inside. Thank you BlueWhiteRed for taking the time out of your day to write this for all of us. Blue was Juror #7
I was invited by another blogger to write about my experiences being a juror on a case that involved the death penalty. I accepted and started typing, but re-thinking this case and aftermath froze me into inaction. I’ve never written about it, or discussed it in depth. Why would I do this now? During the Jodi Arias and subsequently, the Marissa DeVault trial, I read many posters say some version of, “I think they should get the DP, but I couldn’t do it.” (Or, very fervent wishes for other than legal methods of the DP, or Life Without Parole (LWOP). I made a few comments on Twitter that I had been a DP juror and you’re right, it’s a very difficult situation that nothing in my life prepared me for. I want to speak to those of you who have never served on any jury, and give you a glimpse inside days spent in “The Box”.
Disclaimers: I am married and in my early 50’s. I grew up in the Northeast as 1 of 7 children in a blended family. My parents were strict and I was an average student. I received a BS degree through the GI Bill. I was raised in a non-DP state (we had a long-time Governor who opposed it.) Politically I am Unaffiliated and tend to vote issues. Religiously I am Protestant. I am a second generation American. I worked for a Fortune 500 company for many years, until 9/11 resulted in my layoff. I served in the Reserves and was recalled to active duty after 9/11, where I served in a remote and dangerous location. I am now disabled but am able to operate a part-time business. I suffer from PTSD, nightmares and receive all my care through the VA. I now live in the Southeast with my wife and 2 teen sons. I think the #1 mistaken stereotype people make of me is that I am liberal. I would describe myself as a firm believer of the Constitution. If you are a defendant, you are innocent until we debate all the evidence and apply the law. I believe in this concept 100%. I hope this background information helps mold the story. Because the first thing I want you to learn is: You are sitting with 11-18 people who are completely NOT who you assume they are. Voir Dire does not reveal everything, and people minimize/don’t reveal a LOT of information during it.
June 1993: My sister came over from a town 2 hours away to spend the weekend with us. The 11 o’clock news came on and I briefly heard about a “Mom & Pop” convenience store being robbed earlier that night. It was only noteworthy because it was located about 10 minutes from where I lived. I never even knew anyone was dead or caught. After the night of the robbery/murder, I never heard any updates, as I rarely listened to the news, or read the paper. This was pre-internet!
December 1993: I receive my summons from the County Sheriff about 60 days in advance. I hadn’t ever been summonsed, either in this state or my home state. I was thrilled! Not for jury duty, but because, at the time my job did not allow Mondays off and we were slammed for the 8 hours I worked. I worked in a call center and it was high-stress, fast paced and nit-picky work. But I still liked it, and had been employed for about 7 years at that time. If you are summonsed for a Monday, you can call the previous Friday to hear if your number is required to show up. In my case, ALL *200* jurors were to report.
Mid January 1994
I report to the jury assembly area along with about 200 other people. I could feel some tension by the staff. A judge came downstairs to thank us for reporting, and to swear an oath. Then he sternly turned to the Jury Clerk for the names (about 20) of those who hadn’t reported. He issued bench warrants (!), as those would be charged with contempt of court. I had no idea how serious this all was. 10 Deputies divvied up the list, and off they went to bring those 20 to the judge. I was glad I was there, after all.
The clerk told us there were 3 cases on the docket: a criminal trial and 2 civil ones. I’m glad she minimized the criminal trial, as I think it would have provoked a lot of discussion in the jury assembly room. We sat and sat, and finally, she came back down and started calling off random numbers. Mine was called in the first 30 and up we went to the courtrooms. We entered from the side (where Jodi enters/exits; I’ll try to give you “visuals” from her trial to help you “see”.) and all the parties turned around and stared us down. Having never been in a courtroom, I had no idea how to dress, so relied on my parents’ guide of “dress for an interview.” I think I was the best dressed one there, besides the corporate types, who hoped to be dismissed in time for work! The judge introduced us to the case….a double murder death penalty case, with two defendants being tried jointly. Uh-oh. I could hear the reaction all around me and mumbles of, “So much for the civil cases.” I wasn’t sure how I felt yet, since I hadn’t given the Death Penalty much thought (have I mentioned I was 29?). Nicole Brown Simpson hadn’t been murdered yet (3 months after my trial ended) but the Menendez Brothers 1st trial was something I had watched on Court TV. In those days, I worked 2nd or 3rd shift, so had time to watch testimony. As a side note, I did believe their stories of incest during the first trial only. I think Leslie Abramson dressing them in crew sweaters and their tearful testimonies made me think of my own childhood, in that my step-mother’s punishments never fit my crimes. Unlike Jodi Arias, I was whipped on my bare legs, had to pick my own switch from our lilac bush and was slapped, punched in the mouth and constantly “tip toeing” around her. I was a middle child, and not noteworthy for being the smartest, attractive, athletic, etc. Unlike my siblings, I never took advanced courses. I was just the kid that took 8th grade stuff…in 8th grade! In 12th grade, instead of AP English, I took Suspense Fiction and fell in love with Perry Mason. I found I was good at figuring out “whodunit”.
When it came time for college, there was no money left for child #5, so I pursued majors or programs with maximum job potential and scholarships. I wanted to be a Physician’s Assistant (to avoid years and years of Med School!) and even was accepted into Syracuse University on a scholarship. My step-mom told me I would never make it academically, and to major in something “more realistic”. So I know a little something about abuse. And Self-Esteem, Jodi. I went to a State University and got a more useful degree. Sigh.
Back to jury duty, I was a little curious about the criminal case, because it apparently was high profile (the news vans were outside when I entered, yet I knew nothing.) I figured if I were a defendant, I’d want someone like me as a juror. I don’t judge people by looks or accusations. I learned a lot in the military, which should award a Master’s Degree in Diversity. BTW, book deals weren’t in vogue then.
The way voir dire is done here hasn’t changed in 20 years. No questionnaires. The Court Clerk calls 12 names at random, and a Bailiff assigns you a seat in the Jury Box. I was called in the first round, and sat in Juror 7’s seat. This was a great seat, as I sat in the first row, left corner. I sat right next to the Deputy District Attorney (DDA) who (I discovered) was our version of Juan Martinez…in a Southern, folksy way. I could actually see what he was doing (not the words) and he had a piece of paper with 12 boxes, corresponding to us. The judge then gave the details of the crime and went through general questioning of all of us. Let me stop and give you the overview of the crime:
9 months earlier, in June 1993, 2 18 year old (male) friends from a neighboring county, each with teen pregnant wives, were driving around a summer Saturday afternoon. They stopped to shoot pool, have a few beers (I think the drinking age was still 18) and drive around. They stopped at a pawn shop to pawn something, bought a fish fillet knife and then went to a yard sale, as one of them needed a crib soon. While they were there in the car, a witness overheard a discussion about needing money, and “We’ll just have to find someone to rob.” They then took off, went to a “Mom and Pop” convenience store in a rural part of my county. They walked around, and when the owner went outside to sweep the porch, came back in to find 1 of the men with his hand in her purse. He quickly withdrew with nothing, and they hastily left. They then drove to a nearby other such store, walked around and engaged the 2 workers in conversation. They were a husband and wife in their mid-late 60’s. The wife (Mrs. Blake*) actually was an employee (not owner) and, because Mr. Blake* was hard of hearing, the owners let him come with her to do menial tasks, so she could keep an eye on him. After a brief walk-around (casing), the 2 men left.
About 30 minutes later, Frank Carter*, a college student who was newly home for the summer, walked 3 houses down to that store to buy a drink and snack. As he approached the door, these 2 men ran from the store, stared him down, and took off in their car. Frank went into the store, found Mr. Blake near a chip display, with his throat cut.
(* Names changed to protect privacy)
He heard other noises, including a beeping cash register, and found Mrs. Blake behind the counter, gurgling but not showing an obvious wound. Frank called 911.
The robbers quickly raced to a frontage road leading to the Interstate, attracting attention by jumping the railroad tracks separating the parallel access road to the artery. Enroute, one tossed the sheath by a corner lot and, entering the Interstate, tossed the knife on the on-ramp. They raced home to their county, about 10 minutes away.
The Blakes died at the scene. Mr. Blake bled out from his neck wound, and, we found out later, Mrs. Blake had been stabbed straight down from her collarbone, nicking a major artery.
After the judge weeded out jurors who could not consider the death penalty, the Bailiff filled the remaining jury box seats. Individual voir dire began. Interestingly, it became obvious that I was considered a little unordinary, as I was a young Veteran who had been a Medic. While they couldn’t ask our religions directly, it came out that 11 of the panel were Baptist and I was Protestant. We had 1 African American woman. They could ask our political parties, and again, it was 10 Republican, 2 Democrat (I was at the time.) I worked for a major employer so the attorney asked me if I knew, “Jurors 2, 3, 9, 11, 12?” and was shocked that I didn’t! When it came time to ask another round of questions, I was singled out because I think neither side knew where I stood. I was honest but it bears saying I’ve lived a very unconventional (for the time) life. The defense attorney specifically asked me about my medic training and “had I ever witnessed autopsies?” Yes, I had. In hindsight I think he was looking to see if this little kid could handle seeing the pictures, especially Mr. Blake’s gaping neck wound. Jurors 1 and 7 were accepted by 2pm on Monday, the first day. Every one else, including the remaining pool were excused. I looked back at Juror 1 (a guy my age behind me) and we exchanged, “Who, us?!” looks.
Voir Dire continued Tuesday and Wednesday morning, while I sat and grew numb from the same questions, over and over. Finally the Judge told me and #1 to go home/work but to call in at the end of the day and lunchtime to see if the panel had been filled. It finally was on Friday, after the Judge told both sides they would stay all weekend to select the jury and 2 alternates. So I was told trial would start Monday. We were strictly admonished not to discuss the case with anyone, wear our badge as soon as we exited our cars, avoid news and reports, etc. Everyone at my work quickly figured out the case because it was notorious, they knew I was not excused from jury duty. My supervisor was really cool about it because he knew more gore than I did, and he put me on non-public contract busy work until the case actually began. In those days, it was easy to avoid the media/talk of the case. I didn’t own a computer in 1994. Those who did had dial-up and the internet was charged per minute! The one oddity was that the local newspaper had a box right outside the juror’s entrance to the courthouse! My wife saved all the papers and recorded all the news reports so I could see them afterwards. I’ve never watched/read them to this day.
The following Monday, the case began. Our judge was a firm, kindly older (60’s) man, who clearly ran that courtroom. I had drill sergeants who were less precise on time than he! Each defendant had his own set of attorneys, so cross examination tended to go twice as long. We did have to leave the courtroom often but did not suffer through sidebars or white noise. Judge No BS suffered no fools, and I don’t think a single sidebar was allowed. The bailiffs were huge and very serious about watching us, the public and the defendants. We were not allowed to take notes, and in my state, aren’t allowed to ask questions, either. I like both concepts and wish we could.
On breaks or lunch, the attorneys politely stepped out of the elevators if they saw we were going in or already in. There was so much decorum. But it wasn’t boring by any means.
Again, this was 1994, so we did not have DNA, but Serology. Thankfully, I had started college as a Nursing major, so the science wasn’t lost on me. When it got to the autopsies, I steadied myself like I had 100 times before in the Army. We didn’t have Jumbotrons or video. We passed blown up pictures to each other. I could feel the attorneys staring at me, and I did my best not to react to the carnage I was analyzing. When I looked up, I made a point to look at the Judge.
It might be a good time to explain the charges. Both were charged with 2 counts of 1st Degree Murder, or in the alternative, Felony Murder. (This is what Jodi Arias was indicted for, but in my case, there were 2 victims, thus 2 counts). The facts of the case, as determined by us were: Nick* went in, slashed Mr. Blake’s throat to disable him, then went around the counter, stabbed Mrs. Blake, who fell to the ground. Chris* stood on the public side of the counter, pressing the enter key on the register. Little did these criminal masterminds know that they needed a PIN code to open it. So he banged and banged. Mrs. Blake started to get up to stumble out from behind the counter while Nick turned the cash register towards him, to pry it open. Chris then rushed Mrs. Blake, who collapsed inside the counter area. (He never touched her or had a weapon). Realizing their plan had failed, they took off. However, Frank Carter*, the neighborhood college student, walked up as they bolted out the door, stared at him, and burned rubber in their Monte Carlo.
Later that same night, Chris got a case of the guilts, found a family friend who was a wildlife officer, confessed, and was turned over to the police. He testified as I’ve described above. Nick was arrested the next day, did not testify but my life and his intersected about 5 years later:
In 1999, I couldn’t concentrate, had trouble remembering common words, etc. I had some psych testing done, and it was reviewed and diagnosed as ADD (it wasn’t called ADHD then) by none other than Nick’s Shrink for Hire, Dr. Snores*. He tried to convince us that, because Nick had ADD and had been drinking, any shock to his system would make him vulnerable to Fight (as in Fight or Flight). So, even though Nick used the weapons, when Chris screamed in horror, Nick went into some auto-robot mode to wipe out all danger in this store. Our DDA, Southern Juan, ate him alive. He was arrogant and insulted anyone would question him.
Let’s remember, Mr. and Mrs. Blake were 65-70 years old and one was mostly deaf. They would have surely died of a heart attack during a robbery.
So 5 years later, I recognize Dr. Snores, who thankfully doesn’t recognize me. I take his file, my prescription and never visit him again.
Ok, closing and reading the law aren’t much different than anywhere else. But keep in mind; if we find Chris was actively a part of attempted armed robbery, he’s just as guilty of Murder as Nick-who-killed-them. For a lot of people, that’s a harder concept to morally accept than the death penalty. I think voir dire should cover this concept, too.
It took us less time to pour coffee than convict Nick of Murder 1 x 2 victims. He did it, he planned it.
It took us 5 DAYS to convict Chris. We convicted him of Felony Murder for Mr. Blake (Murder resulting from attempted armed robbery) but Murder 1 for Mrs. Blake (he boxed her in, which shows premeditation).
The victims only had 2 grown sons. Guess where they had the misfortune to live in January 1994? Northridge, California. Where a major earthquake ruined their lives in yet another way. My point is, the defendants had parents, coaches, teen wives, pastors tell us all about their 20 great years on earth. NO ONE told us about the Blakes. It was so painful.
In my state, the death penalty has to be unanimous and it is binding. Unlike Arizona, if we are hung, it’s automatically life. Back then, life meant 25-to-life. Now, life is LWOP.
We spent 1 week on the sentences. 1 lady refused to deliberate. 1 guy said, “You come to an agreement and let me know.” There were the usual, “I am for xx and you can NOT change my mind.” So I tell people we were split 3 ways: life, death and chickenshit.
The judge was FURIOUS as were the press and editorials. So he did the only thing he could do, which was sentence them each CONSECUTIVELY. 25 to life, back to back. Buh-bye.
I would have voted death for Nick and Life for Chris back then. Today, it’d be Death-Death.
Hope this helps knowing what it’s like. I always recommend the Black and White version of “12 Angry Men”. Except for the smoking and the all-male jury, it’s pretty accurate.
Finally, what I really learned on jury duty: Ever get 12 people to agree on a pizza?!
Thank you so much Blue for taking the time to do this for us. We all appreciate it very much.
Hai! If you enjoy my blog, please consider a donation to help ensure content. All donations are very greatly appreciated.