In the Courtroom: Saying Yes, Part 1

3 Sep

Today is September 3rd. I used to think of this day fondly as my half birthday.  This year, I think of it as the 2 year anniversary of a murder that should never have happened.  Alex Sierra should be 20 years old, studying at college, making use of all those MIT preparatory classes he took in the evenings and weekends while in high school.  After taking 5 weeks off, I finally feel prepared to write about it…and fittingly, I may as well begin to do so on the anniversary of the murder itself.

When we imagine the most important “Yes” we will ever make in our lives, I think we all naively hope it is a good Yes.  A “Yes, I will marry you” or “Yes, I want to purchase that home.” A big momentous decision that impacts your life dramatically but also can be reversed if necessary.  We say “yes” to jobs and careers and colleges and children. But we also say yes to taking loved ones off life support and yes to getting in a car with a drunk driver and yes to any myriad of small questions that can end up having life-changing consequences.

But there I stood, on July 25th, 2013 at 11 AM in the juror box. We had just decided on a verdict and the defense attorney had requested juror polling. And suddenly, the team aspect of our decision, the 4 days spent reaching a unanimous verdict, the 3 weeks spent in the same courtroom and jury holding cell, the sealed verdict that had just been read, were gone and the very fleeting, almost insignificant but nevertheless nerve-wracking moment had arrived: we had to individually affirm our verdict.  You can guess which juror had to speak first.

“Do you, juror # ___, affirm the verdict of 1st Degree Murder, in the case of Ricardo Arias versus the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Please respond with ‘Yes’ if you affirm.”

It’s a cruel joke that defense lawyers require juror polling. Are they hoping a juror will cave under the duress of seeing the defendant and his family?  Will change their mind and refuse to stick with their 11 fellow jurors?

There was no doubt in my mind of Ricardo Arias’ guilt. None. We had reached a place where we all felt confident and strong in our decision, although burdened with sadness But saying “Yes” out loud, alone, vulnerably, first, was not fun. It lasted less than a second before I heard the second and third and fourth Yeses.  Our individual voices confirming our verdict.

This was, I hope, I pray, the biggest decision I ever have to make in my life.  The hardest Yes. The one that mattered the most. If we each are chosen “for such a time as this” maybe that was my time. My moment.

When the judge read that “there will be no other jury more capable, diverse, open-minded, intelligent than this jury in which to decide this case” when we had reached the dreaded label of “Hung Jury” she was absolutely right. Retrying the case would provide no new evidence, possibly only less.  It would cost the tax payers more money and result in a jury of peers – just like us. A group of people overwhelmed by the weight of responsibility that had been placed on our shoulders.

As I said Yes, I had no idea what would happen in an hour or the tears that would flow as a result.

When I said Yes, I was affirming a unanimous verdict that 4 days ago had seemed impossible to reach.

Miracles do happen.

(to be continued)

(For further reading on this case:

http://www.metro.us/boston/news/local/2013/07/30/at-murder-sentencing-victims-mother-recalls-a-promising-life-cut-short/

http://www.mysouthend.com/index.php?ch=news&sc=&sc2=news&sc3=&id=147634

http://southend.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/two-men-charged-with-intimidating-witnesses-in-sierra47bf578a1f)

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