In the Courtroom: The Crime Scenes, Part 3

9 Sep

One day, a week into the trial, we took a field trip.  We were excited for the change of scenery and made lots of silly comments about “remember your signed permission slip” and “shall we partner up and hold hands?”  If you don’t have a sense of humor and lighthearted banter with your fellow jurors, you will not survive.  It might sound a little cruel to “look forward” to viewing a crime scene but you have to remember that 1) the crime scene was nearly 2 years old and 2) we had no idea what it would be like and it’s helpful to mask nervousness with humor and 3) I bet most of us pass by at least one crime scene every single day without ever realizing it.

We didn’t realize lots of things about a jury “viewing” (as they call it) until it happened.

  • We all sat on a large charter bus. The judge and the lawyers and some first year law students and the court reporter all sat up front.  Us jurors all sat way in the back.  The court officials sat in between.  M and I were the last two on the bus and noticed that all the other jurors had paired off – no one wanted to sit alone. I remember that we talked about my job and his career as a civil engineer and the magazine Wired and Quincy Center redevelopment and my racing. It was easy, so very easy, for a few minutes, to pretend we were going on a real field trip.
  • Then the bus started and…we were suddenly very aware that we were not on a real field trip.  A lot of people on the street waved at us, I can only assume that they thought we were famous or very important.  Why?  Because there were 10 motorcycle cops blocking off all the intersections so that our bus could drive straight though.  I was fascinated by the mechanics of a motorcade – the cops in front, the cops behind, the motorcycle cops alongside, some shooting ahead to block off the next intersection, some staying behind until we had cleared the area, continually leap-frogging each other until we reached our destination.
  • Destination One: A barber shop on the corner of Tremont St and Aguadilla St where the murder took place. The area was cordoned off (not physically, with ropes, but physically by the presence of many detectives and cops) and all the barber shop workers had been moved a few blocks away while we walked around the crime scene.
  • The only people who could speak were the two lawyers.  And all they could say was “please note that security camera” and “please note that balcony” and “please note that door frame” and “please note the distance to the sidewalk.”  They could not and would not answer any questions about why that security camera/balcony/door frame/sidewalk mattered.  We were not allowed to speak to each other or ask any questions and our notebooks were not with us. You relied solely on your memory of witness statements and tried to take mental photographs of everything.   One juror nearly broke down “But I don’t know why this is significant!” she cried.  “It’s okay” I reminded her. “We will use our collective memory later on when we can talk about this. Just remember your question and you can ask it later….like in 2 weeks….”
  • The court officials carried two large poles around the viewing. This is to signify that we were “still in the courtroom” even as we were outside in a different locale.  It was an amazingly powerful visual to remind us to continue to conduct ourselves as if in the courtroom.
  • There is not a lot of talking on this  type of field trip.  It is the exact reversal of the typical school field trip.  Also, you are encouraged to take as much time as you need.  To walk away from the group and view things from different angles. A cop or two might walk with you but no one will pressure you to move faster, to catch up with the group (actually, that should read no one should pressure you. More on that soon).
  • Destination Two: Mission Hill housing area, near the main Police HQ and1/4 mile from my apt. Here is where the 4 suspects, including our defendant, were apprehended and the weapon was found discarded in a dumpster with live ammunition and the drive-by identification process took place.
  • I am still in shock from just how helpful the field trips were. We had huge charts and maps during the trial. There was some video footage and a lot of photographs. But seeing the areas in person, specifically how much smaller they were than what you can ascertain from images, was incredibly helpful.  Being able to plant witnesses and victims and suspects and their approximate or exact locations at certain times was really helpful.  Even without notes and the ability to discuss what we were seeing, it played a crucial role later during the deliberations.

I had stood under the street light where the identification process took place for quite a while.  The other witnesses were standing where both cop cars had been positioned with witnesses to ID the suspects. I knew they were finding it helpful to look at me – how easy is it to ID a person from this distance at dusk.  When they finished, it was my turn to take a look at the various angles. As I did so, most of the other jurors headed back to the bus finished.  Only two of us remained.

A few seconds later, the police stopped a woman with a full grocery cart of cans and bottles to be recycled. They let her know that she could wait a few minutes or she could go around the area but she could not continue on her path straight down the road near the waiting bus.  One of the jurors saw this happened and for whatever reason, he let out a piercing whistle and summoned me back to the bus.  I looked at the other juror who was looking at me wondering what to do. I looked at the lawyers and judge who were all staring at us and I whispered “Don’t move.  We have the right to take our time. No one can pressure us. And we don’t want the judge thinking that there is some sort of juror hierarchy and we take orders from anyone.”

So we waited.

Back on the bus, M said “I’m glad you waited.”  And then, he squeezed my hand and one of the jurors sitting behind us patted my shoulder and I felt incredibly safe. Safer than I had felt with 45 cops (including my personal favorite Sgt Detective) milling about.

When we arrived back in the jury room, there was a bit of a confrontation. The incensed juror from earlier, O, approached me to let me know how upset he was that I had inconvenienced a homeless woman.  “I’m sorry that you felt that way” I said. “But we’ve all been given a duty to do. And although I don’t like inconveniencing people, we are trying to decide a murder case right now.  This boy deserves our full attention (O had never taken a note in the courtroom and I had woken him up 4 times in the past 2 days during witness testimony).  If I were ever on trial, I would expect the jurors to take it seriously and put my interests above anything else. It’s not just the homeless woman – we are all being inconvenienced by this trial but we have to step outside of that and concentrate on our task.”

I don’t love confrontation but when I feel that I’m right (and, in this case, I still do) I have no issues with voicing my opinion.  It doesn’t feel good to challenge a fellow juror but when he responded with “Well, he’s guilty so our task is easy” I got pretty upset.  We had only spent a week in the courtroom, there was absolutely no substantial evidence linking the defendant to the crime yet (we spent 2 days alone ascertaining that yes, the victim was dead, yes, he was dead from a gun shot wound and which of the 3 bullets had caused his death), and all suspects are innocent until proven guilty.  I suddenly had a very bad feeling in my stomach thinking “What if I end up being an alternate and this guy who has slept thru half of the proceedings and has a closed mind about this case ends up deciding the case.”

The good news is that early the next morning, we were told the Judge had excused him from the case.  Whether it was the piercing whistle, the fact he arrived late every single morning, or the sleeping sessions in the courtroom, I will always be grateful for how insightful and keenly aware she was of what was going on.

After the field trip, I headed to the gym that evening to let out some pent-up emotion. It was a very full day and the emotional swing from good “All these cops are protecting us” to bad “these crimes happened in bright daylight minutes from my home” was a lot to handle. At the gym, the coach for the evening came over to talk to a group of us girls who were gathered – one of the rare times when the workout left some room for interpretation and he wanted our thoughts.  For whatever reason, he draped his arm around me while he talked – something he had never done before or since. I felt incredibly safe. Like God knew how the day had gone and that I couldn’t talk about it but I just needed a little extra understanding.

During the workout, I ran a couple extra miles to encourage a friend. When I finished the workout, I went back to where she was and finished alongside her.  Our coach said “That’s what Crossfit is all about” and a few weeks later at a party said it was one of his happiest moments of class.  My friend said “Thanks, Liz, for knowing that running isn’t my thing and I need someone alongside to make it thru.”

From the cops directing our motorcade to M squeezing my hand to our coach giving me a hug to me making sure my friend finished her workout. Sometimes we just need someone alongside, even if only for a moment, to help us push through.


One Response to “In the Courtroom: The Crime Scenes, Part 3”

  1. Sue Zelie September 9, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Even though you gave me your account right after the trial, I love reading this. Dense writing with loads of interesting detail, personality, commentary and emotion. Well done (both as a juror and a writer).

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