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The BAA Distance Medley & a World Series

8 Nov

Seven days after my latest marathon was the BAA Half Marathon. Although I wasn’t terribly mentally excited to race again so soon, it’s nice to be able to sleep in your own bed the night before a race, have a coworker ready to run with you, and know that the race was about much more than just 13.1 miles.

This is the second year of the BAA Distance Medley (5k in April, 10K in June, half marathon in Oct) and my second year participating. It took on new meaning this year after the Boston Marathon bombings as the 10K and the half marathon were the only other BAA races for 2013.

I honestly didn’t care how tired or sore I was from the marathon, this race was happening. Luckily, I wasn’t sore at all and we had a good time.  It’s not a race you can PR on because it is so packed and parts of the final 2 miles in the Franklin Park Zoo are on a footpath wide enough for just one person – and its always a bit funny to reach the halfway point, a few hundred yards from my home, and then have to turn around and run away.

There was a mile long stretch with absolutely no spectators and it was directly after they passed out Gu. You know that awful feeling in the movie theater when your feet are sticky with everyone else’s spilled sodas and buttered popcorn?  It was like that but on steroids.  All you could hear was heavy breathing (we were running uphill) and squishiness (as everyone’s soles were coated in Gu).  It didn’t make me real interested in trying to fuel with Gu again, there’s no way a substance that slick and sticky and sugary is going to be happy in my system.  We gained time on the hills which was great – all those stadium steps and hill climbs and box jumps must be paying off – because we passed people constantly and while I was breathing heavy, I actually enjoyed the challenge.

I remember thinking – well, that wasn’t emotional at all.  But when you see the finish line, and you think back to that finish line, it’s hard to not get a little sad.  I heard one runner say “Well, only a few more months and we can cheer another Boston Marathon and put this all behind us.”  I agree with the sentiment of moving forward faster and stronger and with more determination. But can a tragedy like this ever be swept away, packed away, thrown away?  I don’t think so.

I know personally that it isn’t completely behind me.

Game 6 of the World Series brought an announcement to Fenway residents that Boston Police were expecting riots (regardless of a win or a loss and also for Game 7, should there be one). We were asked to “shelter in place” for the evening.  Those words again.  Those words + the incessant drone of media helicopters definitely had me on edge the entire evening.

Part of me was enjoying my Boston Red Sox not only winning but winning big. It was hard, even during the final 3 outs, to fully comprehend that my team made it. That this was the World Series and we were about to win it.  That I might have been raised to cheer for an underdog losing team but kids born in the past 10 years have been raised to rout for a champion – and its the same team.

Part of me was going crazy with the noise. I had on the air conditioner, a fan, the dishwasher and a radio and all  I could still here was chopper blades hovering overhead – an experience I hoped to never live through again after that week in April. It happened again at 4 AM on Saturday, the morning of the World Series parade.  One minute, sound asleep.  The next minute, awake to the noise of 3 media helicopters already aloft, already circling, making me feel anxious.

It will take time to appreciate helicopters again…to not jump at loud noises…to not panic when I have no phone service (this happened during Game 6 of the World Series thanks to so many people in such a small area all trying to call and text at the same time…once again eerily reminiscent of April).

I am not a pack rat. I throw things away as soon as possible.  Yet I held onto these Sports Illustrated covers from April in case. I guess even then, I was hoping, although not hopeful, that the Boston Red Sox could pull it off.  Triumph from tragedy is, after all, essentially the American dream.  And more than that, maybe the greatest universal human desire.

photo(17)

 

Inside the Courtroom: Epilogue, Part 6

29 Sep

It’s strange how quickly something can begin (you go to your day of jury duty and end up being there for 3+ weeks) and how quickly something can end (you give your Guilty, 1st Degree murder verdict and its all over).

After our time in the courtroom came to an end, we were instructed to head back to the jury room (our holding cell, as we called it) to wait for the Judge who wanted to thank us in person. We were also given time to pack up the evidence (we’d already done so) and shred our notes (also done). The two alternates were finally allowed to join us and we were grateful when they both said “You reached the same verdict we had.”

We stood there feeling relieved and soon the Judge came, accompanied by two individuals we had spent a lot of time speculating about. Turns out they were both law students interning for a lawyer that summer who asked them to sit on this case so they could see what a full court case looks like. They had accompanied us on our crime field trip and we had seen the Judge speaking to them often so when she introduced them to us and said “lawyers never get to tamper with the jury pool so inviting these law students back here gives them rare insight into a part of the case they will never see again” and then said “Now what questions do you have for me?” we all had to laugh as our number one question had been “Who are those 2 people always sitting in the back row?”

The Judge explained that very few judges give out written copies of the jury instructions and we were shocked – they were an instrumental part of keeping our deliberations on pace, staying on topic, and an invaluable reference source to remembering all the parts of the law. The Judge added that she wouldn’t tell us how she felt about our verdict and that she didn’t want to hear about our deliberation process, as that was a private matter between the 12 of us. Then she added that we had our First Amendment rights to speech back.

I can tell you what I wanted to ask her but knew that I couldn’t. And I can tell you what the other eleven wanted to ask her but knew they couldn’t. Because it was one and the same: When the lead sergeant detective said that he had direct evidence of Ricardo Arias’ guilt and he was allowed to make that statement but he was not allowed to tell us what the direct evidence was. We were angry, frustrated and really, really upset about that statement during our deliberations. It was tantalizing, we all knew it was helpful somehow, but we did not know why. Just like we knew that the witnesses were scared, none of them brave enough to say “I saw the murder. I saw the gun. I saw who shot the gun.” On one hand, it made us wonder how we would react in a similar situation. On the other hand, as a “disinterested” juror only concerned with gathering up every kernel and crumb of evidence that we could, it was frustrating.

And then the Judge said “I am able to give you some information on the court case now that wasn’t permissible in court. Do you want to hear it?”

My heart jumped into my throat. I knew the Judge was intelligent and reasonable, she wouldn’t tell us additional evidence that would prove his innocence and ask us to live with the knowledge that we wrongly convicted someone of 1st Degree murder for the rest of our lives. I knew that she was about to give us peace in the form of answers proving his guilt. Closure to the case. A rare gift that most jurors don’t have.

I was right.

She explained that one of the four guys in the getaway van confessed about the crime and who had committed it to the officers that night. His testimony was captured on video. He explained the same at the Grand Jury Trial but (I’m a little fuzzy on the actual law so forgive me as I try to repeat it as it was explained to me) it was not permissible in our case because the burden of proof is much lower at a Grand Jury Trial (the trial determining if there is evidence enough for a criminal trial) and the defendant and the defense lawyer are not present. A few days or weeks after the Grand Jury Trial, he was gunned down while riding in a car and killed. By his own gang members. No wonder the witnesses, some of whom were clearly involved in the rival gang, were too scared to speak the whole truth: if a gang will kill its own members for testifying, how much more will they kill a rival gang member for the same offense?

I took a step back and into the safety of one of the jurors standing behind me. He gave me a huge hug, wrapped his arms around me, and I looked around the room to see that all 14 jurors were either hugging or holding hands with another. And tears were falling.

It’s hard, as in most life events, to capture all the emotions that were co-mingling:

  • Tears of relief that the case was over.
  • Tears of relief that we chose a guilty verdict for a clearly guilty person.
  • Tears of frustration that we didn’t have all the evidence.
  • Tears of frustration at how fair and unbiased the legal system is.
  • Tears of shock at how close we came, many times, to a not guilty verdict.
  • Tears of shock that two young men were killed in such senseless ways.
  • Tears of anger towards this gang. Towards all gangs. Towards all the violence and crime that pervades our cities and the money and heartache and time it costs.
  • Tears of anger towards the defense lawyer for choosing to defend someone he knew was guilty. (I know, I know, it’s their job and the #1 reason I didn’t go to law school after thriving in my pre-law classes.)
  • Tears of admiration for a Judge who kept her mouth shut, respected our decision, never once said anything to sway us towards anything but having open minds.
  • Tears of admiration for the witnesses who tried to help us, even if they were too scared to speak all the truth. Particularly for the gentleman who spotted the boys while on his balcony and went out of his way to find the cops and force them to search for the van he had seen.
  • Tears of admiration for our Boston Cops. This case did not convince me that all gang members are criminals. It certainly did not convince me that all cops are good. But it opened my eyes to just how much is going on in our city on a daily basis, that so many of us are completely unaware of (thank God) and gave me new respect for those who didn’t take jobs as engineers and lawyers and accountants but toil away as fire fighters and cops and detectives and nurses and doctors and forensic scientists striving to bring justice and safety to our citizens. Not to mention the court officials who all got huge hugs from us in the basement of the court house – and maybe a few kisses on the cheek as well.

I will never be glad I spent the month of July on this court case because I will never be glad that this case had to exist. But an experience like this can only change you – make you more aware of your personal biases and your own predilection to jump to conclusions and assign blame, your own naivety as to the world we live in, give you a new gratefulness for each day you live. Life is precious and rarely lasts as long as it should. People make bad choices and ruin their own lives (and so many others) by seeking revenge (over and over again).

As Edmund Burke once said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

The only beauty that I can take away from this horrible tragedy is that I got to see good men do something. And I got to see a defeat of evil. And both of those glimpses leave me deeply humbled and incredibly grateful.

In the Courtroom: The Verdict, Part 5

24 Sep

Unfortunately, the trackpad on my laptop stopped working which meant I couldn’t move my mouse. My laptop went on a lovely free vacation to the shiny Apple store for nearly two weeks.  Then I headed to Lancaster, PA to visit my extended family which was a much needed break. So I’m a bit delayed in my posting.

The day we reached the verdict was a bizarre one. I’m going to respect the privacy of my fellow jurors and not say a lot about the outliers in our decision making and how many steps backwards we took for each step forward.

Suffice to say:

  • Reaching a decision is hard. You can’t coerce people into seeing your point of view, you can’t make decisions for other people and you can’t push them into putting puzzle pieces together faster than they are ready to do.  (Putting puzzles together might be my best strength….but learning to be patient while others do it is clearly not. We had to continuously reiterate that all of us were going through the same logical reasoning, just some of us do it faster and internally and some do it at a different pace and vocally.)
  • You have to continually remind yourself that people care about the decision you make. People on both sides of the case.  You can’t use their interest to make your decision but you do have to constantly remind yourself that your decision matters.
  • I really, really, really, wanted to go home and visit my family during that month. My parents…my baby sisters and their husbands…my brother and his girlfriend.  But I also knew that it would be hard to see them and know I couldn’t talk about “my new job” so I stayed away. In fact, I probably saw less of any of my friends that month just because I dreaded the “what have you been up to” or “don’t say anything, just nod if you’re on the Whitey Bulger case” questions.

So we arrived on the day we reached our verdict, ready to reach a verdict, laden with birthday breakfast treats and the juror whose birthday it was told us she’d had a moment of clarity.  This happened while she was watching Murder She Wrote and Jessica Fletcher said “what about the other guy.”  Do you follow?  Right, okay, neither did I.  We all sat there until one juror said “What does that mean” and she proceeded to tell us that watching a ridiculously old tv show helped her reach a verdict that the other guy at the scene of the crime, who was not charged with the murder, and who the witnesses did not peg as the aggressor, was the murderer. No facts, no evidence. She decided her opinion of a real-life murder based on a fake TV show.  I kid you not.

At this point, I didn’t say anything.  Probably due to the fact that one of the jurors, a guy about my age, was clutching my knee under the table and it hurt. A lot. I guess he knew I was liable to get really upset because, you know, I like people to use facts and evidence and to not treat a real life murder trial as if it were a fun game and clues were hidden in Murder She Wrote (never trust a tv show where the lady who solves murders also happens to be present for every single one of them.)

Luckily, others spoke up.  We went over the Judge’s instructions again.  Our duty as jurors. The evidence.

And then she looked at me and said “I can’t find him guilty. I don’t know how you can. How can you put a boy in prison for life? How can you have that on your conscience.”

Here is what I said then because I believed it to be true.

“I have nothing on my conscience. I believe he is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. I have reached a decision with 11 fellow jurors and we bear this burden together.  We spent days deliberating, we did our due diligence, we are not making rash decisions based on fear. How can I put a boy in prison for life? I am not.  His own actions are putting him in prison. I am not happy to have to make this decision. I don’t like deliberating over someone else’s life.  I take this very seriously and there has never been a single moment where I was happy with my decision. But I am unwaveringly sure in my decision.”

And then someone else said “Why can’t you find him guilty? Because you believe deep down that he is not guilty? Or because you don’t want to find him guilty?  We’ve laid out all the facts and evidence, there is no evidence to support your opinion on what happened that night. There is no evidence supporting this boy’s innocence. I don’t think the issue right now is knowing what the truth is – it’s your willingness to speak the truth.”

And then she cried.  And cried.  The men were uncomfortable. She ended up leaving the room and two women went with her to speak with her.  And when she came back, she admitted that she agreed with the decision. But she didn’t like sending anyone to jail. She didn’t realize how strongly she felt about this before the trial began.

We could all sympathize with that.

And then, we breathed a huge sigh, and moved on to determining 1st or 2nd degree murder. Did you know that premeditated murder can happen in a split second? That it doesn’t mean someone purposely decided to kill a specific person, but that when they drew their weapon, they did intend to kill someone.  Reaching this verdict was the easiest part of the process for us.  Someone who doesn’t intend to kill doesn’t shoot three rapid shots at point-blank range. They don’t have a getaway van illegally parked around the corner. They don’t avenge gang deaths with broken legs or a bullet to the thigh. And they don’t sit in an interrogation room at the police department and ask “Is he dead?”

I have no idea how other juries handle the question of “What to do next.”  I’d be curious if our decisions were extremely normal or extremely weird.  I’m not going to justify what we did except that we felt the occasion was solemn and should be treated so and we also strongly felt that we would not go down into the courtroom sobbing (as we all were). We would not go down until we felt strong and unified.

The solemn part was this: Our jury foreman filled out the slip of paper.  And then we all sat there in silence as it was passed from person to person and we held it, and read it, and made peace with our decision.  And we thought of the family who would be relieved by this verdict, even if it didn’t bring their loved one back. And we thought of the prosecuting attorney who was not present that day (how badly we wanted to see her face when we gave our verdict). And we thought of the cops and the detectives and the witnesses. And we each held the paper, one by one, around the table. And then – we let it go.

We did not tell the court officials we had reached a verdict yet as once we did that, the rest of the proceedings were out of our hands. Instead, we cleaned up our room – took down all the maps and sticky easel pages and chalkboard notations and ripped up our trial notes and shredded them and boxed up all the evidence and turned all the large exhibits around so they were facing the wall. And then, we played Pictionary on the chalkboard for half an hour.  We drew movies and amusement parks and inside jokes from all the time we spent together talking and teasing when we couldn’t talk about anything deep. We needed this half hour – to reconnect as a group of strangers – to feel united after 4 1/2 days of heated discussion and being on different sides and being frustrated with each other. And mostly, we needed to calm down and decompress a little before the verdict was read.

And we made some decisions:

  • No jurors would leave the building alone. We would leave the building all together (and I asked the court official to take us out through the basement which he did).
  • And we would all go out for lunch and a drink together afterwards and show pictures of our families and debrief about things we couldn’t discuss earlier.

And then we gathered in the hall, in our long line of 12, for one final time. The court official told me, since I was the first one to walk down, that the defense lawyer would ask for “one-by-one polling.”  I nodded.  And then a juror behind me said, in a very small voice “You mean we have to go into a room alone with the defense lawyer one by one and tell him our verdict and he can question us about it?”  If she hadn’t been so scared looking, I would have burst out laughing. That’s one way to never reach a guilty verdict!

I began these posts describing the actual verdict so I won’t reiterate it all. Mostly because it still doesn’t feel real. Here is what I remember: I looked at the defendant, Ricardo Arias, as I walked in. I’ve read that if all the jurors look away from the defendant, it means they reached a guilty verdict. I looked at him because I didn’t want to give him the pleasure of having any idea what decision we had reached. I looked at him because I am not scared of him. And I looked at him because, for the first time ever, he was surrounded by court officials and although that makes perfect sense, it was such a different courtroom than the one I had grown used to, I was taken aback.

And I looked at his mother.  And I felt compassion. I believe in a God of love and a God of grace. I believe that I am a sinner, no better than anyone else. But I also believe in a justice system that sets out rights and wrongs, I believe in consequences for disobeying those laws, and I believe in consciences that know that murder is wrong. I believe in a God who can be perfectly loving and full of grace and justice at the same time. His gracious nature does not negate his judgment. He cannot be more or less than who He is, because He is God.  He is ALL grace and ALL justice and ALL love and ALL authority.  And I felt the smallest speck of this when I thought of Ricardo and his family – more outrage and anger at what he did, confidence that he deserved this sentence, and compassion and mercy on a boy who made a life-altering mistake. Whether he views it as a mistake or not, I do not know. I may be capable of judging facts and evidence, but I will never be capable of judging a soul.

And I looked at the grieving family and felt compassion and sadness.  Because this verdict doesn’t change anything for them, really. It closes a horrible chapter and maybe gives them some sense of peace.  And it definitely keeps a murderer off the streets. But it doesn’t bring back their baby, their son, their brother, their friend. Does it make it more or less tragic that the murder didn’t even accomplish its sole objective: kill a feuding gang member?  Instead, he killed an innocent boy who was naive enough to admit the truth “I live around here” and die for his answer.

When I had called my Mom once to explain how emotionally exacting and exhausting this trial was, she said “Well, if I were ever on trial, I would want you on the jury. Probably more than anyone else in the family, I would want you.” (Which is a nice sentiment, however unrealistic.  You know there’s an issue with the justice system when a family member of the defendant serves on the jury…)

I will never be glad I was chosen, just like I will never be glad that this trial existed at all.  But I do believe in a God who cares about the details. And so I believe that each of the 14 of us jurors was chosen not by the lawyers and Judge but by a God who cares. And I never knew this more profoundly than when we finished affirming our 1st Degree Guilty verdict and twelve “Yeses” resounded through the courtroom and the Judge dismissed us and said she would speak with us shortly. I had no idea she would give us a wonderful gift.  For our one very undecided, very unhappy birthday juror, it ended up being the best present of her birthday.

 

In the Courtroom: Deliberations, Part 4

10 Sep

I’ve been dreading writing this recap: part 4 of 6.  Not so much because of the moments in the courtroom reaching a verdict but because of what the Judge said afterwards.  “I want to thank you for your service and answer any of your questions” she said. “The only two things we won’t speak of are how I personally feel about your verdict and your deliberation process.  Not because we can’t.  Because I believe that the process belongs to you – it’s a secret and a mystery that I believe deserves some reverence. However, as of now, you have your First Amendment rights back and you may speak to anyone about anything regarding this trial freely now.”

But more on our time with the Judge in the last part.

So I will do my best to recap some of our deliberation process without going into too much detail.  First, because you probably don’t care and neither can you really understand it. And second, because it belongs to us.  To the 12 of us. How many people run a marathon? Some statistics say 0.5%.  How many people run a half Ironman/Ironman? Some statistics say 0.05% or even 0.01%.  It’s a small number.  How many people sit on a murder case?  Sadly, probably quite a few.  And how many people sat on my unique case? 12 of us.  You can understand why it’s a tricky subject to talk about.  It is our job to respect the tragedy that occurred, to live with the horror (or the little part we can understand) but to not let that sway our emotions.  It is also our decision and no one who was not sitting on that jury can and should judge us for the decision we made.  And I apologize for any flippant comments I may have made in the past when I disagreed with any jury outcome.

(From here on out, italics are used for my journal entries from the time.)

July 22nd: Closing statements today. The defense attorney went first after resting his case with no witnesses.  (The fact that a defendant is not required to take the stand in his own defense can never be used against him in jury deliberations. However, the fact that the defense had absolutely no defense – no other witnesses – can certainly be discussed.) The defense attorney tried to cause doubt because of that one fingerprint found on the gun and the fact that a red shirt is an easily identifiable marker and therefore, crowd hysteria could have led to the whole “red shirt, red hat, firing the gun” mantra. He held up the red shirt “See this?  It’s just a shirt. The kind of shirt that people put into the laundry all the time.”  I am a little terrified that my complete dislike for the man will sway me against having an open mind. I’m trying to not let his pitbull nature pull me away from my regular bent to be rational and logical and willing to listen to both sides. The district attorney’s method was much more methodical and understated.  She did not reiterate all the evidence “you’re smart enough to deliberate well” but she did say “Ricardo Arias was a player He played DYS and the F brothers, he played the cops, don’t let him play you, too.”

And then, deliberations began.  The Judge assigned a jury foreman and two jurors were randomly selected and taken to the alternate room.  For the rest of the case, they were kept separate from us until we would line up to go down to the courtroom.  Luckily, our two alternates were happy to be alternates and both managed to knit some pretty amazing sweaters during their confinement.

The judge read us the charges and our jury instructions.  In case you’re imagining a few paragraphs, let me enlighten you.  The jury instructions were 36 pages. 36 pages.  And our Judge gave each of us a printed copy to have during deliberations (I am looking at mine right now) but only a few judges do this. A few more give you a audio version that you can replay.  For the rest, you have to write a handwritten note to the Judge, requesting for her to gather the entire courtroom again and reread the instructions, if you forget a detail of the law.  Having the handwritten instructions was one of the best parts of our deliberation and I only wish every Judge provided them.

Jury deliberations are horrible. You don’t know where to start. You’ve all been on the same team (if you can call a silent group of strangers brought together for a horrific reason a team) for so many weeks and now, finally, you have to be vulnerable and show your cards.  You have to begin to make an individual decision and voice that to 11 other people.  The first few hours passed quickly as the court officials brought us all the evidence and exhibits (except the live ammunition…they decided giving us the weapon and the live ammo was probably not smart).  We reread the jury instructions and we reread our notes. Then we took our first vote. It is my job to tally up each murder verdict while S tallies up the possession of a weapon verdicts.  Then I shred them. The vote went as I expected.

3 guilty, 6 not guilty, 3 undecided. 

We had a long way to go in order to reach any sort of consensus. It’s horrible to say that we were all a little upset we hadn’t been assigned to the violent death by baseball bat case that was decided in the room next to us. They had handler DNA.  It was a slam dunk case and they deliberated and reached a verdict the same day.  Am I ashamed that I was jealous of another murder case?  Yes.  But I am only human.

July 23rd: We each went around and explained our position and the evidence we were using to back up our position. All 12 of us spoke.  We listened respectfully and asked questions and did our best to have open minds.  We watched the video of the defendant’s interview with the cops on the night he was apprehended.  Because we were in a smaller room, we could actually hear it this time (lack of volume in the large courtroom made it a wasted hour). Shocking to realize how many different things we each pulled from the video – the ease and knowledge with which he signed his Miranda Rights, the outright lies regarding his whereabouts and friendship with the 3 other guys apprehended, “my fingerprints won’t be in that van” he said. But they were. And his concern, asked twice, “Is the guy dead?”  If I were innocent of a crime and brought in for questioning as a suspect, I am fairly certain I would have a lot of questions.  I’m also fairly certain my questions would include: Why am I here?  Has someone accused me?  Did someone identify me? Can I prove my alibi to you? What happens next?”  I am fairly certain that I wouldn’t be asking only one question, and that question wouldn’t be “is the guy dead?”  The callous question and completely disengaged nature frightened us, to be honest.

After watching the video and sifting thru evidence and looking at photos, we began to tackle the topic many different ways: diagrams, charts, a collection of all the evidence we agreed on as a group, a list of all facts we agreed on, a list of all facts that had been proven by multiple witnesses.  You name it, we tried it.

And slowly, 3 people began to change their thoughts on the verdict.  By the end of the day, the tally was

3 guilty, 3 not guilty, 6 undecided.

Emotionally, it was hard.  I was wrecked.  Although I had peace about my belief that he was guilty, I still didn’t like thinking that he was guilty. I didn’t like imagining putting him in prison. And I really didn’t like that our group was divided.  Although in retrospect it was a good thing to see the verdict swing from dramatically not guilty to unanimously guilty, as it proved we really poured our hearts and open minds into making the right decision, it was a hard process.  You’re challenging each other, you’re upset when someone doesn’t agree with you, it becomes very personal.

My struggle during this time was actually of a different nature. I stayed awake Monday and Tuesday nights racked with the understanding that we might end up letting a guilty man go free.   And that this would be the right decision if we reached it because American law has determined that we would rather let 100 guilty men go free than imprison 1 innocent man.  And I love that law.  And I hate it. In some ways, it is what makes America, America. I was partly worried that in the midst of this murder trial I was dealing with a nasty case of pride – not wanting to be wrong, not wanting to have to change my opinion.  But honestly, I believe it was more than that. I hadn’t a shred of doubt that he was guilty.  I was also preparing myself emotionally for the fact that I refused to end up in a hung jury state because of my stubbornness. If the other 11 people felt he was not guilty, I was going to have to go along. And I was going to have to live with that decision the rest of my life.  It may seem trite to read about it now, as if it wasn’t a big deal, but my conscience was uneasy.

I prayed. A lot. I never prayed for a verdict in one direction or the other. But I prayed for peace if I knew he was guilty but had to vote not guilty. I prayed for peace and understanding for all of us. For clear minds and an ability to reach a decision. I attacked Crossfit classes particularly aggressively that week (sorry, everyone) and cried on a few shoulders although I couldn’t explain why I was crying except to say “I have no hope that things can change from their current state.” And I know my parents prayed. And my siblings.  And people that I don’t even know and will never know.  And when I said once “I can’t do this” during Crossfit class and I hoped the coach thought I was talking about heavy Olympic lifts but really I meant “this trial”, I wasn’t surprised when he simply said “How do you know you weren’t created for just this moment?”

We all waited desperately for more evidence. Each of us voiced our disbelief that “this can’t be all there is” and all of us had sweet, sweet dreams that more evidence appeared and our decision was easily reached. We had a sergeant detective on record saying “I have direct evidence that Ricardo Arias is guilty” but we were not allowed to know what that direct evidence was.  It was beyond infuriating.  Things were thrown in that jury room, we became angry with the system many times, we had to continually reign each other in from jumping from “reasonable assumptions” and “reasonable inferences” to “hypotheticals” and “speculation.”  And the gap between those is very narrow.

We also struggled with the lack of decisive witnesses. All the witnesses seemed willing to place themselves at the scene but none were willing to be the one to actually identify the defendant as the killer.  They had “friends” who had seen something or “a hand in a waistband”.  And none of this is meant in a judgmental way because I have no idea how I would react in a situation like that.  We like to think we would come forward with the truth, that our minds wouldn’t block things out, that our fear wouldn’t keep us from bold truth.  But we don’t know how we would react.  And most of us jurors felt they were operating in a state of true fear – there was a reason (we didn’t know what it was at the time) that they were willing to place the defendant at the scene but they were unwilling to personally identify him. It was maddening.  It also was what it was.

July 24th: Things began to turn around today.  After a lot more discussions, the rest of the undecideds became guilty votes.  And everyone reached an agreement on the handgun verdict (FYI – possession of a weapon does not mean the person was necessarily the one holding it. Anyone who has the power and knowledge and ability to possess the weapon is equally responsible.)

We read our verdict in the courtroom.  It was obviously a bad sign for the defendant.  (None of the other jurors thought it thru this logically but I reminded them that if we said guilty to possession of a weapon, we could still say guilty or not guilty to murder. But had we said not guilty to possession of a weapon, that automatically meant a not guilty murder sentence.)  It was a relief to be out of the jury deliberation room – things were beginning to get heated. We had decided today that no more secret ballots needed to be taken. We were all very aware of where each of us stood by now.

9 guilty, 3 not guilty.

Strange sense of relief and excitement when we finally had a majority rule.  Felt like ground had been gained.

Three hours later, felt like we’d taken a few steps backwards.  Despite our jury instructions that “you must follow the law as I give it to you whether you agree with it or not” and the instructions on direct and circumstantial evidence and how both are valid forms of evidence, 3 of the jurors refused  to use circumstantial evidence to decide guilty.  So we sent a note to the Judge. We were brought down and read the Hung Jury instructions.  Later on, we learned 2 scary facts:

1) The Judge speaks with both lawyers when a jury indicates they are hung. If both lawyers agree that they have deliberated long enough, the jury is hung, it is a mistrial and a new trial is requested.  Obviously, the defense lawyer always says “Yes, they have deliberated long enough.” Thankfully, the district attorney said “They reached a verdict on the handgun today which shows they are making progress and capable of reaching verdicts.”

2) Had we listened to the 2 pages of hung jury instructions, most of which says “There is no reason to believe that any other jury of your peers would be any more capable of reaching a decision than you are.  You must do your best with open minds to consider all the evidence, to weigh it, to work together to try to reach a unanimous decision” and had we gone back to deliberations and had we told the Judge a second time that we were incapable of reaching a decision, she is not allowed to make us go back and deliberate again.  We came very, very close to not reaching a verdict, wasting 3 weeks of everyone’s time and a lot of tax-payer money.  The justice system is so infuriatingly just (at times).

And then we sat in that room.  And sat.  I read the Hung Jury instructions out loud, methodically and carefully.  And then we sat.  There was nothing left to say. No argument that hadn’t been made, no rabbit trail that hadn’t been followed.  We had all held the gun and studied the DNA charts and the fingerprint analysis and the ballistics reports and for some people, it just wasn’t enough evidence. We touched the bloody clothes and laid out the autopsy photos and there were some tears of frustration.  And I prayed.  I prayed hard. And then someone mentioned again the bullet in the door, where the witnesses were standing in relation to the victim and the shooter.  And we acted it out.  We drew a map of where everyone was and what their vantage point was.  And two of the jurors had lightbulbs moments.  

Moments so profound and instantaneous that when the Jury Foreman, a Catholic yoga instructor, said “I don’t know if any of you believe in God or not but there is a presence in this room right now and I believe Someone is responsible for what just happened” none of us disagreed.  She took the words out of my mouth.  

Have you seen a face change? Have you seen a countenance change in a blink of an eye from despair and frustration to peace?  Have you seen someone say “It all makes sense now.” Have you seen someone go from complete doubt to “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a matter of milliseconds? Have you seen tears of joy flow spontaneously when a group is once again united? I don’t say this lightly but it was the most powerful moment of my short life.  By far. I feel that I witnessed something holy and sacred and mysterious. I’m just truly sorry that it had to happen during a murder trial.

11 Guilty, 1 Not Guilty.

Our last remaining holdout was not swayed by logic but by emotion. It’s hard for me to talk about this as I want to respect the individual’s privacy and this is a public blog so you never know if they might read it.  Their own background and circumstances made them unwilling to send someone to prison for life…it was a valid emotional response to a difficult situation.  We reminded her over and over again that she wasn’t keeping an open mind, that her views of what happened had no evidence to back them up (we would always listen and then ask what evidence she was using) and that she had to legally follow the law.  But we also didn’t believe in railroading someone into making a decision that they didn’t agree with.

It was with great relief when she asked if she could sleep one more night before changing her decision to Guilty.  It was with great relief that we all went home that night (after secret plans to host a birthday party for her in the morning – and if that sounds callous on a murder trial, it isn’t.  Life goes on.  Asking someone to make a very hard decision on their birthday isn’t fun. The least we could do was all sign a card and bring her a fun breakfast.  Just like September 3rd, my half birthday, will never again be cause for celebration, her birthday will forever be marred by the decision we made.  She deserved a few minutes of celebration.)

Little did we know that she was 1) attending a Red Sox game that night, sitting in the same section as the defendant had when he used the game as his alibi and 2) that a viewing of Murder She Wrote that night would almost derail the entire trial.

For the first time in 3 weeks, I slept soundly.

 

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.

In the Courtroom: Life as a Juror, Part 2

5 Sep

Life as a juror involves a lot of waiting. A lot of mystery. A lot of time alone with your thoughts. A lot of avoidance. A lot of unanswered questions. And stress.

Life as a juror involves a lot of waiting. Waiting to be summoned down to the courtroom, waiting while other jurors use the bathroom, waiting for witnesses, waiting for a chance to talk to someone else about the case (2 weeks before we could finally speak of it…and then only to fellow jurors).

Life as a juror involves a lot of mystery. You are not privy to everything that goes on in the courtroom. There is drama amongst those watching the trial. Since you cannot interact with them, you spend a great deal of time wondering who they are and why they are there (in our case, the judge introduced some of the other lawyers and first year law students after the trial, one small mystery solved). And there are a lot of sidebar conversations between the lawyers and the judge. Sometimes, these meetings lead to new developments – comments that are stricken, questions that are reneged, different lines of questioning for witnesses. Sometimes, these meetings produce no discernible difference in the trial. Good lawyers (and we got to watch two in action) show no change in demeanor after a sidebar so you have no idea how they felt about the outcome.

Life as a juror involves a lot of time alone with your thoughts. The only “person” who knew my thoughts for 2+ weeks regarding the trial was my little notepad where I faithfully recorded verbatim statements from witnesses. Since the notepad was left in the courtroom and locked up at night, it was really only the hours of 9-4 when I had “someone” to talk to. And it gets destroyed after the trial. We became very good at teasing each other in the jury room – one juror had trouble not talking about the case: “We’re not talking about the case, are we?” we would gently remind him. We did talk about courtroom drama unrelated to the case – particularly the length of the dresses on the defense lawyer’s assistant (and also daughter). Way too short. Unbelievably uncomfortably short. But mostly we talked about food and wallpaper and jobs and the daily news and anything we could think of to keep us occupied. It was hard to have everything bottled up inside but also right – had we spoken about the case prior to deliberations, it would have been too easy to start forming opinions. A juror’s job is to look at all the facts and approach everything with an open mind.

Life as a juror involved a lot of avoidance. Although our juror room was located on a mezzanine floor (elevator to the 10th floor, walk down to the 9th floor mezzanine, therefore avoiding the actual courtroom on the 9th floor) inevitably every lunch break and at the end of the day, we would pack onto an elevator, only for it to open on the 9th floor and a slew of witnesses and family members of the boy on trial and the boy murdered would be standing there. The first few days, we would make room and it would be a silent and awkward trip down. After that, we realized it was emotionally too hard on us, and we would make sure to take up space (not hard with 16 jurors and one small elevator) and not let anyone on. At lunch, there was always a court reporter or a lawyer or a witness to avoid – the Boston court district is quite small. Every day we became further embroiled in the case, the less we wanted a mistrial – mostly because it would mean a mockery of the time we had all given away from our jobs and other pursuits.

Life as a juror involves a lot of unanswered questions.

  • Who is that and why are they here?
  • Why are witnesses who testified in English to multiple cops and at the Grand Jury now refusing to speak without a Spanish interrupter? Are they scared for their lives? Lying because their stories are full of holes?
  • Why is there so little direct evidence? Why is a sergeant detective allowed to tell us that he has direct evidence but that cannot be shared with us?
  • Why did we have about 100 cops and detectives with us when we took a field trip to view the crime scenes?

Life as a juror is stressful.

  • The defendant gets to see your name and address and personal information.
  • Exhausting a pool of 170 jurors and taking 2 full days to find a full jury is not fun. Boston is a small world. And judges do their best to keep it fair but questions like “Will you be biased against someone who may be proven to be in a gang” and “would you be more likely to believe the testimony of a police officer” are hard to answer. Nothing like putting yourself on trial before the real trial begins…
  • By the end of the first week, we had 14 jurors instead of 16. Since Massachusetts murder trials do not have official alternates, we did not know until right before deliberations who would be the alternates. But the odds drastically changed when we moved from 16 to 14 (and lost 2 of our 5 men). No one wanted to end up with 13 jurors…and be the 13th juror sitting alone in a room during deliberations.

(From my journal at the time)

  • Opening arguments were fascinating. But witnesses began after lunch and first up was the victim’s mother. Sobbing, she recounted the las time she kissed her son in a hospital morgue. It was awful. Horrible to watch people sob and feel distantly removed from their pain but also acutely aware that it is m job to be a fact finder and responsible for justice. But I cannot be swayed by emotion in determining those facts.
  • Loved some of the witnesses with their details and articulation. Some were very scared of retaliation and changed their stories. One witness was incredibly detailed and helpful and said “I knew something important had just happened and I needed to pay attention” (right after the shootings). I absolutely believe people have moments of amazing clarity after events such as this.
  • I know this is petty when we are dealing with a murder case but I hate walking into that courtroom first. Everyone stands and is very respectful. But everyone is watching me. The court official gives me the nod and I walk – inches away from the defendant who stands there glaring at me, the defense lawyer, the defendant’s mother and sisters, then the victim’s parents and sisters. I don’t like being watched. I don’t like being first. We’ve instituted a new rule amongst the jurors – our row files out first so that I am not the last one to leave the courtroom. I couldn’t handle both.
  • The defense lawyer is a bulldog. Lots of theatrics. Smirking and laughing with his client (defendant) and needling the police officers over and over making them agree that “I am correct.” He freaked out today when one guy brought notes to the witness stand. Every time he speaks, I cringe a little. One of the other jurors gets anxious when he starts attacking the witnesses. We often look at each other, silently acknowledging how uncomfortable his approach makes us, but we can say nothing.

Life as a juror involves a new level of appreciation and awareness. (more excerpts from my journal)

These cops are incredible. Just incredible. I know more than I ever thought I needed to know about their shifts and D-4 (Tremont St) and B-2 (Mission Hill). I have met property cops and the youth violence strike force and some of Boston’s Finest (literally starring on the show). The number of long-standing service cops in Boston is incredible. Regardless of the outcome of the case, I am proud to have met them.

“This afternoon, both the prosecution and the defense rested. The defense put on no defense at all. After a long couple of days of autopsy photos and bloody clothes and underwear and many sidebar discussions, it was a relief. But also quite anticlimactic. I have more respect for cops and detectives and forensic scientists than ever before. Disdain for how much money crime costs a society. Dislike for this defense lawyer who talks down to us all the time. Respect for our fair and impartial court system. Compassion for families on both sides. I’m now a semi-expert on gang colors and symbols in Boston and its just so…ridiculous. Their worlds are reduced to a half mile block of territory. I may view myself as living in Boston, their identity is wrapped up in the Mission Hill Young Bloods or the Villa Victoria Pirate Gangsters. It doesn’t even seem real. Our job starts tomorrow and it doesn’t seem right – there must be more evidence somewhere. Where is the handler DNA (rare) or the fingerprints proving our case (rare).

How does one live with themselves when they know someone is guilty but they are not sure it can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt?”

 

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)