Jury Duty

 

During the whole day I could only come up with one tweet: Jury duty: When the old reprobate walked into the courtroom I thought “Guilty!” but it turned out he was the judge.

 

I had to drive 35 miles to downtown Sandusky and negotiate myself to the correct building to sign in. I entered the courtroom 5 or 10 minutes before the 8:30 starting time. There were 45 to 55 other perspective jurors in the gallery sitting around in complete silence. The judge finally made it into the courtroom by 9:10, and we all had to take some sort of oath. He instructed us to hold up our hand and say, “I do” at the end of it. I didn’t.

 

It may have been at this point that we were asked a series of questions that would indicate whether anyone was disqualified. I missed my first chance when they asked whether anyone was a drug addict or alcoholic. Then they chose 24 prospective jurors, probably by lot. The idea was to choose 14 jurors (12 regulars and 2 backups) out of the 24. Once again, I made the cut and was seated immediately in front of the lawyers’ stand.

 

Finally the proceeding started in earnest. The judge explained the charges. The defendant was charged with forcibly raping a girl twice in 1994 or 1995 and once again in 1998 or 1999. My mind went to years. I calculated that the first crime had taken place 20 or so years before. It didn’t make sense to me. However, I was still inclined to find him guilty. This whole “innocent until proven guilty” business may be the way you’re supposed to think but my mind doesn’t work that way.

 

The defendant, Danny Pritchert, sat behind his two lawyers, and his family sat to his right. One man that I thought was his father looked like him, but then a younger man who looked more like him took a seat with the family. So I assumed that he was the father and that the older man was his grandfather or uncle. There were also two women, who could have been their wives. Danny was average to slight and I guessed less than 5’ 9”. I thought of him as some sort of hillbilly or country type. He was rather pale and I had no problem picturing him as a minor malefactor. Raping a 7-year-old was another matter.

 

He was dressed in slacks and a blue oxford cloth shirt, as was I. His lawyers both had Latino names. The older one reminded me of someone but I didn’t know who. The younger one seemed a bit Hispanic and was much better looking. They annoyed me because I figure lawyers use jury trials as a bargaining chip to get reduced sentences and I really didn’t want to be there.

 

The prosecution attorney was a short African American woman in a pants suit. She seemed comfortable and pleasant. She started the questioning in earnest. First came a series of questions to determine whether anyone had friends or enemies among the witnesses. She asked whether anyone knew a police officer who would be giving testimony later, and a young man who had been sitting next to me in the gallery raised his hand. When asked how he knew the officer, he said the officer had arrested him. The judge asked what he had been arrested for and the man declined to provide details. They all met at the judge’s bench to discuss the matter and he returned to his place. Apparently, we weren’t going to be let in on any of the entertaining stuff and he wasn’t getting out of jury duty.

 

When the prosecutor got down to real questioning I was surprised that she was actually laying out her case and encouraging the jurors to agree with her. She asked jurors to define rape. I thought back on the charges. I think the word forcibly had been used but perhaps I was mistaken. It seemed as though she was encouraging the jurors to take a broad view of the word. At one point she asked whether a person who used his authority to demand sexual favors had committed rape. Once again I am not exactly clear on the wording but that seemed to be the gist. The actual timeline was a little hazy, but Danny was about 13 when the girl first claimed rape and 18 the second time. I wasn’t sure about the whole “authority” business.

 

Another line of questioning (actually the questioning was pushing us to a conclusion) involved the girl’s inability to pinpoint the time the crimes took place. The prosecutor asked jurors whether they expect children to know exact dates and times. She usually got the desired answer. More questioning involved counselors. “Has anyone sought the help of a counselor?” Two or three jurors had. She asked about their experiences. At this point I was bit confused because some people refer to lawyers as “counselors.”

 

Then there was the matter of timing. The accuser had not reported the crimes until 10 or more years after their occurrence. In the prosecutor’s questioning she used the phrase “late reporting” as though it were a technical term in psychology. It probably is. She solicited reasons from the jurors about ways this could happen. Here’s where I may have been found wanting. I said I could understand how someone would not report a crime at the time but when too much time went by I begin to have problem. She asked me whether I doubted people who did not report crimes immediately. I said that isn’t what I said. If a person is in a safe situation, I would give him a year or two to reflect and report. After that I would have a problem. My use of old time grammar (a person . . . he) gave her pause. “Do you mean the defendant or the victim?”. “The victim.” That may have been all for me.

 

Many things in the proceeding caused me amusement. It was getting fairly transparent. The prosecutor asked whetherif guilty people should be punished. I laughed. She addressed me again. I said, “I was thinking of politics.” (Hillary obviously, though I didn’t say it). The guy next to me laughed but he was probably the only one. That may have gotten me unselected. Finally she asked me straight out if I thought the guilty should be punished and I replied, “Absolutely.”

 

She was also big on defining “beyond a reasonable doubt.” She asked people whether they had doubts about buying homes or riding on airplanes or having operations. She was driving home that doubts may not be so important in certain matters.

 

She asked whether jurors were horrified by the subject of the trial, child rape, and several jurors were. I’m not sure why she pursued this line. Didn’t she want people to be horrified? One lady had close friends who had been molested by criminals. After a conference with the judge, she was excused and a 19-year-old man took her place.

 

I don’t remember the order of these questions very well, but I think I hit the high points. We were given more than an hour for lunch and I left feeling that I had been directed to think a certain way. When we returned, the defense had its chance to question us. The older lawyer conducted the interviews or whatever you might call them. He started by emphasizing that the defendant had a presumption of innocence. This process was very lengthy. He asked various jurors how they would vote at that moment and the general consensus was that they didn’t know because they had heard nothing. That wasn’t what he wanted to hear. He drove home the point that they should vote not guilty because the prosecution had the burden of proof. I believe the jurors were a bit more resistant to this way of thinking than he wanted. As I mentioned before, my thought processes were in line with them: I was not sold on this legal concept any more than the others. I wanted to hear something. He also took on the concept of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” insisting that doubts about house buying, flying, and operations were not the same as doubts about guilt.

 

He asked what was the most important thing to people. Jurors answered family. He then said that this trial was just as important because Danny’s life and freedom were at stake. We could sella house we didn’t want. Flying was really quite safe, as were operations. We needed to see the trial as much more serious, and we needed to take “doubt” more seriously. I was particularly resistant to this idea because I just wanted to go home and lie on my own couch. I don’t remember that anyone voiced objections to this line of reasoning, probably because that is the way everyone is supposed to think.

 

He spent an inordinate amount of time on defining doubt. He also started suggesting that Danny was not going to take the stand by saying that his decision to go to trial was his denial of the charges. He questioned certain jurors on what they would do if they were subjected to a completely untrue charge. They had no answers other than the ones he wanted: Protest their innocence and go to court and make others prove their claims.

 

At one point he saidpointed out the prosecutor had planted the assumption in our minds that “something” had happened. Indeed, other jurors, thinking of Danny’s age at the time, suggested that the “something” that happened may not have risen to the level of rape. I believe the prosecutor did not argue this point strongly because she was happy enough that they accepted the premise that something had happened. She could argue the severity of it later.

 

The defense tried to plant doubt about counselors’ testimony with a series of questions to those who had used them. “Did the counselor try to verify any of the statements you made to him or her?” I assumed that part of the prosecution was based on statements made to counselors long after the events the victim described. He then went directly at the victim. “Can you think of any reason why a person might lie about being raped?” We were then treated to a little drama when the defendant’s lawyer suggested that a person might lie about something to explain failures in her life such as crimes and drug addiction. This statement produced an objection from the prosecution and another meeting with the judge. He dropped that subject. Susan says that she never heard of a victim that she couldn’t blame. I tend to be a bit more sympathetic, even toward the guilty.

 

There was also a question about whether a young girl would receive injuries from a sexual encounter and whether sisters would confide in each other. He spent way too much time on the sister question, einquiring of several mothers and fathers about their children’s relationships. I don’t know where the defense was going with these ideas except that maybe no siblings were going to give contemporaneous accounts. For all I know, the sister or sisters may have been a bit dubious about the victim’s claims.

 

I had generally thought about “recovered memories” during his questioning and at one point I remembered about your Aunt Betsy, who has an MA in psychology, so she’s a counselor. At some point she recovered memories of maltreatment (nonsexual) that Susan knew to be false. She is 7 or 8 years younger than Susan so that Susan would have known how things were. These thoughts occurred to me quite late in the afternoon but I suppose the defense had planted them in me. I thought of the Kinks’ song, “Sunny Afternoon,” with the lyrics

 

My girlfriend's gone off with my car
And gone back to her ma and pa
Telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty
And now I'm sitting here
Sipping on my ice cold beer.

 

At another point, the defense asked if whether anyone thought it unfair that the defendant should even be in an adult court. I noted that the prosecutor kept referring to Danny as 18 or 19 while the defense used the words “16 or 17.” There was another objection. Another trip to the jJudge’s bench: Another line of defense abandoned.

 

He spent a lot of time saying that the jurors should not attach any importance to the defendant’s not testifying. Many jurors had a problem with that, saying that if they had been so accused, they couldn’t wait to testify. It was getting late and the defense kept arguing with the jurors, almost brow beating them. One guy was getting a little testy with him. A bit of drama there.

 

It was past 4 when he ended. Then the lawyers went into the judge’s chamber with the judge. They came out a little later and named the 10 people that they didn’t want. I was one of them. I assume the prosecution rejected me.

 

From the questioning, I thought I knew how the trial would go. The girl (now 23 or 24) would tell her story. There had been some talk about authority and family but no one said what the defendant’s relationship to the girl was. There would be counselors who would testify that her story made sense and explain “delayed reporting.” Some police officers would testify. I don’t know about what. I suppose the defense would keep harping on the lack of actual evidence. I remember the prosecutor took time to talk about circumstantial evidence, giving obvious examples, such as, if there is snow on the ground, you can assume it snowed during the night. I noted at the time that she could have used less obvious examples. Maybe that was the idea: pushing us to accept weak circumstantial evidence. The defense would challenge the counselors; maybe it would complain about the timeline: Should the defendant even be in adult court? If that’s the way the trial went and there were no bombshells from the police or someone else or physical evidence, I would probably have voted not guilty initially. So the prosecutor was wise to excuse me if that’s what she did. Another indication that she rejected me was the fact that the defense questioned jurors for 2 hours or more without addressing me once. I assume he liked my doubt about “late reporting.” These events are out of order. The lawyers probably had a strategy laid out in a special order but I can’t remember it.

 

Your Dad