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Jury Duty

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Wow! I can’t believe it’s been since last Friday that I posted anything to my blog. I’d gotten in such a rhythm of finding things to write about every day, too.

If you’re wondering why I’ve been on hiatus it’s because I’ve been serving on jury duty all week. I reported at 8:30 Monday morning to the courthouse in downtown Nashville knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would be called up—and sure enough, I was! I ended up sitting on a criminal drug possession, intent to sell, and sale case (seven separate counts). The whole first day was jury selection (snooze fest—same questions asked of each person with 18 people dismissed and replaced) and opening arguments. Tuesday and Wednesday were witnesses for the prosecution. Late Wednesday afternoon, after most of the evidence—including almost $650,000 worth of cocaine in evidence bags—was passed around the jury, the prosecution rested. We were bummed, knowing that, with the list of witnesses that had been read before the trial started (to make sure none of the potential jurors knew any of the witnesses), we would be there until Friday. But, after we came back from our afternoon break, the defense lawyer stood up and said they were not presenting anything. None of the alibis he’d promised, none of the proof of the defendant’s whereabouts—nothing. So Wednesday afternoon was filled up with closing arguments and the reading of the charges and jury instructions. And the judge literally read everything to us—it took about 30 minutes for him to read all of it. By this time it was about 4:00 and they like to close down for the day at 4:30 to get out before the worst of rush hour traffic. So, we went back to the deliberation room (where they took us every break and for lunch), and I was elected foreperson of the jury—go figure.

We adjourned for the day and went home—completely exhausted. And yet whenever I did fall asleep last night, I kept having weird dreams about the case or about being in the courtroom or about the jury and so had a very restless night.

This morning, I figured it wouldn’t take us very long to deliberate. I’d hoped we would be finished by lunchtime. We started around 9:30 (we had to go into the courtroom for the roll-call which had to be wedged in between a couple of the judge’s docket hearings). By noon, we had completed deliberation on four of the original six charges. They provided us with lunch every day, so we took our time, knowing that the judge/court would be on lunch break until at least 1:00. After lunch, we finished the two remaining counts before us and sat around waiting until the defense lawyer showed back up before we could go in. I was SO NERVOUS reading the verdict. My hands were shaking and I couldn’t even raise my eyes from the pages in front of me. Then, come to find out that because one of the counts we found him guilty of was possession of a handgun, that brought an additional charge because he’s a convicted felon (voluntary manslaughter). So it was BACK to the deliberation room to decide on that charge, which didn’t take but about ten minutes and most of that was spent in deciphering the judgment sheets from his felony conviction in 1997 to figure out exactly what it had been for (we were a very curious jury, especially since we heard nothing on behalf of the defendant). Then we had to wait for the judge to be available to hear our verdict.

After I read the final verdict and he dismissed us, they took us back to the deliberation room where the judge joined us and told us the “whole story” of this case—of the fifteen other people in this drug ring arrested who all pled-out, about the court-appointed defense lawyer (who couldn’t find his way out of a paper-bag, much less cross-examine a witness), and about other evidence in the case that had been suppressed. He also told us the sentence he would give (in another month or so): 15 years (no parole) for the drug charges plus an additional 2-5 years for the weapons charge. So this guy will be in prison for at least 17 years.

As I looked at this man, who is only a few months younger than I, I saw nothing in his eyes—no light, no life, no emotion . . . just emptiness. How sad it must be to know that the decisions he’s made have led him to this. But how much more said it is that he probably had no one to show him that there is a better way to live. That honest, hard work brings fulfillment of a job well done. That a life filled with Christ’s love is better than the enormous amounts of cash and drugs he possessed. I just pray that God will have someone already in place in the prison who can show this man the way to the foot of the Cross.

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