You’ve probably had those times when you just ‘knew’ something was going to happen? Well, I had one of those a couple years ago when I pulled a jury summons out of my mailbox. I used to get regular summons once or twice a year and even served on a civil jury for an automobile accident case. Now, as the time drew nearer, I kept hoping my number would be excused. No such luck. As I walked to the court house, went through the metal detector, and joined about 300 others in the jury holding room, I still had that sense that a jury seat was in my future.
The jury commissioner began to call our numbers, and those folks had to come forward and take a sheet of questions to immediately answer. She got closer to my number – and then passed it. I breathed a sigh of relief – and THEN, she started calling numbers smaller and smaller until – you guessed it. My number was called. I got my sheet of questions, and realized this trial was a 1st-degree murder case. Just enough information was there to give me the shivers. Even so, I still had this very strong feeling that I was destined for the jury box.
About 150 of us filed into a relatively small courtroom, and since there were not enough spectator seats, about 30 of us were directed up to the jury box section. I ended up in seat #11. The case summary was laid out before us. Fifteen years before, a man had an argument with his nephew (FG), and the morning after, he drove out to a field where his nephew and many farm workers were picking onions. The man resumed his argument with FG and the man’s son (CZ) joined in. Then, CZ walked to his truck, took out a gun, walked back, and shot FG ten times. He ran to his father’s truck, sped away, and disappeared for fifteen years, losing contact with his local family. CZ had dual citizenship in the US and Mexico, and during that fifteen years he lived in Mexico, marrying and having children. He often crossed the border for work – using his real name. One fateful day, an inspector discovered he had a long-standing arrest warrant for murder. CZ was sent back to Colorado for trial – this trial in 2013.
It took 1½ days for jury interviews and when twelve and one alternate were chosen, sure enough. Seat #11 was mine for a possible ten days. We learned that if we found CZ guilty of 1st degree murder, the sentence was automatic life without parole; if 2nd degree murder, the court would decide the sentence. Heave a big sigh of relief! At least, we did not have to wrestle with a death sentence!
After five days of testimony, we retired to the jury room for deliberation. Our job was to decide if CZ was mentally ill with a personality disorder as his defense claimed. If we did not decide he was mentally ill, we had to decide between 2nd degree murder (unpremeditated) and 1st degree murder (premeditated).
Long story short: After much discussion, we decided he was not mentally ill because the testimony – even by his psychiatrist – and CZ’s actions simply did not fit the particular personality disorder presented by the defense. Then, no matter how we examined the testimony and the evidence, we concluded we could not deem it unpremeditated.
As we looked at the very neatly dressed, not a hair out of place, now 36-year old man who sat very quietly through seven days of testimony and lawyer defense and prosecution, it was very hard to picture that he could have committed such a horrible crime when he was 20 years old. But, our impressions were secondary to our primary task of objectively sifting through the details we had gathered for seven days. In the end, even though there were tears, none of us regretted the very difficult decision we had to make. We gave him life without parole.
So, what brought on the reason for this post? Right now (August 2015) in Denver, the jury for the James Holmes’ theater shooting trial is in the sentencing phase. I have often thought of them during the weeks and weeks of trial phase, and prayed that this jury was filled with wise and toughly compassionate folks who could disagree without heated conflict and focus on the truth brought out during the trial with well-articulated conversation. Now, they must decide between a life sentence or the death penalty. What a weighty responsibility!
Surprise, surprise, surprise! This post has nothing to do with singleness. But, it does have everything to do with how we live our lives making daily decisions about how we will respond to the hard things life throws at us. Time to contemplate some very important words written 2,000 years ago by a man named James: