Jury duty wasn't nearly as tough as expected

I don't know why everyone grouses about serving jury duty. I found it to be enlightening. And the munchies weren't bad either.

Called to duty for the first time — ever — I sat in the Jackson County Circuit Court jury assembly room Wednesday sipping tea, munching on a chocolate muffin and posting on Facebook.

"Chances of me being seated? Slim to none."

My thinking was, since I'm the Trib's courts reporter, I'd be bounced as soon as any judge or attorney saw my too-familiar mug smiling out from the jury pool.

Apparently I texted too soon.

Within minutes of my update, I was herded along with about 20 other stalwart citizens into Judge Lorenzo Mejia's courtroom and soon became the final juror seated in the front row of the jury box.

Does anyone in the jury know anyone involved in this trial? the judge asked.

My hand shot up. His Honor laughed. And explained my sitch to the rest of the jurors — who seemed less than impressed.

But the defense attorney took fiendish delight in using the paper to test the judicial temperament of the pool.

"Who here thinks the Mail Tribune is a liberal rag?" Peter Carini asked, grinning like a gator. Then the attorney asked who considers our Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper to be the conservative bastion of right-wing nut jobs.

It's all about perception and perspective, he said.

I was still keeping a tight hold on my purse strap. And not just because I was in the presence of at least one too many lawyers.

Honestly, I was still expecting to be bounced like a Superball at the end of voir dire. If not by the defense, surely the prosecutor would nudge me out the door. Maybe even the judge might object.

Instead, I was duly sworn along with five other citizens, asked to determine the fate of the defendant in a one-day trial we came to call Gravelgate.

The case revolved around the alleged illegal removal of between 10 to 15 yards of gravel from an old quarry site near Trail. The state brought two witnesses who said he surely did the deed. The defendant testified on his own behalf.

At the end of the day, I believed the state had not met its burden, which meant the defendant was innocent. But I had no idea how the rest of the jurors would view the evidence presented. And our verdicts had to be unanimous — be they thumbs up or down.

As a kid, as an adult, and certainly as a journalist, I have never been one to yield to peer pressure. But I confess to experiencing a certain amount of nervousness as we entered the deliberation room shortly after 4 p.m. How well would I be able to explain my doubts? How well would my thoughts be received by my fellow jurors? How long would we be kept in this tiny room before we all ran mad? Or someone stabbed me with a fork?

But before I could pose my concerns, my fellow jurors began articulating their doubts in clear and concise language. We had our verdicts within 15 minutes. Not guilty on both counts.

"Is everyone certain?" Yep. "Has everyone had a chance to say all they wished?" Well, sorta. Were I still under oath, I'd confess I was a little disappointed nobody argued the state's position. But it would have been wrong to play devil's advocate just for the sake of argument.

I called the prosecutor later in the week and shared the jist of our deliberations, brief as they were. You did a good job, I said. You just didn't have the evidence to win the case. She was gracious, and grateful for the insight.

"It's not often we get to hear what happens in a jury room," she said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Share This Story