Hey there folks, fine day for you to stop by.
There is a tale that needs telling and a fire that needs tending. There are drinks in the cooler and brats on the grill. Relax a bit, and hear me out.
A bit over three years ago there was a tragedy down in Florida.
A little girl died.
A day or two ago her mother, who had been tried for murdering her, was found not guilty.
The interwebs, they are just humming with folks that want that womans head on a stick. Everywhere I turn there are folks losing their minds because they just know the mother killed her child.
They are screaming to the rooftops about how she is guilty, and is getting away with murder. There are whole articles devoted to calling out the members of the jury as incompetent fools who “got it wrong”.
Funny thing, people saying that who were not there.
There is a difference, a very big difference, in finding someone “not guilty” and saying they are innocent.
Not guilty simply means that their guilt was not proven, it does not mean it was never there.
Why am I getting my undies in a wad over this?
I’ve been there.
A few years ago there was a letter in my mail box.
A Jury Duty summons.
Figuring I would be in and out after a day or three, I informed my employer and reported for my duty. Turns out I was there for a while.
The case involved a boy of about nineteen years of age and a girl of about seventeen. There were also parents and at least one off duty police officer involved.
I won’t go into the details, as the jury was asked to hold them confidential. I will however say that no one in this case was deceased. Suffice it to say that the boy was looking at doing some hard time, measured in decades.
We sat there in our little box for a good long time. There was testimony from both sides, from police, from experts. There was a lot to hear, simply because no one thing was damning. The attorneys for both sides were quite passionate, and gave well reasoned presentations of what they believed the series of events was.
Of course, other than one or two points that both sides agreed on (gravity was still in effect throughout for instance) the stories differed wildly.
We sat in our box and took it all in.
After the days of testimony were complete, and both sides rested their cases, the judge addressed us.
We were told to go decide amongst ourselves, based solely on the evidence presented, whether the young man was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
We were not asked to determine whether we thought he committed a crime, but whether the prosecution had proved it to that standard.
Just before Noon the twelve of us went into the jury room and went about electing a foreman, which was not me. The first thing he asked for was a vote.
Makes sense, if we are all in agreement then why spend the afternoon chatting about it. After all, we all had lives waiting for us to get back to them, chores that needed done, familys that needed tended to, football that needed to be watched. We passed in our post it notes and the foremen checked them.
Eleven said guilty, one said not guilty.
He announced the results, and at the behest of several others called for another vote. Just in case the lone dissenter had changed their mind.
Once again, eleven came back guilty. The last one this time said “Not guilty, lets order lunch, we’re gonna be here a while”.
As he looked up from the slips I broke the silence and said “Pizza sounds good”.
We even got bread sticks. One of which was skinny and horribly overcooked, like a french fry that has made two trips through the oil. As I recall I ended up using as a pointer for most of the day.
We started at the beginning, looking over the case as presented by both sides. Comparing, contrasting, seeing where the actual evidence (of which there was painfully little) would take us.
Mostly in very foggy circles.
Dinner was Chinese, and by then the vote was six to six.
As we went and looked through the case things struck us. Things that just didn’t quite fit the way either side was telling the tale.
There were some harsh words back and forth in that jury room.
I may have even said a few.
In the end the vote came back unanimously.
There is a big difference between innocent and not guilty. All of us believed that the boy was guilty as charged.
Our legal system though is not based on what we feel is right. It’s on what can be proven.
It’s based on the idea that we would rather let a guilty man walk free than risk putting an innocent man in jail.
We got it right, and in my opinion so did the jurors in a certain high profile murder case down south.
Doesn’t mean I feel good about the verdict we rendered, or that the jurors down there do either.
To this day I am pretty damn sure I was instrumental in letting a guilty man walk.
What it means is that we did our jobs as the last line of defense against jailing someone for a crime that the state could not prove they committed.
The same consideration I pray I would receive if I ever stood in court accused of a crime.
Well, folks. I told you I’d spin a tale for you.
This one left a bad taste in my mouth.
Someone grab me a brew and a brat, I have to go put another log on the fire.