Memories of 12 Not so Angry People
Trip Start Apr 17, 2001
247Trip End Ongoing
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At 10:00 p.m., after watching 15 minutes of the goings on in Egypt, I fell asleep while Ellen checked emails. I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed exactly one hour later, damned by jet lag.
I'd had enough of Mubarak's refusal to leave office, so I recalled my start to 2011:
"Please state your name, sir."
“Jack …,” I glanced down at my right hand, wondering if I'd picked up the Holy Bible, or the Koran, “I mean John Drury.”
The Judge told me that the defense attorney needed my full attention. The question he asked was long and confusing. It required only a simple yes or no, but I asked him to repeat it. He said that he would repeat just the last couple of sentences. The ones that asked whether or not I could fairly judge a man whose skin was black.
Moments later I was juror number three, but not before being forced to stand eye-to-eye with a man accused of chopping down another man with a machete.
After walking weak kneed to seat number three I became what is called in certain forms of the Canadian justice system, a trier. Once again, along with the person who had been chosen before me, I had to swear on the good-book. Now it was my job, along with juror number two to be the first to decide whether or not the next jury candidate would be worthy of joining our ranks. After the young woman of Portuguese or perhaps Italian descent properly answered the defense attorney's question on the first try, my partner and I gave her the thumbs up. Then the defender and the Crown had to decide whether they wanted her as well. Louisa became number four. After one more passing candidate my job as trier was passed on down the line.
The wheels of justice seriously bogged down after that. We needed seven more jurors and went through probably thirty-five people before coming to twelve in total. Sometimes it was the Crown, other times it was the defense counsel who would dismiss the hapless candidate simply by saying the word, “Challenge.” Occasionally, it would be one of us, the bloody triers, with all of our twenty minutes of experience, who would send the candidate off packing. I’d look at them as if to say, what the hell are you doing?
After the twelve had been chosen there was a break. It was three in the afternoon. At three-ten the trial began with an opening statement from the Crown, followed by an opening statement from the defense. We were then told to report back the following morning at nine-thirty. I went home, confused as hell.
I went to bed early that night, then tossed and turned, nightmaring of the man I’d been forced to do eye contact with, swinging the blade of steel wildly around my head. I awoke in a shock of realization. He hadn’t been shackled in irons as he sat in the court room the previous day. Why, I wondered? Were the courts crazy? Should I go back?
The following morning, a couple of police officers were first called to the stand to give their accounts of the crime. The one and only witness was then called – it was the victim himself. The poor man told the story of how he’d gotten into an argument with the accused. The accused, after punching the victim, ran to his car and returned with a twenty-eight inch machete. Raising the weapon above his head he chopped down on the man, twice. There was a vicious cut on his cheek, and another on and below his ear. Before jumping into his car and speeding off, the accused yelled that the next time he’d cut the man’s head off. I felt a shiver.
When the defense attorney started grilling the witness/victim I became entranced. The defender was like Perry Mason, Ben Matlock, Patty Hewes and the EG Marshall character from The Defenders all wrapped in one. He asked the victim questions, then one after the next, read previous statements that contradicted his testimony. Eight, maybe ten times this happened. Then he presented circumstantial evidence that included some forty criminal convictions over a period of less than forty years.
The words, 'Next time I’ll cut your head off,” kept going over-and-over in my mind. But why in hell didn’t the man’s head come off this time? How could the accused have brought down a twenty-eight inch machete and not done so? I pictured the victim raising his hands in an attempt to block the strike; saw his fingers flying off every which way, bouncing end-over-end along the pavement. I looked at his hands and fingers. They were intact. There had been plenty of blood at the scene, but no blood spatter, the spray that would have occurred as a result of the attack. I’d learned all about blood spatter from watching Dexter on television. No one had even bothered to bring up this topic. I cringed. Dexter Morgan, a vicious slasher in his own right had brought me here. I was hopelessly stuck between an epiphanous moment and total confusion.
Then the defense attorney dropped a bomb. He suggested that it wasn’t the accused that attacked the victim at all, but the victim who’d attacked the accused. I felt like a character in the jury box of a court room movie.
The following day the accused was brought to the stand and testified that that was exactly what had happened. They’d had an argument in the parking lot over the purchase price of a $5.00 CD and out came a knife, not a machete. The victim went for the accused with the shorter blade. They grappled, falling to the pavement. The cuts may have occurred during the hand-to-hand combat. As they struggled for possession of the knife it could have easily caused the cuts. It made sense.
After listening to the Judge instruct us on the rules of ruling for what seemed like an eternity we were off to deliberate. We’d been instructed the previous day to bring in a suitcase of required clothes and essentials; there was a real possibility that after being sequestered we might have to spend the night and possibly many more in hotel rooms if we couldn’t come up with a verdict. There’d be no television, no newspapers, no telephone, no communication what-so-ever with the outside world. And there’d be a guard outside our doors to see that the rules were maintained.
It is forbidden by law to talk about what goes on in a jury room. That being said, when we re-entered court and were asked by the Judge if we had reached a verdict the answer was not guilty on four varied counts of assault. Our suitcases wouldn’t be needed.
People, my fellow jurors included, went on-and-on about how great it was to be able to perform this duty to our country. I’ve never been one to quickly board a band wagon. In fact I think our country is pretty messed up when it plods merrily along, allowing its citizens to commit forty separate criminal acts over a forty year period.
Duty, shmooty, being a juror in this topsy-turvy affair was the most exciting thing that had happened to me since, since… For that, and only that, I am grateful.
We're flying south over the East China Sea. The screen in front of me says our speed is a very devilish 666 km per hour. Who knows if we are destined to meet our connecting southbounder to the Island of Negros today. Perhaps a night in one of Manila's famous karaoke bars awaits.