Thursday, March 15, 2001

Guilty



A couple of weeks ago I finished up a month-long stint on jury duty. I was pleased to fulfill my civic duty, and tried to do my best to uphold the principles of our slow-grinding yet fair-minded system of justice, ever mindful of the tremendous responsibility I faced, deciding the ultimate fate of another human being. Plus it beats working for a living.

One of the reasons I was picked for this case was because my employer pays my salary no matter how long my jury duty lasts. It's kind of a goodwill thing that some law firms do. Since this case was scheduled for three weeks, they had trouble finding people who could afford to serve. A friend of mine at work considers jury duty part of her benefits package.

As an added bonus, the case was fascinating: The defendant, Jim, was accused of assaulting his hooker/drug-addict girlfriend, Joy, with a toilet plunger and threatening to inject her with hydrochloric acid. Jim thought Joy was sleeping with a cop named Todd and that she was ratting on him. Fortunately, Joy had called 911 and the cops arrived before he was able to follow through on his threat. Jim was tossed in jail, where he became acquainted with a fellow inmate called "Clown."

Clown is a member of the notorious 18th Street gang where he was a fairly successful hit-man, having racked up 15-20 contract killings in his day. He has never been arrested for any of those killings, however and was in jail on a rape charge. He was just the kind of guy Jim was looking for.

Jim asked Clown to get in touch with Topo, the head of the Mexican Mafia, to arrange to have Joy and Todd "taken care of." Jim passed Clown handwritten notes with information and instructions on how to carry out the murders. They used notes because they (rightfully) feared that the jail cells were bugged. Clown, however, wasn't too sure if he could trust Jim. And besides, being a family man, Clown had decided to try and turn his life around and maybe get away from the whole murder and rape thing. He decided to pass the notes to a deputy and then agreed to continue to play along to help the police nab Jim in the act.

Jim, meanwhile, got in touch with a drug-addled, dimwitted single mom named Renee to act as his liaison on the outside. Clown was supposed to get the hit man to call Renee, who would then pass along information and take care of the "fee." Only the guy who called Renee wasn't a real hit man, he was an undercover cop who called himself "Silent," and all the calls were being taped. Apparently, Renee found Silent's voice overwhelmingly appealing and could barely keep her mind on the job at hand as she flagrantly offered her sexual services to this complete stranger who professed to be a hired killer and who was in fact gathering evidence that could put her away for many years.

Do you start to get the feeling that these lowlife losers are lowlife losers for a reason?

To her credit, when they played the tapes back in open court, Renee did at least appear somewhat embarrassed.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting there listening to all of this with fourteen other people (three alternates) and I'm just dying to tell someone -- anyone! But you're NOT ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT IT. Not even with the other jurors, the people you see every day, have lunch with, sit next to, walk to the parking garage with, and who are practically the only other people in the world who would not only understand you, but would be able to talk about it too. Who came up with this ridiculous system? It's unhealthy. Don't they know what can happen to a person when they have a really great story to tell and they aren't allowed to tell anyone? That's how people develop personality disorders and imaginary friends. Believe me it took all my resolve and discipline to last a whole month.

Finally the case ended and they put us into the jury room for deliberation. We had all of the evidence in front of us, including the handwritten notes and the taped phone calls. But what it came down to was, whom did we believe.

The prosecution had plenty of witnesses: Joy the hooker who admitted that she was shooting up each day before court, that is until she O.D.'d and ended up in the hospital where she was promptly arrested on another charge and wound up in county jail. There was Joey the alcoholic stool-pigeon who used to show up at Renee's house completely wasted and waving a gun around in front of her kids. There was Jeff the burnout who picked up Joy one night and the next morning awoke to find her psychotic ex-boyfriend busting down his bathroom door and threatening to shoot her up with acid. We heard from Renee the horny speed-freak who testified that she was only coming on to Silent because she wanted him to do her a favor and kill Joey too. And there was Clown, who is now serving a life sentence for rape but apparently has gotten away with murder so many times he can't count them all. The prosecution also had several cops, a handwriting expert and a woman from the phone company.

The defense had one main witness: Jim. He had an explanation for everything and most of what he said was plausible. But there was something about his story -- it was too good. It reminded me of writing a screenplay, how you have to make sure everything fits together and all the loose ends are tied up and nothing comes out of nowhere. And he was masterful. But when we got into the jury room, everyone felt the same way I did: Jim was a lying sack of shit. We didn't believe a single word. The drugged-out morons and degenerate scum were far more convincing.

We deliberated for about a day and found Jim guilty on every count. According to the D.A. he should be looking at about twenty years. It felt pretty good to help get that scumbag off the streets. I was proud to have done my part. Now I'm back at the law firm helping big fat insurance companies keep their big fat reserves to themselves. It's not quite as satisfying as my experience on jury duty. But we do have a great dental plan.

Be good.

Love, HWD

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