Drew Peterson Jury—What are they thinking?

Today the Drew Peterson jury is hearing closing arguments and soon will retire to the jury room to deliberate. Media analysts are at this very moment trying to read the jurors’ minds. As a former juror, I can tell you one thing about the juror’s minds for certain: most of the jurors made up their minds during the trial.

Sidebar: Lawyers like to think jurors make up their minds after the opening statements, but this is not true. After the opening statements, jurors make up their minds only about what the most important evidence should be. In the Peterson trial that was likely the evidence proving the death was homicide.

Closing arguments do not make or break a case for either side. All that closing arguments accomplish is to provide a vocabulary and set of phrases for jurors to use in their deliberations. One side or the other in the Peterson trial has already won, and their closing arguments will be repeated in the jury room to help convince any undecided juror to join the majority. I really can’t believe that more than one juror is entirely convinced Peterson is guilty. It’s more likely that most jurors don’t believe the prosecution met the burden of proof. They may suspect Peterson has done some “bad things,” but they can’t say with confidence that they know what they were.

Sidebar: Personally, the more I heard about Stacy Peterson during the trial, the more I wondered if she’s the only wife Drew did away with. It seems she wanted a divorce and began to spread rumors that Drew had killed his former wife. If so, Drew might have “snapped” and closed her rumor-spreading mouth permanently. However, that doesn’t mean that Stacy really believed or knew he killed Kathleen Savio.

It’s impossible to tell from outside the courtroom which of the sides has already won. Since I have a bias in favor of the Bill of Rights and in favor of Blackstone’s admonition that it’s better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man suffer, from what little I know of what went on in the trial, if I were on the Peterson jury I would vote “not guilty because of a reasonable doubt.”

Reasonable doubts in the case seem to include whether Kathleen Savio’s scalp wound was sufficient to have knocked her out long enough to drown in the bathtub; just how much water was in the bathtub at the time she injured her scalp; when her death occurred and, consequently, whether Drew Peterson has an alibi for the time of death. Those are significant lacunae in the evidence and, therefore, produce significant and reasonable doubts in my mind as to whether it was an accidental death or a homicide. Even if the jury concludes on the basis of evidence about which I know nothing that it was homicide, they still have overcome the hurdle of knowing when she died and whether Drew Peterson had the opportunity to have killed her.

Much has been made of the Peterson jury’s “bonding.” They coordinated their outfits on a few days, once apparently dressing in the Chicago Bears’ colors, blue and orange. This is also a clue to me, a former juror. The more bonding a jury does, the easier it is for them all to agree on a verdict. Given that the Peterson jury demonstrated its cohesion in such a light-hearted way tells me they aren’t worried about having to send a former police officer to the slammer for life. Believe me, when you’re worried about having to convict somebody of a capital crime, you don’t dress up like your favorite sports team. You’re anxious, can’t sleep, and if you’re female you cry a lot at home.

For court-watchers curious about what goes through jurors’ heads I recommend Dr. Sunwolf’s Practical Jury Dynamics and Practical Jury Dynamics 2.  Or, for a less-intellectual insight into jurors, please download a copy of my The Juror Hangs from Amazon Kindle or B&N Nook (an ignore the lone disgruntled reader who gave me a bad review. I know who she is).


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