Haq Trial: Deadlocked Jury in Seattle Trial

I just heard that the jury in the Haq murder trial (Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle) is deadlocked on 14 out of 15 counts. Already the press is second-guessing the jury. I’ve heard several theories about why they could not reach a first-degree-murder guilty verdict, including the suggestion that the prosecution made a mistake in not seeking the death penalty, because death-penalty-qualified juries are more prone to bring in guilty verdicts.

While that is an interesting suggestion (from a lawyer, no less), the real issue is something else, in my opinion. Has anyone ever studied high-profile verdicts to see whether the length of the trial affects the verdict? My guess, as a former juror, is that the longer between the opening statements and the closing arguments, the less effective prosecution cases become. The KISS rule comes into play after about two weeks (my guess, again).  This is a rhetorical issue, not a matter of jury selection (which most commentators seem to think the Haq jury reflects). The Haq trial began in April.

In other words, a prosecution case for murder (whether death penalty or not) must be impactful, especially in a situation like this in which the defendant has a history of mental disorders. The longer the prosecution drags out their case, the more it seems to jurors that they don’t really have a good case for intent. Jurors don’t want to be bludgeoned with repetitive details or witness after witness to the same things. You can see this in the O. J. Simpson trial, the Michael Jackson trial, and the Phil Spector trial. (What happened in the Scott Peterson trial, you ask? That’s another post altogether. Perhaps the defense needed to present an equally tedious case.)

In the Haq trial, what did the defense present after the excessive prosecution? A tearful mother and sympathetic mental-health professionals. And they did it in rather short order, at that. The shorter an innocent-by-reason-of-insanity case is, the more effective. I bet the mother had them at her first anguished statement.

I say this even though I feel that a terrorist attacker should be found guilty of murder, even if he’s mentally ill. Why? All terrorists are mentally ill. Anyone who seeks to alter their environment by mass murder is not sane. I see no difference between Haq and any other terrorist–except that Haq’s mother who loves her son is an American. And I have nothing but compassion and pity for her.

The blame for this deadlocked jury lies with the excessively long, and therefore ineffective, prosecution case. 

James Patterson’s “Judge and Jury” — Part 2

While I’m turning the pages in the books rapidly–eager to see what happens next–I stumbled over a couple of things in the early part of the book’s depiction of jurors and courtroom personnel.

1) No one in the book wanted to serve as a juror, except a woman whose employer was going to pay her even for the time she spent on the jury, because she wanted the extra “$40” jury pay per day. (In Cook County it’s only $25 and has been for the past 30 years. I know, because I’ve been summoned at least five times since 1976.)

I can’t believe that anyone who’s showed up at a courthouse with a jury summons in hand is really so jaded as that. I’m sure that most people who make the effort to show up understand how important jury service is in a democracy. I’ve heard my fellow jurors grouse about the pay, the vending machines, the uncomfortable chairs, etc., but no one ever told me they thought it was a waste of their time. At least, not anyone who actually honored the summons. Once in a doctor’s waiting room I heard someone say she had thrown away the summons so she wouldn’t have to go to court, and if anyone ever challenged her for not showing up she would claim the Post Office never delivered the summons to her. She said her postal carrier was so lousy that half the time her mail went to a neighbor. (I must have the same postal carrier.)

2) The jurors are depicted as ignoring the judge’s admonition not to talk about the case before deliberations begin. At every break they make disparaging remarks about the defendant and his attorney.

In my case, a few jurors made some tangential comments about the defendant (such as that his girlfriend had a baby on her lap), but they were cautioned by other jurors not to talk to them about the case. There were several jurors who enjoyed policing the group. I’m sure that in longer trials the temptation to comment on the proceedings is greater than in my case (three and a half days). And I can imagine that some juries are made up of 12 people who simply can’t control themselves. But in most cases, I believe that jurors try very hard to remain objective, even in the most horrific of crimes.

3) The court clerk went into the jury deliberation room with the jurors, and when a juror made a remark about being afraid of the defendant, the court clerk dragged her in front of the judge.

Now, I’m no lawyer, but I can’t believe a court clerk is ever permitted anywhere near the jury or jury room. The jury is escorted into the jury room by a baillif, who’s a county sheriff or federal marshal. He or she is only supposed to give the jury a few instructions about logistics, such how to send a note to the judge. Nothing else.

And while I’m at it, I might as well complain wearing my editor’s hat. In the beginning of the novel the court clerk is named Sharon Ann Moran. In part 2, a court employee named Monica Ann Romano turns up. Is it just a coincidence that every woman who works in the courthouse has Ann as a middle name? I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Patterson and Mr. Gross didn’t have their acts together. It would have made more sense plot-wise for Ms. Moran to be the court clerk in part 2 who gets involved in a serious crime. If they intended it to be two different characters, then the middle name should have been cut out. (Where was the publisher’s editor?)

And, how do you get to be a co-author with a bestselling writer like Patterson, anyway? I’m willing to work cheap.

James Patterson’s “Judge and Jury” (with Andrew Gross)–Part I

An addition to my list of books featuring juries and jurors:

James Patterson’s Judge and Jury

I plan to review this book on Amazon.com and I’ll give it a good review, because I’m enjoying reading it. But I’d like to make a few comments on the depiction of the jury in this novel, which have little to do with whether or not I think anyone else would enjoy reading it (and that’s what a review should be).

The initial premise of the book is that jurors are at risk of retaliation and threats from defendants, especially gang-related defendants. I agree. I fear that in the future–perhaps the near future–something very like the disaster that kicks off this novel will actually happen. (I won’t say what it is, because I don’t want to be spoiler.)

The American criminal justice system is based on principles that protect the rights of defendants against the seemingly vast powers of the state. I believe firmly in these principles. In fact, my jury experience taught me that my fellow citizens feel the same way. Our jury panel was very concerned about the rights of the defendant. Among the ways that defendants are protected are by means of public trials and by allowing the defendant to select his jury (to some extent).

However, these days many defendants have enormous power themselves (mob bosses and gang leaders, for example, and sometimes even terrorist leaders). Others have power through their membership in the mob, gangs, and terrorist organizations.

If a defendant or his associates were so inclined, it would be easy for them to track down sitting jurors and their families for nefarious purposes. Even the press is able to track down jurors during a trial. In the Phil Spector trial, for instance, one juror reported to the judge that he received a phone call from a journalist.

The names of jurors are public knowledge both through public court records (easily available after a trial) and through announcements made in open court during voir dire. Often, a juror’s name alone is enough to enable anyone to look them up in public directories. (My name is fairly unique, for instance. Not everyone is named Susan Smith. And not every jurisdiction has more than one resident named Susan Smith.) In addition, in jurisdictions comprising several towns, the town in which the juror resides is also announced in court.

Judges seem to be reluctant to sequester juries these days, even in high-profile cases. For example, terrorist Zacarius Moussaui’s jury wasn’t sequestered. Supposedly sequestration is intended to prevent jury tampering and jurors hearing information about the case which is not in evidence, but it also would prevent jury intimidation or attacks. But even a sequestered jury can be at risk (as in Patterson’s jury) and their families can also be at risk, since they aren’t protected during a trial.

Let’s face it. There are a lot of thugs out there.

Jurors and Juries in Fiction

Jurors and Juries in Fiction

I felt sure that my novel would be only one of dozens in which jurors are featured characters. Then I tried to find comparable stories and characters. After searching the DorothyL listserv, Amazon, Google, and Alibris (in that order) the following 20 novels (not counting Grisham’s) are all I could find. (I also found dozens of Martha Grimes “Richard Jury” novels, Mickey Spillane’s “I the Jury,” and a few others with “jury” in the title that had little to do with juries and trials.) Most of the novels listed here are out of print.

Then I also found a number of nonfiction books about juries, most written by judges and lawyers who really don’t know the first thing about what goes on in a jury room. Many of these books are laments about the sorry state of the American jury system or pseudo-psychology of “the jury mind.” The sole exception is the work of Dr. Susan Sunwolf. She seems to be unique among lawyers in that she understands that jurors don’t think like lawyers and vice versa.

My conclusion? Most lawyers are contemptuous of jurors. Most novels involving jurors are courtroom dramas that reflect this legal bias. Most Americans want to avoid jury duty at all cost because of this general disregard for jury service. Few novelists have ever served on a jury, and as a result few novelists want to write about jurors. More’s the pity.

Comments invited: Please comment, especially if you have read any of the books in this list. Review comments are especially welcome.

Classic:  Rose, Reginald, Twelve Angry Men (novel, as well as a movie)

Most of the novels of John Grisham

Other novels (mainly mysteries and thrillers)

Arsenault, Mark, Grave Writer

 Brown, Sandra, The Crush

Burnett, D. Graham, A Trial by Jury
Chester, Giraud, The Ninth Juror

Collins, Brandilyn, Dread Champion

Davis, Rankin,  Hung Jury
Delinski, Barbara, Irresistible Impulse

Devane, Terry, Juror Number Eleven

Dugoni, Robert, The Jury Master

Gill, B. M., The Twelfth Juror

Glaspell, Susan, A Jury of Her Peers (short story)

Green, Geoge Dawes, The Juror

Hall, Parnell,  Juror

Kliss, Kate, Trial by Journal (juvenile)

Korelitz, Jean Hanff Korelitz, A Jury of Her Peers

Lutz, John, Death by Jury
Macwhithey, Bill, The Thirteenth Juror

Martini, Steve, The Jury

Stewart, Edward, Jury Double

Van Wormer, Laura, Jury Duty

Noteworthy Nonfiction 

Adler, Stephen J., The Jury: Trial and Error in the American Courtroom

Friedman, Philip, Grand Jury

Erenfreund, Norbert, You’re the jury (series)

Levy, Leonard, The Palladium of Justice

Sunwolf, Susan, Jury Thinking

Wishman, Seymour, Anatomy of a Jury


Three Days in Cook County Criminal Courthouse–as a juror

In the spring of 2006 I was selected to serve on the jury for a kidnapping and sexual assault case in Cook County Criminal Courthouse. The experience was so distressing that I spent several months after that researching various aspects of criminal justice, including the legal definitions of the terms “kidnapping” and “reasonable doubt,” as well as the jury system in general.

The trial involved a young Hispanic man (represented by a public defender) who was accused of kidnapping and assaulting a thirteen-year-old African-American girl on Chicago�s South Side. During the trial, the facts presented were these:

One afternoon in 2005, the girl and her eleven-year-old sister ran an errand to a local store for their mother. On the way home, they were spotted by the defendant, who was driving by in a pickup truck. He quickly parked somewhere nearby and then got out of the pickup and ran after them through a viaduct. He caught the girl by the back of her collar and started to drag her up the embankment toward a flowering bush near the train track. She yelled and told her sister to run home for help while he continued to drag her.

The viaduct and embankment were located at a busy intersection. Passing motorists saw what was happening and stopped to give aid. Three men were standing across the street talking, and they immediately ran to the girl’s aid.

By the time the men caught the defendant, he had torn the girl’s clothing and fondled her. He had also bruised her neck and shoulders, not to mention terrifying her.

Bystanders waved down a passing patrol car, and the defendant was arrested.

He was taken to a detention center, where he remained until two in the morning, when an assistant state’s attorney interrogated him and took down his confession in English. The confession included a graphic description of his sexual arousal during the assault and what he intended to do to the girl. He signed the written confession. He was out on bond at the time of the trial.

On the first day of the trial, the defendant had a Spanish translator with him. Every word during voir dire and afterwards was whispered in Spanish into his ear.

The prosecution claimed that dragging the girl off the sidewalk (“where she wanted to be”) up the embankment in the direction of a bush constituted kidnapping. The defense said that was absurd. However, in his opening statement the public defender also admitted that the defendant had committed aggravated sexual assault.

The next day, after that admission, the defendant jumped bail and failed to show up in court again. The jury did not know this. The judge told us that “the defendant has chosen not to be present in the courtroom,” and all of us accepted this without question. It was a relief to us, actually, because the translator disappeared along with him: it had been maddening to listen to two audio tracks simultaneously. We did not know he was free on bail despite being an apparent pedaphile, let alone that he had skipped town, until after the verdict.

In the end, we found him not guilty of kidnapping but guilty of attempted aggravated sexual assault and aggravated assault. The judge made it clear that we had made a serious mistake by not finding him guilty of kidnapping. According to her, it would have been kidnapping even if he had moved her only an inch. The intent was irrelevant (that is, the intent to commit a violent, sexual act in some measure of secrecy, even though it all took place at a busy intersection and even though he had to be severely under the influence the whole time). The reason she wanted the kidnapping conviction was so she could sentence him to thirty years instead of fifteen for this, his first offense.

During deliberations, none of us questioned the assault charges, because the public defender had admitted the defendant was guilty. It didn;t even occur to me until later that this is why the defendant may have jumped bail. He had pled not guilty, then was sandbagged by his attorney.

I tried to raise the issue of the confession during deliberations. It struck me as unfair that the confession was extracted in the middle of the night and put into “good English” by a state’s attorney. The defendant did not have an attorney while he was being interrogated, and he may not have understood (or at least not fully) what he was signing. I was reprimanded by other jurors, who told me that the evidence of the confession was not subject to question.

The failure to convict for kidnapping was made primarily because most jurors thought the distance the girl was dragged was insignificant. I also thought that the issue of intent was important, but I couldn’t convince anyone else it was worth discussing.

After the trial, I tried to find out whether or not the man was ever apprehended. I failed. The more I thought about it, the greater the miscarriage of justice seemed. I was appalled at the public defender’s conduct and at the judge, who was clearly biased against the defendant. I became increasingly distressed the more I researched the law: the confession was probably obtained illegally; the judge probably should have declared a mistrial in the opening statements when the public defender conceded his client’s guilt against his wishes; the judge probably should have postponed the trial when the defendant skipped town; the judge appears to have badly distorted Illinois statutes in the jury instructions to make it appear that the defendant was guilty of kidnapping; the way deliberations were conducted probably would have been grounds for an appeal of the guilty verdicts.

I considered writing my congressmen. I considered writing essays for publication. And then I decided to write The Juror Investigates, a mystery novel about a juror who’s so frustrated by her trial experience that she sets out to find “the real killer.”

11 Misconceptions about Jury Duty

  • Misconception No. 1: A juror takes no risks by serving.

  • Misconception No. 2: Jurors have an easy job; they passively observe what goes on in a trial, then deliberate, and finally make a simple, binary decision.

  • Misconception No. 3: Jurors are anonymous.

  • Misconception No. 4: Jurors must be completely ignorant of the crime or the issues involved in the trial.

  • Misconception No. 5: Jurors may not consider any information other than what they hear in court in coming to a decision.

  • Misconception No. 6: The role of the bailiff is to monitor and �police� the jury deliberation room.

  • Misconception No. 7: The defendant is tried on the charges in the indictment.

  • Misconception No. 8: Jury instructions instruct the jury.

  • Misconception No. 9: By the time a juror signs the form, he or she has made a decision.

  • Misconception No. 10: The judge is happy, no matter what the verdict is.

  • Misconception No. 11: The attorneys care what jurors think and will ask you questions about why you agreed or disagreed with them.