Let’s talk jury duty. Years ago, I was called for jury duty. It was a high-profile murder-for-hire case. After several hours in a holding room, 15 or 20 of us were pulled out of the larger group to sit in the jury box. We were told that the jury would be chosen from among us. The first order of business was to weed out anyone who might know one of the parties in the case. A large sign was displayed with the names of about ten or fifteen people who had some kind of connection to the case.
While we were instructed to look carefully at all names, we were told the story: A man was arrested on drug charges. His ex-wife filed for custody of their children. She had a lawyer. The judge ruled in her favor. The man lost his children and went back to jail. While in jail, he hired a soon-to-be-released felon to kill his ex-wife, her lawyer, and the judge.
While sitting with all the other prospective jurors, I kept having the odd feeling that I knew what was going to be said before it was said. I kept thinking about this as the question was then asked, “Is anyone familiar with any of the names on this list?” Several people raised their hands and explained their connections to one or more of the people represented. One prospective juror was excused.
After the dismissal process was completed, and the lawyers went on to other things, I again looked carefully at the list of names on the large board. Sure enough, one of the names was my next door neighbor. It was then that it all came back to me.
Several months before, that next door neighbor, an attorney, stopped by and casually informed me that someone had taken out a contract on his life. He then told me the same story that I was hearing in the courtroom that day.
While I stood in awe at someone who was so nonchalant about another person wanting him dead, he continued. “Watch the street for suspicious activity,” was his advice. “If a car slows down or stops,” notify someone. Since my cat’s favorite game was to fling himself into the middle of the street whenever he saw a car approaching, there were always cars slowing down and/or stopping. So this advice didn’t help me. And, since I had a fifteen year old at home, I was used to seeing a lot of suspicious activity. So that didn’t help me either.
For several days, I did watch for anyone suspicious, but I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for and after a while, I basically forgot and focused on more interesting issues. My neighbor seemed to stay pretty much alive, so I eventually forgot the entire episode.
Now, in court, as it all came back to me, I looked at the list of names again. Sure enough, there was the name of my next door neighbor. By then, the explanation of the case had ended. The person who knew one of the names on the list had been excused. There was silence in court. We were about to be questioned.
I knew I had to do something quickly, but I didn’t know what to do. I had never been in a courtroom before, except once, to defend my driving record, and once to not defend my marriage. I therefore did the only thing I knew how to do. I relied on the courtroom drams I had seen on TV and in films. I stood up, looked in the direction of the judge, and yelled “Permission to approach the bench!” The only other phrase I could remember was “I hereby place this weapon into evidence,” but I didn’t think that one would apply at this moment.
Silence took over the courtroom. All eyes turned toward me. The judge motioned me forward. I pressed myself into the bench, looked up, and started to furiously whisper why I should not be there. After one sentence, the judge held up his hand to silence me. He then motioned to several people to come forward. One was the DA. One was the Public Defender. The third was the accused.
The judge said, “Now you may continue.” I looked at the accused, who now stood about two feet away from me. He would soon know that I knew he was guilty and he would know where I lived. This wasn’t how I had planned the end of my life.
I started to babble, telling my story, and I think I even added “This is what my neighbor told me. Of course, that is his side of the story, and the accused might be a really nice guy under other circumstances.”
I finished. The accused glared at me. I waited for the judge to tell me I was excused. Instead, he said “Take your seat.” I was seriously fucked.
For the next fifteen minutes, the process continued. I mentally said good-bye and “I love you” to my kids and apologized to Kathy Deacon who stopped being my friend in high school because I always made fun of her. I regretted not having slept with either Thom Mooney or Steve Jacobs.
Finally, when I had given up all hope of being released, I heard my name, followed by “You may go.” I went.
The accused was found guilty and sent back to prison. He will eventually get out, but aside from having spent one day looking at wigs and sunglasses (both are really annoying to wear), I went on with my life. My neighbor is still my neighbor. My son went to college and then off to start his own life. My cat got old and senile and, to the relief of motorists in the area, eventually wandered off and was never to be seen again. I sat with Kathy Deacon at a high school reunion and she spoke to me as thought nothing bad had happened between us. I found Thom Mooney on Facebook, but not Steve Jacobs.
I hope I am never called for jury duty again.