Monday, September 14, 2015

An Interesting Experience

Last week, Jeff and I attended a murder trial.  No, that's not something we just suddenly decided to do; rather, the prosecutor is a friend of ours, and we wanted to see him in action.  Actually, that's a very watered-down version of why we went.  I remember when the crime happened, nearly four years ago.  It was a random act of violence that shocked our small town.  The victims were an older couple - the husband died, and the wife somehow survived the attack.  The defendant was a high school student.  There were so many "whys" about this crime at the time...while murder never makes sense, this was especially senseless. 

We knew this was a very important case for our friend, and knew how hard he and his team have been working on it, so we (with his permission - although it is a public courtroom, we didn't want to be distractions to him) planned on attending the opening arguments, last February.  The trial was delayed by the defense, and in the meantime, Jeff ended up in the jury pool for this trial - how random was that?  It was a very large pool, over 200 people, and of course Jeff disclosed that he was friends with the prosecutor, so he was eventually cut.  That was a good thing, because otherwise, he and our friend couldn't have run together until the trial was over.

We sat on the left side, which was the prosecutor's side...and yes, it was like a wedding in that you definitely chose your side to show your support.  I was really surprised at how small the newly-renovated courtroom was - there were only three rows of seating on each side, and a lot of family and friends of the victims were around us.  I tucked a sock knitting project in my purse and beforehand, had thought that I might quietly knit while I listened to the proceedings, but no.  First, I felt like it would have been too disrespectful to the family around me to sit and knit while the death of their loved one was described, and second, I was drawn in by the proceedings and was entirely focused on what was happening in the courtroom.

The opening statements were compelling - our friend did a great job of painting a picture of the horrific events that transpired, and of the utter disregard for human life the defendant had.  The defense's opening arguments were interesting in that they did not disagree about how terrible the act was that their client had committed...they really couldn't, as the defendant had made a full confession.  This part of the trial was pretty much to introduce evidence, have him found guilty, and then get to the punishment phase.  The defendant was charged with capital murder, which means he will either receive the death penalty, or life in prison without parole.  He was found guilty on Friday.  The punishment phase of the trial begins today. 

While I've always had respect for law enforcement officers, my gratitude for them grew as I listened to the first officer who responded to the 9-1-1 call.  He entered a residence knowing something really bad was happening, he encountered the body of the husband lying in the garage, and he went inside to help the wife who was gravely injured, all the while not knowing if the murderer was still in the house.  The next person to testify was a police Sargent, who arrived soon after.  He knew two officers were inside the house at that point, checking for the murderer, so he went around the backyard.  He said he could see an officer inside, and went to the sliding glass door to be let inside; when the officer raised his hand to unlock the door, the Sargent noticed he was shaking...and yet, he was still there, doing what needed to be done.

I realized, not only as I watched the police officers testify, but also as I saw how in-depth and detailed the prosecution was with their case, that this was something I would not want to do as my profession.  I could not handle what they see and do.  But I felt such a deep appreciation for them, for being willing to take on something like this and do such an exemplary job with a horrific situation.  This was an eye-opening experience, and one that I'm very glad I got to witness.  Additionally, I hope this is as close as I'll ever have to be to something like this.  While we all hear and read about terrible crimes, it was much too real to see it in the courtroom, even with justice being served.

16 comments:

  1. Very very interesting. Your court works different than ours, the biggest difference is that we don't have a jury but the judge decides the punishment. For me this was very interesting to read and learn how this works in your country.

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    1. Here in the U.S., you have the option for a jury trial, or you can just go in front of a judge; I think with the death penalty on the line, his attorneys are hoping for a holdout in the jury.

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    2. Learned something new again. I guess I knew that because if you are arrested for drunk driving, it's a bit expensive to judge someone in front of a jury, right?

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    3. Yes, but you can have a jury trial for a drunk driving arrest, if you want.

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  2. What I find interesting is that they knew who did it, they caught the perpetrator yet that person chose to have a jury trial. Was his lawyer hoping for something less than murder? I think it would fascinating to sit in court and listen to cases but maybe that's because I always thought I'd end up being a lawyer!

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    1. I think they were hoping for less than the death penalty.

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  3. What a great experience! My daughter works for our District Attorney and sits in on trials. At firs she was scared to death to see and hear everything, but she is learning so much!

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  4. I find it interesting that this went to trial as well with a guilty confession already. Have you ever sat on a jury? I haven't yet, but John did and a trial that was supposed to go for about 2 days ended up being almost a week and ended with a hung jury. John was shocked at how truly mistrustful the other jurors were of the police officers and their motives, even when the evidence was pretty clear (it was a drug dealer trial).

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    1. I've been called many times for jury duty but never chosen. Interesting that the other jurors in John's case were so mistrustful of the police...makes you wonder what they experienced in their personal lives to be that way.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this, especially your thoughts about the police officers. We hear such bad stories about them. And I'm sure some of the bad stories are true. But many times, when I've heard things, I'll say, there's more to the story than that.

    Yes, I'm curious too. Was the defense trying to get an insanity plea or something? Also, was the murderer still in the house when the officers arrived? You know I like my cop shows :)

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    1. Even though the defendant confessed at the police station, it wasn't in a court of law, so they had to go through with the trial.

      He wasn't in the house when the officers arrived, but he was seen at a park nearby, recognized by a fellow student, and later on, when the police went public with looking for a suspect, two and two was put together, and the fellow student told the police.

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  6. That is pretty cool that you can see how the legal system works. My firm does insurance defense meaning we find case law out there so that our client doesn't have to pay on a claim - some policies are $10 million, so they will pay our firm $1 million to save $9 million. Crazy!

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  7. That's so interesting. My husband recently was selected to sit on a jury, and ended up being the jury foreman. It was a 3-day murder trial; the defendant was definitely guilty, but they were trying to get a lesser charge.

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  8. How interesting. I don't think I could sit in a murder trial- I can hardly watch a tv show with even a little bit of violence!

    I would like to sit in a trial someday though because I think it would be interesting to see it all in action.

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  9. When I worked at the courthouse a number of years ago, several of us got to attend the Jimmie Sue Finger Gambrel murder trial. Her story was made into the movie "Stay the Night." She got her teenage lover to murder her husband and the teenager eventually implicated her. I'm really glad you got to see an actual case, as you could tell it's nowhere near as neat and tidy as what they show on television. I'm glad your friend was able to win his case!

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  10. Wow! At first I thought you were going to say that you and Jeff attended a Murder mystery weekend!

    What a horrible thing that happened but very cool that you were able to show your support to your friend. I got to go to a murder trial one time when I was in college ( had to go for one of my journalism classes). Since then I have always been intriqued and said I would go to trials in my spare time just for the heck of it but I never did!

    I suspect I may see this case show up on Dateline in the coming years, no?

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