Oy. It was a rough week. How’d yours go? I’m sure it was better than mine. I was called in to serve on a jury for a federal case in the U.S. Court in Marquette, MI. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. Not sure how much I should share with you, but I do feel like if I put some parts down in writing it may prove to be cathartic for me, and so I shall.
I received notice of being on call for jury duty back in September. The time period would be for four weeks beginning the day after the marathon. The day after the marathon?! If you recall, we had all kinds of plans for that day and the next, which did not involve sitting in a courtroom listening to a trial. So I wasted no time in using the online services offered (quite nice, by the way!) to try to get a deferment for my duty. My excuse of “I’ve been training for months for this event and I’m sure my children would be very upset if they could not visit with friends and family as we are planning,” was accepted, and I was told I would need to be back on call for the following Wednesday. I called the Friday before (like I was initially required to do) and was pleased that everything went according to plan as I was off that whole week and I did not need to call back until the following Friday (the week after the marathon).
When I called last week Friday, I was informed that I needed to report to the courthouse by 8:00 am on Tuesday morning, but that I should call one more time on Monday afternoon to make sure the trial was still proceeding as planned. I crossed my fingers all weekend, but to no avail. After calling on Monday afternoon, I washed some clothes and packed my bag for the next morning. Because I live over 75 miles away from the court, I am permitted to stay in a hotel and be reimbursed for the expense, but I thought getting up at 5:00 am the next day wouldn’t be worse than driving the night before and staying in a hotel. I also figured that if I packed a bag for the rest of the week I would be sure to NOT be picked for the jury. I was wrong.
Tuesday morning proved to be a difficult driving day. We had 60 mph winds, rain, and it was so very, very dark outside. Being dark probably doesn’t bother most people, but I actually get very little practice driving in the dark these days, and so it was bothersome to me. This was especially the case when I got into Marquette and had to try to find the appropriate place to go. I get nervous and stressed out trying to find my way around unfamiliar places, but when it’s dark, rainy, and crazy windy on top of it – you can triple the stress.
Something kind of neat happened on the way in, though. I was driving around the Keweenaw Bay when I heard the men on the radio station describing how a big freighter was anchored in the bay to ride out the storm (…the gales of November… right?! Came early!). They said “right between Baraga and L’Anse, there,” and I realized that was right where was I was! I looked over, and sure enough – there was a big ship out in the water not too far from shore. It was so, so dark out, but that ship was all lit up and was a sight to see. I pulled my phone out and tried to navigate taking a photo while driving around the windy curves (there was no way I was stopping), and this is the best I got. It’s a memory at least:
I made sure to follow all the directions on the notice I received as well as do as much more research as I could on the jury duty website, and so I found the lot to park in (although I wasn’t sure it was correct until later – I’m telling you it was so dark! I couldn’t even really read the signs), and I managed to get myself to the courthouse, through the security, and up to check-in for duty on time. We sat in a small, cramped room with 50 other potential jurors for a long time, watched an extremely outdated video about jury duty, and were finally called into the courtroom to begin the jury selection process. The judge told us a small amount about the trial and then the case manager began calling people’s numbers. The one time I reported for jury duty in Houghton County, my number was never called and I was dismissed, This time I didn’t get so lucky. I was called to be juror number 13 (lucky?) and took a seat in the box.
After number 14 was also seated, the prosecuting attorneys began asking questions to try to see if any jurors would have potential issues or be prejudiced in any way. It’s kind of silly when you think about it, because everyone is prejudiced in some way or another about everything. But what are you willing to raise your hand and speak about in an open court? One question: do you believe there is a certain way a child would behave if something bad happened to him/her? Another question: would you just automatically believe a child if they testified before the court? Some people raised their hands and said they would automatically believe a child. Why would they put themselves through this process if the event didn’t really happen? Good point. But we all know kids can lie, right?
So I never raised my hand, and I was never asked any follow-up questions, and I was never excused, either. Many people (mostly women) were relieved of their seats early on, and then replaced by other potential jurors from the panel who were then asked the same questions. This continued for a long, long, long, long, long time. Was that enough “longs” for you? I’m telling you – it tested my patience. “Did you hear the questions I asked the last person?” “Would you respond differently?” Boom. Excused. And I sat there and twiddled my thumbs. Finally, it was time to call two more people. There was only one problem – there weren’t any more potential jurors left in the panel. Apparently the weather had kept too many people home and it was a very rare occasion to run out like this. So the current jury was asked to leave the courtroom (there was a lot of stuff we weren’t allowed to hear, witness, or be privy to – don’t get me started on the awful white noise they play loudly from speakers six inches in front of your face while they’re doing a side bar – talk about torture!), and then we were sent to sit back in the juror room.
It wasn’t too long and we were called back in, hopeful that this meant that they’d have to postpone the trial and start over with a whole different set of potential jurors next week or something. Not so lucky – we were told they would contact some more potential jurors and we would reconvene with the jury selection the next day. We would have to report back at 9:00 am this time. So we were excused for the day just after noon. And I have to tell you – I was starving! I didn’t bring any snacks with me, I had had breakfast much earlier than usual, and only had an apple before going into the courthouse. They had water, coffee, and then some other beverages that you could pay for available, but that was it. And I was HANGRY!
So I left in a huff and tried to figure out whether I wanted to stay the night or drive back home. It was only about 12:30 pm, after all. I called Jim and he suggested I drive home, but I was too hungry to think so I went to Border Grill and ordered some food first. While there, I texted my trusty friend, Darcy, to get her opinion, and she helped me to see that I should just stay put in Marquette. Of course I would miss the kids, but hopefully the trial wouldn’t last too long and there was no need to drive another 4 hours (two home and two back the next day). My back was already getting sore from all of the sitting, and I figured if I stayed I could work out and maybe eat some good food in Marquette. So the decision was made and I found the Comfort Suites in Marquette to be quite comfortable.
The weather outside, was quite frightful, however, and instead of getting some good food for dinner, I opted to order from the restaurant next door which would deliver to my room. It was awful, but worth it to not have to go outside in the rain and wind. Marquette had streets closed due to flooding from that storm, and the flooding was from the giant waves which hit and eroded the shoreline. I’m telling you it was crazy. At one point in the afternoon, the power went out, and when I spoke to the employee at the front desk, she said they were lucky because everyone else along that section of town had been without power for most of the day. Luckily, it was only out for about an hour, which wasn’t long, but did make me question whether I should have just driven home. I had a king bed and nice view that first day:
The next morning, I felt much more confident driving to the courthouse, and it was nice to actually sleep in a little. I think I made the right decision by staying. I arrived around 8:30 and walked into the jury room while the new recruits were finishing up watching the much dated video I had watched the previous day. When it was over, I started talking with two new people around me, one of whom was from Houghton, as well. She was super nice and we hit it off. She ended up getting picked for duty as well, and I had an automatic friend from that point on. It was nice.
It didn’t take too long that second day to fill the last two seats. I asked my new friend what the process was for her, and she told me that she received an automatic call that she needed to report in the morning. This was after she had called the Friday before like I did and was told she didn’t need to call until the following Friday again. She’s a teacher and had to scramble around like crazy to make plans for her students for the rest of the week. I would have been pretty irritable if I had been her. She seemed to take it in stride. We both agreed, however, after hearing more details about the case that we were not looking forward to being a part of the whole event. It was a case of familial sexual assault of a minor and was just overall a really yucky thing to have to think and hear about.
That second day, they jumped right into it. We waited in the jury room while they readied things for the minor to testify (yes, I had to watch that poor child answer questions), but at least this day they gave us some snacks. My new friend and I headed out to lunch together and got to know each other pretty quickly. We all did – all of the jurors. If there is anything quite spectacular about this whole experience, it would be the bonding that you do in the jury room. After we got back from lunch, we waited in that jury room for what felt like hours before going back into the courtroom. I don’t know what they were doing, but it was a long time. There’s nothing to do but get to know your fellow jurors. I liked almost all of them, pretty immediately. We began making jokes, and then callbacks. There was laughter. And genuine interest in others’ lives. When the court case manager would come back in to get us, we would joke with her. I often wondered if they could hear us through the door in the courtroom, just laughing like we were having a great time. It made me feel guilty. This was a serious situation. But we needed to do that. It was like we all understood that we needed to forget what was going on in the courtroom when we weren’t in there. We joked and made wagers on how long a break would be. We guessed what color tie the lawyer would be wearing today. We had to do these things. And it was something we all understood. We bonded.
And then we would walk back into that courtroom after a good laugh and it was like walking through a veil. It’s almost as if you could feel the weight of the ordeal like a dense fog upon your psyche. It was so serious. It was a serious accusation. And the weight of the decision we would have to make was weighing on us even then.
We heard about DNA evidence. We listened to experts and family members testify. We heard from doctors and FBI agents and the whole gang. It was actually a lot like what you see in the tv shows, except none of the people were that good looking and it was a lot more boring. They cut to all the good stuff to fit it in an hour long show. Not in real life, though. You have to sit and listen to every last tidbit. It made my back hurt and my mind feel stuffed to the brim.
One morning (Thursday, maybe?) there was quite the heavy frost on the car when I went out to the parking lot. It’s silly to show this photo now because it’s actually snowed since then. But it was a big deal that morning. And I was grateful that I have finally learned my lesson and carry my snow brush with me ALL. YEAR. LONG. It was hidden in a compartment in the back of my car. does this make me a real Yooper now?
That same morning there was a glorious sunrise. It was simply magnificent. The water was calm and the colors were inspiring. I had to chuckle because I put this photo on instagram, and someone whom I don’t know commented that it was good for me to get up so early to capture it. Ha! Little does he know that sunrise doesn’t happen around here this time of year until 8:30 am!!
See, that’s what you have to do when you’re involved in something so emotionally draining. You have to find the beauty in the world around you and remember that there are good things in the world. I facetimed with the kids each night, I ate some amazing Thai food, I ran with the Marquette running group, and I persevered through it.
Friday morning brought closing arguments and deliberation. I was under the impression the whole trial that sitting in seat 13 meant that I was an alternate juror, but it turns out that I was wrong. They randomly selected two people to not be on the jury anymore and I wasn’t one of them. I’m not sure how I would have felt not being a part of the deliberations. Sitting through the whole trial and then not having a say in the verdict? Now that it’s all over, I think I can say that I would be fine with it, but I wasn’t so sure then.
I finished up the trial thinking that everyone must agree with me – he was DEFINITELY guilty. But I found when we sat down and started talking about it that there were some who weren’t so sure. It turns out that “reasonable doubt” is a bit of a continuum, and that every person has a different opinion to what that means. So we began talking. And then we talked some more. I think I mentioned earlier that we sort of bonded as jurors, so it was kind of neat to see the process play out with some folks disagreeing. It was so… civil. Everyone was respectful. We all listened to each others’ arguments. It was pretty incredible, really. It gives me hope that maybe someday all the world leaders could sit down and agree on things.
The defendant was charged with two counts, one of which was worse than the other. We decided as a jury that he was definitely guilty of the lesser of the two counts, but that the government did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of the other. When the verdict was read aloud, the defendant (who had shown absolutely NO emotions during the rest of the trial) wailed and cried out. I couldn’t look over at him. I couldn’t bear it. So I have the memories of his cries, but no visual to go with it.
Sometimes the lawyers can ask for a roll-call vote to double check that all the jurors are in line with the verdict that was delivered. They asked for it here, so one by one our numbers were called and we had to admit that we agreed with the verdict as it was read. I was last and my heart was pounding so loudly in my throat I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to answer. I did, however, and then the worst of it was over. We were sent back to the jury room and told to wait just a moment because the judge wanted to speak with us.
He came in and sat down with his robe unzipped and in a very casual manner. The jurors were all silent and there was no laughing or joking around now. We all just realized that we had taken part in putting a man in jail for a good portion of his life. And while we all agreed that he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, one can never be certain that that is the case in a trial like this. The judge helped in a way by telling us that he believes we did the right thing. He repeated it a couple of times and I was glad to hear it. He’s been involved with the case for quite a while and it sounded like he knew more details than we were allowed to learn in the courtroom. While that reassured me, it didn’t help when he told us that the maximum sentence for this crime is life in prison. Think about that for a second.
I helped to hand down a verdict that could send a man to prison for the rest of his life.
That weighs a lot on me. And while some of you might be saying “He deserves it! He did a terrible crime!” let me just tell you that it goes way deeper than that. I believe this man was failed. He had many problems and much heartache. He had multiple attempts at getting better and had at least one major cry for help. He did not get the help he needed. Our system, our society, our way of life failed this man. This doesn’t mean he’s not responsible. But it’s just a completely tragic situation no matter how you look at it.
So if you’ve made it this far and are still reading, then you know that this is something that is weighing heavily on me still, and will probably have some kind of impact on my life for forever. I can tell you it was an interesting experience, but overall it’s one that I would not like to have to do again. But without people like me and the other 13 jurors who showed up through that bad weather that first morning or were called in last minute like the other two, then our justice system could not survive. I do feel like I’ve fulfilled an important job over the last week, it’s just not something I want to do again any time soon.
Okay, enough about that. Want to see some photos from this year’s Muck Run? It’s usually one of our favorite days of the year. This year I wasn’t much in the mood, but it was still nice to get out in the fresh air, look silly, and run as a family. Jim hurt his knee pretty badly a couple of weeks ago while running on Mont Ripley, so he was trying to walk while Cat and I ran together. But we were too fast for him, so he ended up jogging along anyway. Lewis ran ahead with Shannon and finished the extremely hilly 5k course in about 33 minutes. Way to go Lewis! The snow kept a lot of folks at home, so we didn’t have a very big group this year, but it was still fun:
Oops. Face-paint run:
After crashing for the rest of the day on Saturday (I finally slept well that night, too), we decided to be super productive on Sunday. This included making a big family meal:
I roasted some of the cherry tomatoes we still had left over from the garden. The green ones are good that way! And don’t forget that you can grill them, too. Put them on skewers and cook them on the grill. Yum!
One more thing – I realized this week that I don’t like being American anymore, and that I don’t have to be if I don’t want to be. Just because I was born in a certain place doesn’t mean that I have to continue living there forever, right? So we’ve been having fun hypothetically thinking of other places in the world we could live. Have any suggestions? Help us out! We will probably never act on this pipe dream, but even discussing possibilities can help make living here more bearable. If I go through all the potential possibilities, and then still decide to stay and live here, it will be better. So humor me. What do you think?