Juror Number 8 had no idea why the marshals were rushing her towards the elevators, hardly giving her enough time to gather her belongings. The Judge had admonished her not to speak to the other jurors while she went back in the jury room, but still, there was a marshal standing in the doorway watching her every move. "I guess they do this with everyone," thought Juror 8, as she reached for her jacket and purse, flashing a quick grin to the other jurors.
She'd had a vague feeling that she might be in trouble, but the worst that had happened was she'd been called back into chambers and excused from jury service by the Judge due to her "apparent inattentiveness." All she heard from counsel for both sides was, "No objection, Your Honor," and then it seemed like they wouldn't make eye contact with her.
Apparent inattentiveness? Riding down in the elevator, the Juror had to smile to herself. She'd paid plenty of attention, but unfortunately not to the proceedings taking place before her. She'd been much more focused on the defense table and, more specifically, the third defendant from the left.
The Juror's name was Rebecca Anne Holme. She was young and almost pretty, though her lack of makeup made her features muted and unexceptional. She was similarly understated in her dress and manner. As far as she was concerned, nothing exciting had ever happened to her or would ever happen to her and, frankly, she had no idea what she wanted out of life. So, when her mother handed her the juror summons that had arrived in the mail that day, she sighed. She had no excuses, no hardships or matters of importance to keep her from showing up at the appointed date and time.
Rebecca, as it turned out, was just what the lawyers sought in a juror. She was practically a blank slate, a young woman with little life experience, no firm convictions or strong opinions or emotions. She had no criminal record, had never been the victim of a crime, she knew no one in law enforcement or the court system. The less a potential juror knows, the better chance that they won't have any hidden bias or prejudice. Above all, the Judge and Attorneys stressed, they look for jurors who can be fair and impartial.
Following a long, tedious week being presented with vagueries about the case itself, the law they would be required to follow and seemingly endless questioning, Rebecca was picked to serve. As she took her assigned seat in the jury box, she sighed again, this time resigning herself to the realization that she was going to be sitting in that very chair for the next four weeks listening to who knows what.
She knew it was a multi-defendant criminal trial. There were four male defendants, each one seated next to his attorney, each one dressed in suit, tie and with pad of paper and pen. The jurors had been equipped with the same in the event they felt the need to take notes. In a trial expected to last four weeks, no doubt they would be used.
The Judge read some preliminary instructions to the panel of fifteen, twelve regular jurors and three alternates. The alternate jurors were there in case one or more of the regular jurors became ill or had an emergency and needed to be replaced. No one knew who the alternates were until the end of the trial, in hopes that all would pay equal attention to the proceeding that was to determine the fate of four individuals.
It was during the Defense opening statements that Rebecca sensed something unusual. She was in the back row of the jury box, and so a bit more elevated than those in front. She looked up to catch a man staring at her. She had never experienced the intensity she felt coming from the gaze of another person. She quickly looked away, trying to maintain her composure. Her face burned. The attorney's voice became a dull distraction that simply droned on in the back of Rebecca's consciousness.
When she felt calmer, she tried to sneak a subtle glance at the man. She noticed this time he gave her a small hint of a smile. She tried quickly looking away but couldn't contain her own embarrassed grin and flushed cheeks. What was happening to her and what was he trying to do with her. Flirt?
She managed to get through the rest of the afternoon with occasional peeks at the man across the room, but he was like a magnet and she could look away from him for only so long before something inexplicable drew her back. It quickly dawned on her that he was one of the defendants being tried. Following the opening statement, the attorney had returned to his seat which was next to this person, her . . . admirer?
She didn't care. She couldn't wait to get to court each day, and she spent her evenings now with fashion magazines, familiarizing herself with the makeup kit she'd bought on her way home from that magical first day of trial.
The transformation was apparent to anyone paying attention. And, even though she tried to hide her special interest from the other jurors when they were in the jury room together, once perched back in the jury box, it was difficult for her to have eyes for anyone or anything else.
The defendant was Benjamin "Crunchy" Malone. This was not his first trial experience and initially he was annoyed just having to put his business affairs aside so he could tend to these routine legal entanglements. He had faith in his lawyer who had, so far, kept Ben out of prison, and so left everything in his capable, though at times, slippery hands. This left Ben with little else to do but concentrate looking busy with his obligatory legal pad and to take in the surroundings.
When he surveyed the members of the jury trying his case, he glossed over the usual retirees, professionals and average Joe's until he got to the pale kid in the back row. Now, this one intrigued him. He'd always had a soft spot for the ugly duckling type; they reminded him of his first girlfriend who he'd met in kindergarten. Her name had been Betty. She'd had tiny bangs that made her forehead enormous and she wore glasses the size of Coke bottles. But she was sweet and shy. Benny found her irresistible. He chased her all through grade school, was even able to talk his way into a "first kiss," but then her family moved to the Midwest and Betty became a sweet, faint memory.
Now, Ben had gown out of his own gangling awkwardness into a nice looking, regular guy. He worked out and had routine barber visits. But then, his lifestyle was anything but regular and consisted of seeking out opportunities to make money far away from the drudgery of the usual 9-to-5 existence. He was innovative and relatively fearless. And, most importantly, he was lucky.
He was perfectly at ease singling out the young girl and showing genuine interest. He enjoyed making women feel special, and especially those who looked like they might appreciate the attention. He didn't once consider the impropriety of making contact with a juror. Propriety was not high on his list of concerns. And there was something about this one.
He noticed she was changing each day before his eyes. She was experimenting with makeup, he could see, and dressing more deliberately. Well, now, that's a good sign, he thought. From that moment on, the trial setting was transformed for both of them. Of course, they made all the proper movements when needed. She would enter and exit the jury box on cue. He would stand when the Judge and Jury entered and exited. They both pretended to take notes. He drew caricatures of the witnesses as they testified. She drew hearts and flowers.
One day, he had an idea that might spice things up a little. He took out a stick of gum during the testimony of a forensics expert and caught Rebecca's eye. When he knew he had her attention, he began unwrapping the gum while never taking his eyes off her. She looked ready to melt. He slid the gum into his mouth seductively while she squirmed in her seat, just a little.
The next day, the defendant and the juror began their ritual of slowly unwrapping sticks of gum while gazing into each other's eyes. Unfortunately for them, this time their courtship display could not be ignored. The U.S. Marshals, who were there for courtroom security, couldn't help but notice. This was something they had never seen before, and they'd all seen a lot. This was much more than a couple of googly eyed participants; this would reflect badly on those charged with controlling the courtroom and maintaining the integrity of the proceedings.
And so, word spread from the Marshals to the Attorneys and, finally, to the Judge. As it turned out, the attorneys had seen their behavior, the Judge had seen their behavior, even the Court Reporter had noted their behavior. Everyone was just waiting for someone to say something. It was late in the day, so it was decided among counsel and the Judge that Juror 8 would be excused from the jury the next day.
When the jury filed into the courtroom the next morning, Rebecca wore a raincoat and a grin. Before she sank into her seat, she slowly removed the raincoat, exposing a bright red dress that matched her flaming lipstick perfectly. She never took her eyes off Ben. Ben beamed back. One of the attorneys bellowed, "Judge, may we approach?" "Don't bother," the Judge replied. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we need to attend to a matter outside your presence. Please retire to the jury room, with the Court's apologies. This won't take very long."
That was the day Rebecca found herself riding down in the elevator flanked by a couple of United States Marshals, being escorted out of the building. Before she could leave, she quickly turned back to the Marshals. "You don't think he'll go to jail, do you?"
The marshals exchanged uncomfortable looks. "That's not for us to say, ma'am. You enjoy the rest of your day now, all right?" They both turned and walked back to the elevators, exchanging poorly concealed smirks and chortles.
Rebecca didn't care. There was one thing and one thing only she cared about. And she knew what she had to do.
The next day, Rebecca was back in the courtroom, this time she was seated in the gallery as a member of the public, which was her right. She faithfully attended every minute of the proceedings, though she never retained a single word that was spoken. She was as close to Ben as she was able to be, so it was enough.
The day of jury deliberations came. Rebecca could hardly breathe. Every minute dragged on as though it were twenty. She couldn't eat. She couldn't concentrate on anything long enough to manage a conversation with anyone. She just planted herself, waiting and suffering, suffering and waiting.
Then the commotion started. People filed into the courtroom. The gallery filled with bystanders, court personnel took their places and counsel took theirs. The Judge took the bench, the defendants were brought in. Then, finally, the jury filed into the jury box.
"Jury Foreperson, has the Jury reached an unanimous verdict?"
"We have, Your Honor."
"Please hand the verdict form to the marshal who will deliver it to me."
(Long agonizing pause)
"The verdict form appears to be in order. I will hand the verdict form to the Clerk to publish."
"We, the Jury . . ."
At this point the blood was pulsating, roaring through Rebecca's head and she couldn't hear the words coming from the Clerk. She tried to glean what was happening by looking around for clues. Ben had his head bent forward. And when he looked up and over to lock his eyes with hers, he told her everything she needed to know.
She ran from the courtroom, her hands in tight fists.
"It's not fair!"
* * * * * * *
The sentencing hearing was held two months later. Rebecca was in attendance, seated in the back of the courtroom. The Judge sentenced Benjamin Albert Malone, a/k/a Crunchy, a/k/a Inmate M-2290987, to 11 years in prison, to be served day for day. He was not eligible for good time credit. He would serve each day of the 11 year sentence.
This time, Rebecca heard every word being said. She felt her tears flow as she stifled a cry.
"It's NOT fair," she screamed to herself.
A moment later, she heard the desperate sobbing of a woman coming from the front of the gallery. A woman wearing dark glasses jumped from her seat, collected the child who was sitting next to her, and headed for the exit, a handkerchief pressed to her mouth. She was through the swinging doors in an instant with not so much as a glance in Rebecca's direction.
Rebecca wiped the tears from her chin. She turned her eyes to Ben, who by that point was being handcuffed by the guards. He lifted his eyes to meet hers and offered a half-smile. She mouthed some words. Ben leaned his head slightly forward, looking at her.
"It's . . . not . . . fair," she whispered through gritted teeth. Rebecca got up, hit the doors with the palms of both hands, then yelled at the top of her voice as she hurried away, "IT'S NOT FAIR!"
The door leading to the jail cells slowly closed behind Ben and his escorts with an audible click.
"Court is adjourned."
Susan Erickson Catucci
August 10, 2022