Jury Duty

I spent four days last week at jury duty. This was the second time I've been called to serve as a juror and the first time I made it to a court room.

It all started on Tuesday when they called nearly 75 people waiting to be jurors down to a court room. They read off the three alleged crimes against the defendant, Thomas Wales. The charges were two accounts of sexual assault and one charge of rape all against his own 13 year old daughter.

When the accusations were read there was an audible gasp from many of the jurors. The next step involved finding 14 jurors that felt they could fairly decide whether this man was innocent or guilty of the charges. Finding the jurors turned out to be quite difficult. The first step was some general questions the judge posed to all jurors, and then the judge talked to each juror at sidebar. I answered the questions honestly and was found to have no biases so I was put on the jury. After the first day ended we only had 12 jurors and had exhausted the pool of 75 potential jurors. The second day we went through another 20 jurors. The last seat was extremely difficult to fill since the lawyers from both sides kept asking the last juror to be dismissed. Eventually we had the full jury.

The defendant's opening statements started with his lawyer admitting the defendant was guilty of the lesser charges of assault because he had inappropriately touched his daughter, but that there was no rape because there was no penetration which is how the law defines rape.

The first witness was the victim. She claimed that there was penetration. There was also a statement that the defendant had given to police the day after the alleged incident where he admitted to the inappropriate touching. There were also hits in that testimony towards penetration, but the police officers who were conducting the interview never asked the question of penetration.

The medical personnel never found any evidence of rape, but their definition of rape is different which made things difficult. The medical definition of rape is penetration of the vagina, but the legal definition of rape includes penetration of the folds of skin outside the vagina. Also since the rape was allegedly done with a finger it was not surprising that no evidence was found by the doctors.

There were witnesses that claimed the defendant had sexually assaulted them, but they had never pressed charged for various reasons. This was not evidence that the defendant had done anything wrong in this case, but it did tend to make the defendant even less likable (if that was possible at this point).

As we entered deliberation, every juror believe the defendant was a sick bastard who deserved a harsh sentence. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) it isn't a juror's job to sentence criminals. It is our job to decide if a defendant is innocent or guilty of the accusations. We had no trouble agreeing the defendant was guilty of sexual assault against a minor; however, I didn't believe beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of rape. One of the toughest things I've ever had to do was go about convincing the other jurors that there was reasonable doubt about whether the penetration had actually happened. We spent many hours analyzing testimony and other forms of evidence.

In the end we found him not guilty of rape. Part of my soul is saddened by this decision because he was probably guilty. However, probably guilty is very different than guilty beyond reasonable doubt like the law requires. If this man was guilty it is not the juror's fault for finding him innocent, but rather the fault of the Oxford Police department who, in my opinion, made numerous blunders during this case.

I have no regrets about my decision. The job of a juror is to look at the evidence and determine if the defendant is innocent or guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case there was not enough evidence for guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on the charge of rape so we presumed innocence just as the law requires.

This case was certainly a difficult one to sit though. The things done to this thirteen year old girl that made my heart weep. That said I have absolutely no regrets and would serve as a juror if I'm ever called again. However, I am glad that it will be at least three years before Massachusetts calls me to server as a juror again. I need time to rest after this case.


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