Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Jury duty over...fast conviction **UPDATED**

I did end up having jury duty for two days. My date was postponed from Monday the 23rd to Tuesday the 24th. Then it was postponed to Monday the 30th, then rescheduled yet again for Friday the 27th. On Friday, the jury pool went to the U.S. District Court, Eastern North Carolina District courthouse on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh. A bunch of us sat around in an assembly room and finally went into the courtroom an hour after the appointed time. Sixteen of us were ushered into the jury box plus two more seats outside the box. Only four people were dismissed, one of which being a Harnett County lawyer. After the initial 12, six more were interviewed for the remaining two seats as alternate jurors. Four were dismissed. The rest of the jury pool was then dismissed, not even being interviewed.

It was a bit different. The judge asked all the questions, usually consisting of where we live, our marital status, what we did for a living, and if married, what our spouses did for a work.

The case was a criminal one, in which one inmate was physically assaulted by another inmate while in the recreation cage. The victim was a chomo, which makes him a target by other inmates. In just a few moments, he was beaten within an inch of his life. The perpetrator gave him a roundhouse kick, knocked him to the ground, and repeatedly kicked him in the head, ribs, side, and abdomen. He had head lacerations, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a ruptured spleen. Without an emergency splenectomy, the victim would have died.

The inmates in this case were in a special housing unit at the Butner Federal Correctional Facility. They are locked up 23 hours a day and allowed just one hour of recreation time in some cages. The cages are about 15 feet by 10 feet, four men to a cage. When the guard went to put away the handcuffs he used to secure the prisoners from their cells to the rec cages, the perpetrator, Scott Dell Gustin, stomped a mud hole in David Danser.

On Friday, the lawyers made opening statements. The lawyer for the US Government was terrible. He really needs to find a new career. He is hardly articulate, monotone, he does not flow well, and he is a bit soft spoken. This was his first trial, as if we could not tell. Fortunately, an experienced lawyer, Gaston Williams, was there to work with him. The defense attorney had a father and son team from the Edmisten Webb law firm. The Edmisten part of that firm refers to Rufus Edmisten, former NC Attorney General and former NC Secretary of State.

I don't know if the defense arguments were just so weak that the Webbs had a hard time building a convincing case or that they are just not great lawyers. [ADDITIONAL NOTE ADDED 7/10/08 -- I just got a phone call from Woodie Webb, Sr., the lead defense attorney and had a nice conversation about the trial and this blog entry. Mr. Webb took exception to that last sentence as if I had actually called his competence into question. For that, I apologize. After I went back and read the blog entry, I realized that what I had meant to be a rhetorical and slightly sarcastic comment could have been taken the wrong way. I figured it would have been incredibly obvious that the defense had an extremely weak case. Mr. Webb admitted that very thing on the phone. He knew that he had to grasp at straws as the court appointed attorney to create reasonable doubt and that he had pretty much nothing to work with. I could have worded that sentence better than I did. Since I grew up with a rather sarcastic wit, I often forget that not everybody can glean that intent from my brain droppings.] Assertions were made to attempt to create reasonable doubt. In the face of a half dozen witnesses and a common thread through all the testimony, they really just could not convince us of any reasonable doubt as to the guilt of Paul Gustin. There were only four men in the cage. One was a victim who directly identified the attacker. Another testified that Gustin was the attacker. The fourth claims to not have seen anything.

I will spare the long, boring recital of the details, but I will share this part. We were expecting to be there on Tuesday, July 1. However, testimony was shortened, the prosecution rested, and we heard closing arguments Monday afternoon. It took longer for the judge to read the jury instructions than it did for us to reach a verdict.

We had to elect a jury foreman. I was chosen unanimously. When the question was asked who we want to pick, everyone pointed at me. I guess I was the most outspoken in the jury room, citing details during breaks, recounting my notes, and talking about testimony each break that we were sent to the jury room. I took copious notes, along with one lady.

I went over the three things we needed in order to fulfill a conviction. We had the part that the victim did indeed receive serious bodily injury and then we had to agree that defendant was the one who willingly and knowingly did it. As I started to read a few of my notes on issues for us to ponder, one guy cut us short and said that we should just save the time and take a vote, since he got the feeling that we were all in agreement. I asked if they wanted a raise of hands or a private ballot. I said that if there was a single person uncomfortable with a raise of hands, that we needed a private ballot. All were agreeable to the raising of hands. I asked if there were any for not guilty. None. All raised for guilty. Even before we took the vote, one guy grabbed the foreman's verdict sheet and handed it my way, indicating that he thought it was time. In less than ten minutes, we elected the foreman, recounted some details and requirements, and voted on the verdict. News of such a quick verdict could not have been good news to the defense. We had to wait for the judge to reassemble the lawyers and all in the court for us to come out and hand the verdict to the bailiff.

There were a lot of things that you do see on TV on legal shows, but also a lot you don't. We joked in the jury room often about how Matlock would have done things. In the jury, we had a lot of people who got along well. Folks were from Rocky Mount, Granville County, Cary, Creedmoor, Lillington, Goldsboro, Raleigh, and a few places in between. We actually had a good time as a group, despite the fact that many did not want to be there. I was just fine being a juror. This was my first time ever getting a jury summons.

One thing I relayed to the clerk for Judge Boyle at the beginning of the first full day of trial (Monday) as well as the prosecuting attorney (after all was done and over) is that for many of us in the jury, not ONE TIME was our identity verified as jurors. The security guards at the federal building never asked for identification. They clerk of court's employees never checked ID. Both days of jury duty never required me or most of my fellow jurors to verify that we were actually the ones summonsed. I thought about saying that I was not Troy but some unemployed friend of his who needed the $40 per diem.

I see that my blog entry has now been referenced on the website Jury Experiences. Thanks.

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