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Friday, April 20, 2012

The certainty among the jurors about the defendant's guilt was mitigated by aspects of the prosecutor's case that didn't add up, at least to some of us. We spent a lot of time sorting through the conflicts in the testimony, as well as the time line. In the end, we were probably lucky to have had the judge's admonition that the time line didn't have to be exact, and that different people could remember details in different ways. We were the triers of fact. It was our job to sift through the information and find what we could all agree had actually happened.

It wasn't going to be easy, and that was obvious from the start. We were not divided, though, on our commitment to listening to each other and being sure everyone had a chance to express an opinion. Even when we got excited, and people started talking over each other, there was always someone (and not always the same someone) to say, "Please. We want to hear what that person was saying." We policed ourselves pretty well, as far as keeping on track was concerned.

The conflicts might have been fatal, if we hadn't decided early on that we didn't believe most of what Satchel told us. We didn't have to decide if he was guilty of setting Spike's ATV on fire, but we did spend time discussing whether it was possible for him to have done it within the time line. Despite his denial, we had no doubt that he'd done it, from his own testimony that he'd both confessed to it and been convicted of it.

One juror told us he'd noticed that when Satchel started talking about his arrest and conviction, his fingers twitched in a certain way. Satchel had a tell! (That didn't help much. We weren't looking at his fingers when he told us about seeing Spike slashing the tires and kicking in the garage door.)

So if the ATV torching didn't exactly fit into the time line of everything else he told us, as the only eyewitness to Spike's presence at the house that night, we assumed he was lying. Or telling us what he thought happened. Or what he wished had happened. We didn't really care, because we came to the conclusion that we couldn't rely on his testimony.

In fact, I thought the prosecutor's case would have been stronger if he'd never put Satchel on the stand, and I told the other jurors that. We wondered if the prosecutor regretted calling Satchel as a witness. It's hard to tell, because there were so many missteps along the way in the people's case. In the end, it didn't matter to us. It was just one more question we wished we could have asked. Since we couldn't, we threw it out and moved on.

One woman was adamant, for the longest time, that if all the evidence (that we believed) was circumstantial, and that the identification of Spike could only be inferred, that it didn't amount to proof. I didn't mind her making that argument, but I thought she was wrong, and I told her. If we threw out Satchel's account altogether, we still had enough to go on, in my opinion. We had the texts and photos Spike had sent, the stalking and implied threats, all of which had been sworn to by people we did believe, for the most part, and none of which was questioned or countered by Spike's lawyer.

Inevitably, the Law & Order premise came up. Someone said that often the most unreliable testimony comes from the eyewitnesses. Even if you don't watch that show, you've seen it if you have a television set. It's omnipresent. It's always on, and probably on four or five channels at any given time. And that point about the witnesses is in every script.

So here we are with an unreliable witness, conflicts in testimony, and serious questions about the totality of the evidence. And yet we all still believed Spike was guilty. That wasn't even in question any more, but the ride was far from over and the bumpy part was still ahead. We knew we had to be unanimous, one way or the other. The one thing we could all agree on from the start was that we wanted to be sure.

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