"We the jury find the defendant not guilty."
The reactions in the courtroom were not instantaneous. A moment of shock first. Then the reactions.
The defendant, hugging his lawyer with a look of sweet relief, and almost disbelief.
The family of the victim, weeping and angry. For them there was no relief; only bitter defeat. Was the real killer now free to strike again, or was it possible that the man standing in the room really was innocent? Perhaps the real killer never even saw the inside of a courtroom.
But it didn't matter. Not really. He was still free, whoever he was.
I stood in the jury booth taking it all in. I had been the last one to make a decision. Had I made the right decision? A guilty verdict had to be "beyond a reasonable doubt." There were parts that just didn't make sense. And the DNA evidence had been inconclusive. That had been the deciding factor for me.
But what if he really had done it? Did I just let a guilty man go free? I wasn't sure whether the stunned look on his face was because he couldn't believe he had gotten away with it, or because he had already accepted his fate, despite his innocence.
I did have one comfort. I was sending a father back to his children. In the days right after the murder and before I knew I'd be on the jury for the case, the news had showed pictures of the suspect with his family. They looked so happy.
But was it worth it? If he was the killer, what sort of influence was he having on his children? Was it better to have a father who's there for his kids but a murder none the less, or was it better to take a father away, leaving the kids wondering what happened?
And what about the victim's family? They didn't have any closure today. If anything, their wounds were ripped open again. I hated to see that. A couple of them glared at me, as though I was now the enemy. And I suppose, in there eyes, I was. I had a part in causing them more hurt. But it was worth it, if the suspect was innocent. Wasn't it? I wasn't sure anymore.
I walked to my car, knowing I'd live with the decision for the rest of my life. I hoped they caught the man, but I wasn't sure it would help. The jury after me would have the same questions, no matter their decision, I'm sure. And I'd still wonder.
I turned on the ignition.
Come thou fount of every blessing
Tune thy heart to sing thy praise.
Streams of mercy never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
The words spilled from the radio directly to my heart. Yes. Mercy. Maybe he was guilty, and maybe I had helped grant that man mercy. Maybe that would stir his heart to the point of repentance before man and before God. And perhaps that would be the best outcome of all.
Come Thou Fount Words by Robert Robinson; Public Domain
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