“If you find by a preponderance of the evidence” the judge said, “that the defendant is guilty, you shall vote to convict. If the prosecutor does not present a compelling case and you have reasonable doubt about the guilt of the defendant, you shall find him innocent. No one saw the accused commit the crime. There is no video of the act. The evidence is circumstantial.
"Preponderance means that based on the totality of the evidence presented, a reasonable person must conclude the defendant is guilty. If anyone cannot follow these instructions, or has a question about what I just said, I want to hear it now.”
When no one spoke we became the jury that would determine the fate of a man in his mid-twenties; slender, dark haired, nice looking. He was accused of holding a three year old boy’s right thigh beneath a bathtub spigot spewing scalding water, causing burns severe enough to require skin grafts. The accused didn’t appear deranged.
The prosecutor laid out the facts. The only adults present when the child was injured were an elderly lady providing unlicensed child care for four children (she had done so for three years), and the defendant. Her grandson, the accused, had arrived mid-morning. She testified the toddler had gotten into mud playing in the front yard and her grandson took the child to the bathroom to get him clean.
A medical expert testified that the severity of the injury indicated it was not accidental; the child, unrestricted, would have recoiled away instinctively minimizing the damage. His flesh was cooked. The photos of the injury were excruciatingly painful to view, sparking anger in me and, I thought, the other jurors.
When the defendant’s attorney put his client on, the man admitted being in the house, was there at noon when EMS came. He had been resting on a bed in another room when he heard the boy and his grandmother screaming. Unless his grandmother did it, he believed it must have happened accidentally. A lot more was said, but you get the picture.
When it came time to send the jury out, the judge announced I would be the jury foreman. Unbelievable! Was it because I was the only one wearing a suit and tie; or because the judge knew me? When I left home that morning I assumed I would report, be dismissed as always before (civil cases) and go on to work. How could this happen?
In the jury room we got comfortable, cokes and coffee for those that wanted it, and read through the jury guidelines. We were six men and six women, mid-aged to retirees, a farmer, an insurance clerk, several laborers, a person in retail, I think. I don’t recall how the others earned their nickels.
It seemed best before any discussion to determine where we stood, so I passed around slips of paper and instructed everyone vote: Yes, to convict, No, for innocent. I didn’t think there was much to discuss anyway.
The vote was eleven to one. We were a hung-jury. It was time to talk.
Juror Four was adamant. He had a four o’clock tee time. “Cum’on folks, who’s holding out?”
No one answered. I urged whoever voted “No” to speak up; maybe the rest of us had missed something. Or perhaps their doubt could be resolved. Silence. Being the jury’s foreman had my stomach churning.
“I really hate to do this, but I don’t see an alternative. If you voted to convict, raise your hand.”
Juror Seven, a silver-haired grandmother sitting at the end of the table, glowered angrily. She dropped a red-and-black scarf she was knitting, thrusting a knitting needle at me. “Unless I personally saw him do it, I’m not sending that young man to prison. Leave me alone!”
Deliberations went from reasoning, to threatening, to sauna steaming silence. Through it all she kept knitting, shaking her head. When several promptings by the judge failed to budge our verdict, he thanked us and said the accused would likely be retried by a new jury. We were dismissed.
In the hall Juror Two whispered, “They brought that pond-scum back from prison to try him. He was convicted of maliciously breaking another kid’s leg.” (He had sworn during jury selection that he had no prior knowledge of the defendant)
Juror Seven swore she would observe the rules of preponderance, but didn’t.
I’m not cut out for this. A horribly burned child deserved an honest jury.
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