Methed to madness
This week I noticed that Oscar Pistorius’ infamous trial is getting a lot of press coverage, even though it is on the other side of the world. The heightened emotionality of that drama is indicative of the intense affect that spills out of human beings when they interface with crimes of passion. There is a world of criminal events happening all around us, of which most of us are blissfully unaware, thankfully. I had never heard anything about the one that crossed my path this past month until I was sitting on the jury.
The day I was selected for jury duty, and found out what the upcoming experience would entail, both in terms of subject matter and duration, I felt utter dread. This was no simple matter, even putting the best face on it.
For one thing, the process of jury selection is daunting. I was annoyed that I was chosen, but they had previously assured us the average trial lasts only about 5 days. Mine was 5 weeks, but we only found that out after we were selected. I eventually understood why they kept mum. Ours was no ordinary case but one that could and should have been splashed across the news from coast to coast. In my opinion, it was far more complicated and grave than the many of the notorious trials of the past decade. For some reason, this one was under the radar and for the life of me, knowing all the facts that I do now, I do not understand why.
Through the entire trial, there was not one reporter in the gallery. People wandered in randomly, as trials are usually open to the public. Some looked like passers-by, who happened to be in the building or on our particular floor for one or another reason. None looked like they were there for any predictable purpose. Not one family member of the actors involved attended either. Given what we see in the media and on neat little crime shows, with packed galleries and all kinds of recording devices and attention, and rapt loved ones, this really surprised me.
If you have never gone through jury selection screening, be prepared to bare your soul during the interrogation the judge conducts for the benefit of all the attorneys who have a stake in the matter. Lest you think you can still get out of serving by any of the predictable methods people traditionally employ to avoid giving up their lives for this process, forget it. The very thing you think will furnish an out, is the thing they are probably looking to include you for. In my case, it was my experience with some renters in my neighborhood who were running a meth operation, but I only figured that out after the fact. The court saw over 100 prospective jurors before they whittled it down to 18 (12 primary, 6 alternates). There was a musical chairs-like process that jury candidates go through. It drove home the thoroughness and seriousness of the system. That is how they identify the people that all parties feel will be the most fair and impartial yet capable of handling the information about to be disclosed.
They want a team that can process and synthesize the entire evidentiary body of the case before rendering a very tightly controlled decision of guilty/not guilty on every charge or count. And the less outside information that group of jurists has a priori, the better. I now see that it is wise to omit certain emotion-evoking information. Proven fact is meant to trump feelings in our legal system, even though it is hard to avoid giving in to visceral reactions, especially in this instance.
Out of the original more than 100, about 30 people tried to get out of duty using “hardship” of one sort or another as an excuse. When you do that, you have to stand up in front of the entire court, potential jurors, lawyers, defendant(s), clerks, judge, everyone and reveal what your problem is. A judge is a formidable person, not only as an individual, but a holder of the office or position of authority representing the full weight of US law, so standing in front of him/her and asking to be excused is no trivial experience. Of the people who nervously or boldly stammered out their reason for not wanting nor being able, supposedly, to be there for the estimated week, only a handful were excused after a thorough personal unpeeling in front of the whole courtroom full of people.
If you don’t like embarrassment, don’t even think about attempting this. The people who tried, were quivering by the end of it, one way or the other. Showing up the first and second days, you sit and wait for a judge (there are multiple courtrooms and constant rolling trials) to call for a group to be impaneled. Then, jury selection takes two days. The final day of that week, is taken up addressing the 18 people selected from the previous 4 days. So one week is gone before the trial itself even begins, with introductions to the case, a primer on the mechanics of the pertinent law(s), summaries of positions of all parties and opening arguments. Then, after all sides have rested, more detailed law is read to the jury and the case handed over to them; deliberations can be a few hours or a few weeks.
So, this is no snappy process. Instead it is a slow moving, meticulous, deliberative ordeal, and staying alert, without losing your lunch over the details along the way (not in all cases, but in the one I sat through), takes stamina and endurance. It also requires complete self-control. The stakes are high and you don’t want to be the one to trigger a mistrial. The schedule is also a barrier to be overcome. You obviously have to get to the venue in plenty of time to get a parking space, get inside after passing through very careful security with a list a yard long of things you cannot bring with you, like glass bottles, knitting needles, any kind of needle or metal object for that matter, etc., etc., and then take care of any personal habits before you are expected to sit in readiness outside the court on fewer benches than there are bodies that want them.
The judge decides each day what time court will start and end the following one. In a nutshell, there are hours of down time. So the trial process is not efficient for the jurors. In that interim period, judges hear misdemeanor and minor felony cases while jurors for the main event wait outside. There is variable internet or phone service so you may or may not be able to use that time to check your devices. In all, this requires patience, calmness of spirit, fortitude and cheer. No one wanted to be there and it didn’t help that we were all in the same boat. Somehow though, in this particular instance, the legal teams picked a good jury. No clueless, hasty folks this time, simply skirting diligence to get on with their lives. Almost to a one, these were professionals with responsibilities that were in suspension while they served.
By the end of five weeks, you bond with the other jurors, even though they were a rainbow in every respect: age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, economic stratum, etc. The jurors were painstakingly chosen and proved to be worth the effort, in my estimation, in the end. The crimes were shocking. Only when the doors closed on the limited number of players involved in this drama, now including the 18 newcomers, the depravity of the matter descended on all of us like the proverbial ton of bricks. I am sure had any of us known what was coming, we would have rent our garments and beaten our chests to avoid exposure to it.
This case was brewing, with preliminary hearings and witness interrogations in progress for half a decade before we sat in those critical seats up near the judge. We all felt vulnerable, in full view of every face involved, lawful and otherwise. It was as if we were on a stage where we were not to move, react, grimace, sound, or otherwise in any way be seen to be human past our outer appearance. It was so tension-producing, that we found ourselves gripping the chairs and the floor. You could cut the silence in the courtroom with a kitchen knife. Every break unleashed almost a volcanic relief. And, since no one was allowed to speak about the details with each other, family, friends, the public — no one — until the verdict had been read and entered into the books, the pressure continued around the clock for the duration. We were warned not to even smile or reveal any recognition toward the attorneys in or out of court.
Wearing an alphanumeric badge that said JUROR, at all times on the premises, we were a group apart. It was a strange experience, like bearing a scarlet letter A or yellow star. Looking at oneself with that badge on, you feel the weight of responsibility pressing down from years and years of society’s attempt to regulate the behavior of all participants so its citizenry can go about daily living unimpeded by the chaos that human beings inflict upon each other by dint of being complex and variably self-disciplining.
When people who have been brainwashed systematically and deliberately by private interests who have a largely economic and power-related motive for doing so, rail against “government”, they fail to recognize the importance of this exacting and carefully constructed system of constraints that keeps the wolves from our individual doors. Not that governments don’t make mistakes or that there isn’t abuse of power — clearly there is and it has to be kept to a minimum. But, unless you are party to the daily activities taking place in our justice system without our attention to it, it goes on unappreciated. It is there working relentlessly, around the clock and calendar, keeping anarchy and apocalypse from crushing our small and vulnerable species.
I could write a thick book about the particulars of this case. There were numerous crimes, the main being murder and torture. Multiple players, locations, occupations — mostly illicit and yet supposedly legal by the strictest definition. It had all the elements that we cut our Shakespearean teeth on: sex, drugs, domestic violence, abuse, lies, betrayal, greed, stupidity, graft, blackmail, the list goes on.
Most of all, the crimes showed utter indifference to other human beings and the sanctity of life. Gruesome, hideous crimes, documented in graphic living color that we all had to see and are now burned in our memories forever. Perpetrators and their coteries involved in “businesses” that circle the drain of the lowest activities people can engage in, yet on the surface having a front that society has reluctantly come to accept, when higher values should prevail and common sense should overcome sentimental acquiescence.
Knowing what I know now, I will put a great deal of distance between myself and the types of places where these base practices fester and creep out, sliding their insidious tentacles in many subterranean directions. Ironically, one of the many tangential elements of this complicated case involved controlled substances and more specifically meth-amphetamines, their illegal sale and use.
We not only received a thorough education on the physical ramifications of this dangerous narcotic, we learned stepwise how it has seeped into our culture and is destroying lives exponentially as time goes on. Given that this misery-creating compound was being made, sold and used on my very street recently (those two losers finally fled California in February probably to avoid the three-strikes law; the house had to be gutted and months later, the destroyed structure is being rebuilt stud by stud), I was shaken to think that I came so close to people whose actions were driven in part by a lethal and shattering poison. Seated just feet away from one or more sociopathic killers was a consciousness-altering experience for me, too.
Every day, I watched the parties lined up in front of the judge — the expressions and habits of each player in this twisted drama acted like a magus drawing back a dark curtain to reveal a nest of sadists. It was sickening. How do I know sociopathy or psychopathy was involved? In addition to the graphic details of the crimes themselves, I watched the face(s) of the perpetrator(s) at various key junctures, let’s say, when exhibits were presented high and wide on a broad expanse behind the judge’s dais.
While the jury and attorneys struggled to maintain their composure, there was no response or worse, inappropriate reaction on the part of the defendant(s). Wrapped up in the capital crimes were other tangential illicit businesses operating out of so-called legal establishments, medical marijuana “pharmacies” and skin-stamping studios. This is where all of us need to tune our self-preservatory radar. I have always been leery of such places, probably due to my characteristic hypervigilance.
I don’t want to sound melodramatic or to exaggerate the circumstances of this trial. But believe me when I say, it was in a category of its own. I would characterize the driving forces as severe pathology. Let me close out this purposely cryptic post by expressing my unbounded admiration for the prosecutor. This was someone who calmly, without malice, with an exceptional economy of emotion, meticulously laid out the facts, evidence, proof and timeline of the case so expertly and with such uncommon sensitivity that nothing the other attorneys did (and did well, I might add) could obscure the clear and deserved outcomes in terms of the multiple defendants, counts and verdicts. She said she was handing us a road map to conviction and a tool box to enable us to get there with no reasonable doubt.
This was a complex of serious crimes, but fact prevailed over all else, in the end. It was instructive in an indelible way and justice was ultimately done. Thank you all for indulging me during this long process and for letting me share this as best I can to see if there is something I can learn and offer others, so it was not all in vain in the final analysis.
Images: cnn.com, 123rtf.com, newsday.com, amazon.com, wikipedia.org, nytimes.com, ghostbusters.wikia.com