A year ago today, I sat down in the courtroom as a juror in one of the bigger trials that Kansas City, Missouri has seen in a while. The trial I am referring to is the City vs. Bernard Jackson, or as locals will know it: The Waldo Rapist trial. The Casey Anthony trial was going on at the time, so I’m sure that not many out-of-state people will be familiar with it.
I can’t believe that it has been a year already since I went through this strange experience. Looking back, it feels like one of those surreal moments, kind of like a dream. I know it happened, but it didn’t feel like real life.
I’m not sure why I feel this way. I think part of it is the severity and type of crimes committed. That made the whole experience really difficult to deal with. I think it is also because life as I knew it completely stopped (which was not a big deal. Just different). I didn’t go to work. I didn’t see my family or friends. I didn’t have a phone, a TV, the internet, a computer or even a clock radio. I was escorted everywhere I went which was actually kind of cool. I felt a bit like a celebrity hiding from the paparazzi.
I had never been called for jury duty previously and, of course, ended up being placed on a sequestered jury my first time at bat (My luck just goes that way sometimes). Prior to this, I had never even been in a courtroom before. They were a lot smaller than I anticipated.
The days were tough, particularly when we had to sit and listen to the victims give their testimonies. The women were all around my age when they were victimized, which I think is why I was picked to serve on this particular jury. Plus, I was born after these crimes were committed, so I had no prior knowledge of them.
Nights were difficult too. We all stayed on the same floor in a hotel near the river. The events and conversations of the day would play incessantly in my mind. We weren’t allowed to discuss anything we saw or heard with anyone and even though I kept a journal, I still felt like things were bottled up. I did post that journal in a blog. If you’d like to see it, you’re welcome to check it out: http://kcjuror8.wordpress.com.
Looking back at what I wrote, I can tell that I felt a bit off balance during the experience. I did a lot of reflecting about the judicial system and my role in the process and whether or not I was qualified to be a juror—I am simply an English major after all. I started the journal on my first day of jury selection. I think I just had a feeling I was going to be picked.
After 4 1/2 days of evidence and argument and 4 hours of deliberation, the 12 of us delivered a guilty verdict on all 18 counts which included 7 counts of rape, 7 counts of sodomy, and 4 counts of robbery in the first degree.
I know we made the right decision but it felt strange to have so much power in determining the fate of another. Luckily we didn’t have to decide on or recommend a sentence. The judge took care of that, sentencing the defendant to 18 consecutive life sentences.
Overall, I’m glad that I served on a jury. I got to see our judicial system at work. Everything from the voire dire and court proceedings to the lawyers was fascinating. Plus I got to give some closure and hopefully some peace to these victims who waited 27 years to receive it. That made the entire experience worthwhile.