By Chuck Woodbury
I spent four days last week serving on a jury in Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. It was the first time I served on a jury. It was one of the most interesting, stimulating, satisfying four days I have spent in a long time.
Early Monday morning I reported to the courthouse. I sat around with another 200 potential jurors and waited to be called to serve. But by early afternoon I was dismissed because all jurists for that day had been selected.
The following morning, back in the big waiting room, I was called to a courtroom along with 44 other potential jurors. The judge, prosecuting attorney and defense attorney asked us a lot of questions to determine if we were acceptable. Eventually they dismissed all but 13 people. I remained, juror number six. One juror would be selected later as an alternate and released.
The trial started late Wednesday morning. Both attorneys made their opening statements, where we learned the defendant was charged with 3rd degree rape. He was a nice-looking guy, mid-30s, well groomed, well dressed. He sat quietly, scribbling notes now and then.
The first witness was called, the 20-something woman accuser. She told her story, sobbing often, sometimes uncontrollably. I, for one, felt sorry for her. We were excused to the jury room a few times when she needed to gather herself. This happened many times during the trial.
I was anxious. “I need to get this right,” I told myself. What if I determine he’s guilty, but am wrong? An innocent man would go to jail! I learned later that other jurors thought the same.
The trial continued, one witness after another — several sheriff deputies and investigators, friends, and a forensic nurse who said on the stand that she is involved in about 400 cases a month involving child or adult sexual abuse. I was shocked.
Until midday Friday, more evidence was presented. We learned that throughout the alleged rape, the woman was texting her boyfriend. “Save me,” she pleaded. But he texted back that the relationship was over, good riddance to her. Still they texted — once a minute for the better part of an hour. During all that time she never called 911. I thought, and I think other jurists did, too, how could someone be raped while sending and receiving text messages?
Evidence was presented that she and the alleged rapist were smoking meth throughout the day. As the evidence stacked up, it increasingly appeared to me that the sex was consensual.
After closing arguments, we adjourned to the jury room to begin our deliberations. After two hours, none of us could determine “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a rape had occurred. “Not guilty,” was the only way we could vote.
After the judge read the verdict, as the defendant sobbed, we filed out of the courtroom and were excused — all to go our own ways. For almost four days we had been together, much of the time in a windowless, 250-square-foot meeting room, where we could not discuss the trial until the judge told us so. So we talked about kids, our dogs, our jobs, good restaurants, the weather. We laughed a lot, like friends.
And then, our duty completed, we all returned to our regular lives, unlikely to ever see each other again.
Now, almost a week later, I keep thinking about the trial, about the people, about how much I enjoyed concentrating on one thing for one week, not 20 different things at a time as I do running my business.
I will likely not get called for jury duty again soon. But I know one thing, I hope I get on another trial. It’s so stimulating, so interesting … and, at least this time, I felt proud later that I had done something good for my community. And, hey, I earned $10 a day! How ’bout that?