Jury selection for my capital murder trial was odd in that way getting picked to play dodge ball in grade school is anticipatory of a winning and losing team. Each choice made at the beginning seems measured as you go for favorites and hope the other guy doesn't eliminate the ones you want. In voir dire you have to hope the potential juror who looks and sounds reasonably objective is not secretively some ultraconservative fundamentalist. If he or she is reasonable you also have to hope the DA doesn't use a preemptory challenge. Sitting at the defense table with a bailiff nearby and attorneys bookending the seats to my left and right, it seemed all of the reasonable people were absent or removed for cause or excused by the prosecution.
For those who don't know, the preemptory challenge removes a potential juror from the pool without needing to justify the removal. Both the prosecution and defense are allowed 14 of these free rejections during jury selection.
I was under no illusion this would be a jury of my peers in the sense they were like me, unless living and breathing and human were our only similarities. It was apparent from the pool most of these citizens with jobs, families, and opinions about the case knew nothing about me as a person. They likely did not care what I thought or felt. I could only hope we picked at least six people willing to listen -- even if such a hope was naïve.
The selection took about a week. This one heard about the case and formed an opinion, that one knew a cousin of a friend who went to school with one of the victims. I have to support my family of five, your honor, besides, he looks guilty. The guys in jail for a reason, ain't he? Kill him. He don't need a trial. It's against my religion. I get these really bad migraines. I can't leave my dogs alone for a single moment or they'll be sick with worry. It'll create an undue hardship on my family, your honor . . . . The excuses were many and for those not quick enough with a plausible lie or actually interested in doing their civic duty the first obstacle in their selection was cleared.
Being removed for cause just meant there was a legitimate reason a potential juror could not sit on the jury. In this circumstance it's the judge who agrees to excuse the person from service. Not all of the reasons sounded ridiculous. I was glad at times because the hatred, fear, disgust, self-righteousness, apathy, or anger and cruelty were plain to see on the faces of many -- like war paint or poorly drawn clown faces with mean looks and bulbous noses. One woman was absolutely against the death penalty and all for building more prisons. "Why your honor, if I could," she said "as soon as they arrest a person it's obvious they're guilty so why not put them in prison and leave us honest folk alone?" The scary and discouraging part is considering how many people thought such things and worse, but kept their mouths shut and were picked as jurors.
I guess for juries, "reasonable" means some fantastic ideal that doesn't exist in the sphere of capital murder trials. Not even when the phrase "beyond reasonable doubt" is used. I should have lowered my expectations. Hope is a foolish thing when you sit at the defendant's table selecting a jury, but you couldn't have convinced me without providing a glimpse into the future.
Once the obviously unsuitable candidates were eliminated the real selecting began. You don't want him - he's a Mason. Or her, she's too eager. Or that one -- he's too white collar. We don't want that one -- her brother's father in law is a cop. The standard my attorneys used to pick jurors was simple: anyone rejected by the prosecution is somebody we want, but since we can't have those we will take whatever we can get. In the end none of it really mattered because the DA had the final say so.
With twelve jurors and two alternates ready the trial was set to begin the following Monday. Both prosecutors wore smug looks the way people accustomed to getting their way do. My attorneys studiously ignored me, talking about where they would eat lunch as they packed away loose papers. Me? I sat dazed and quiet, dizzy from the cocktail of medications prescribed to me by a jailhouse shrink. All of my thoughts and emotions were smothered as if by a thick layer of ice over a deep lake. A small bit of optimism tapped at the barrier preventing me from breaking the surface of that frigid water. It was the faint hope present in anyone who doesn't know what awaits them but keeps their fingers crossed just in case it isn't quite as bad as they suspect it will be.