The Last Day and The Verdict

I walk into the courthouse feeling good about our progress from the previous night, but things quickly take a decidedly darker turn, and this is our most difficult day of deliberation. Reaching our verdict is a soul-seering process, and only now do I allow a few tears to come to my eyes, blinking them away and looking down to avoid eye contact.

After watching the video a few more times, we come at last to unanimous agreement. It is not an easy decision. No one will win – we have all only lost. Even those of us who had no choice in serving on this jury have lost, even when we haven’t done anything.

Up until now I have worked solely towards focusing on the case, the evidence, the testimony, and then coming up with a decision and working to convince others that the decision is the right one. I am not alone in my determination, but we are somewhat split on which charge is most fitting. Once that debate is done, once we have agreed, I have no more to focus on other than the situation at hand, and our role in it. Then and only then does it hit me, and all those moments when others had taken the time to cry and let it out come flooding over me. I am shaking as we make our way into the courtroom for the last time. Our foreperson walks behind me, and I look back and ask if she’s okay. She’s the one who will have to recite the verdict to the judge.

We line up and march in, and for the first time I look every person I see in the eyes: the lawyers, the defendant, the families, the spectators, the sheriffs and the judge. We have made the fairest decision we could, based on what we were given. And we were a good group of people who took the time and care to purposefully deliberate. We challenged one another, we came around to the truth, and in the end we did the best we could do. I will always stand by that.

Our foreperson reads the verdict: Guilty of Manslaughter in the 1st Degree. Each juror is polled and asked if this was our decision, and we all say ‘Yes’. Then it is over. We are dismissed. We walk out of the courtroom.

We are asked to leave our ‘Juror’ lanyards on the jury room table before being escorted out for the last time. That’s it. That is all.

That night, it hits me. Having held everything in for the previous two weeks, I now sob uncontrollably, curled up in the fetal position on the floor of the guest room, inconsolable by both Andy and my Mom. It is all suddenly too much – too much pressure, too much relief, too much emotion. I did not ask to be on this jury, I did not ask to be the determining fate for someone else’s life, the avenging force for someone else’s death. The night falls, and I cannot stop crying.

There are strict instructions and guidelines for those serving on jury duty. There are procedures and rules and laws we must abide. There is no such guidance for what to do when your jury duty is over, no advice on how best to decompress, how to reconcile your decisions with the aftermath of reality, no helpful word on how to forget.

I thought it would be easier to shake than this.

I am afraid I will be haunted.

And no one understands.

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