There’s been a fantastic series of programmes on BBC Three recently about the American justice system: Life and Death Row. I’ve just seen the second episode, Judgement, and it got me thinking about my time on a jury. It was a good two years ago now and wasn’t as ‘extreme’ as the one featured on the programme. A man was accused of killing eight members of his own family, beating them violently to death in a savage attack. As he was tried in the state of Georgia, he faced the death plenty if found guilty. In the trail I saw, a motorcycle was violently stolen and felt more like we were dealing with a petty dispute between two families, dancing around the crime and resorting to slander.
I tried to watch the programme with an open mind, just as I did the young gentleman two years ago. But you can’t help but be selfish. You can only find a person guilty if you believe so “beyond reasonable doubt”. You objectively look at the evidence and come to an agreement. However, I sat there thinking: do I think he’s capable of this? Do I think he’s capable of this again? Would I want to meet him in the street? If found innocent, the motorcycle thief would be back in out in Essex, back into this rivalry, and the cycle of violence would continue; that’s not a good enough reason to put him away. I can’t give a guilty verdict because I don’t like his smug attitude, neck tattoos or the arrogant attitude of his barrister who spend more time discrediting the victim’s father rather than prove him to be innocent. But I was selfish, I didn’t like him, I thought he was capable. He could and thus did do it. A hung jury led to the case being dismissed.
The American case was one of the most brutal crimes the State of Georgia had seen. There was little evidence and that was poorly collected. The defensive criticised the way the investigation was handled, putting doubt in my mind. The prosecution arrested Guy Heinze Jr with blood soiled undergarments and he has no alibi. Again, as I imagined myself as a member of that jury, I asked myself: do I think he’s capable of this? Do I think he’s capable of this again? Would I want to meet him in the street? I did think he was capable and I wouldn’t feel safe at all if he was acquitted and was back on my streets. Thankfully it wasn’t my decision, and the death plenty was dismissed during deliberation. The jury did not know this when they delivered their verdict, but a unanimous decision was made. Guilty. You couldn’t ignore the smoking gun of the blood stained undergarments. Even if you walked in to discover this horror, you wouldn’t get blood there. Twelve people may be a fair representation of your peers and as a collective we come to smart conclusions through talking and arguing. Yet, we are selfish creatures too. We can’t help but think how this will affect us.