New - 22 September 2008
We the Jury, a novel:
The jury holding room of the Old Bailey was a cramped, shell of a building, filled to over flowing with twelve jurors. There were no facilities except two small chamber pots and a small table with rotting bread. The jury members had entered already faint of heart and had begun lounging about, most sitting on low workmen benches and leaning against a wall. Jack and Edward had found themselves sitting next to each other with Charlie nearby. Charlie had been winding a small piece of leather around his fingers. Then he had surveyed the surrounding room.
“So what exactly was it that we did to deserve this royal treatment?”
Jack said, with extra emphasis, “Wrong place, wrong time, I suppose.”
Edward suddenly brightened. “Or possibly… just the opposite.”
“What do you mean?”
“Perhaps we’re in the right place and at rather precisely the right time.”
Jack shook his head. “I think you’ve lost us.”
Edward smiled. “Ever hear of Horatio and the defense of Rome?”
“Yeah, but I don’t remember any details. I suppose I’ve been too busy trying to make a living.”
“It’s a fascinating tale,” Edward began, “It happened in the late Sixth Century, B. C.”
Etruscan soldiers, carrying short swords at the ready in one hand and small round parrying shields in the other, swarmed over the hill. The shields, each with a spike in the middle, were already scarred and smoked by the fighting thus far, while their swords often showed varying traces of dried and drying blood. Fires and devastation laid in their wake, while overturned carts and scrambling citizenry ran before them. A small, clearly outnumbered group of Romans soldiers had meanwhile congregated near the Sublican Bridge, where they seem to be conferring. Edward was narrating the scene.
“A hostile group of Etruscan soldiers were approaching the Tiber River and thence the Sublican Bridge which led to the heart of Rome. Behind the advancing phalanx were Lars Porsena and the entire Etruscan army. Once the Etruscans crossed the bridge, Rome would be theirs.”
Three Romans (for our purposes: Edward, Jack and Charlie) detached themselves from the others, and moved toward the center of the bridge. A fourth Roman (who we will identify as John Hammond) ran with an axe to begin hacking at the bridge supports.
“The Romans needed time to cut down the bridge. Unless the Etruscans could be stopped before they crossed this prime avenue into the city, Rome would be lost. The Roman army needed volunteers.”
Etruscan soldiers ran toward the bridge as rapidly as they could, already knowing of the bridge’s importance. Fortunately for Horatio and our heroes, the narrow bridge would only allow two or three men to cross abreast at one time.
The Etruscans nevertheless launched themselves at the three Roman soldiers on the bridge and the fighting ensued. As one after another Etruscan faltered and/or fell, the three Romans took on the next one in line. Horatio, it had been reliably reported, led the other two as they parried and switched positions. Both Horatio’s companions received serious wounds, but they continued to fight. Then the Etruscans, the ones who had not fallen off the bridge after being wounded or killed, began to pile up.
“Leap into the Tiber and swim to safety,” Horatio ordered.
One of the Roman soldiers took one last slash at an Etruscan (sending him reeling off the bridge), and then turned and leapt feet first into the river in the direction of the Romans along the riverbank. The other hesitated, slashing and wounding another Etruscan.
The second Roman turned and leapt from the bridge. Horatio continued to fight, the Etruscans stumbling over themselves – and particularly their fallen comrades – in order to get to him. The big guy with the axe continued to hack away at the bridge, until suddenly it shuddered and began to give way to the river’s current. Horatio and the Etruscans still standing were thrown into river, as the bridge collapsed. The ax-man of the group, sweating heavily, looked up to see the others making their way to shore, with Roman Soldiers rushing to greet them at the river’s edge. Then he saw Horatio making his way to shore as well. The Etruscans, those still above water, were swimming to the other side.
“One man, single handedly… albeit with a little help from his closest friends… had for a time, stopped the entire Etruscan army dead in its tracks. There had been three Romans to hold the bridge against the siege, and then one. Together they had stopped the onslaught, had kept the attackers at bay, while one strong man chopped it down.”
Edward looked at the intense, curious and smiling expressions of Jack and Charlie. He also noticed John Hammond, who has been covertly listening to the story and leaning in their direction, his ears pricked. Edward smiled at John, and then at the other two men still looking mesmerized.
“Sometimes,” Edward confided, “That’s all it takes.”
Jack, a slight smile on his face, took a long appraising look at Edward.
Inside the Denver jury room, the jurors were taking their chairs, just as the Bailiff was closing the door. This was followed by an audible click, one that Jack and several others took notice of immediately.
“No matter how many times I hear that door being locked, I never quite get used to it. It sounds so final. Like are we going to be allowed out again?”
Lin Sue shook her head, gamely trying to smile. “Maybe, it’s for our protection.” She seemed committed to finding a silver lining.
George Brightman found it. “Just as long as we don’t have to go past the demonstrators again. Man, they make me nervous.”
“You mean, running the gauntlet of public opinion again?”
Several of the jurors smiled grimly at Charlie Milson’s remark. Glancing around the table they turned to Veer, who was standing ramrod straight in front of his chair at the head of the table. Veer obviously had something to say.
“I think it might facilitate things if we took an initial vote, sort of get the layout of the land. We might be able to save a lot of time that way.”
When no one objected, Veer continued. “Fine. Then could we see the hands of those who believe they are ready to render a guilty verdict?”
Veer held his own hand up, with Brightman, Henley and then Lola joining him. Duke then began to raise his hand, but noticed Edward, Jack and Charlie forming a line of defense, sitting very still and stoically watching the proceedings. In his mind’s eye, Duke could see Edward in an Horatio uniform, along with Jack and Charlie as Roman soldiers starting to walk out onto the bridge, ready to defend it against the Etruscans. Duke’s hand came down. Veer, with a sober expression, looked at Duke… while Duke basically ignored him.
Veer then asked, “Those of you who are voting not guilty?”
Edward’s hand went up immediately. Jack and Charlie, with smiles on their face, raised their hands as well. Veer appeared surprised, his eyes doing a Rabid Eye Movement imitation. But he asked the last question.
“All those undecided?”
Lin Sue, Katrina, Thena, and Olivia then raised their hands. Duke, after a moment’s thought, joined them, a fact of which Veer took particular note. Lola, bewildered, looked around the room.
“Weren’t we supposed to vote guilty? I mean, why else would they have put those two young men on trial if they weren't guilty?”
Veer shrugged his shoulders and sat down.
Henley sighed. “Oh, man! There goes my Sunday golf!”
“All in a good cause,” Edward suggested, with a slight smile.
Henley guffawed just enough to avoid appearing uncivil. “What I want to know is why do they call this, ‘the jury retiring’? It’s not my idea of retiring. More like work, if you ask me.”
The other jurors looked at each other, some with surprise, some smiling slightly, others with curiosity, and some simply frustrated. Lola was, for the most part, simply confused. But she was certain that some nice person would come soon and tell her what to do. Curiously enough, she was probably right, and had in fact gone thought life on such an overriding assumption of how the universe worked.
Time marches on, even during jury deliberations. Of course, in another time and space, the courtroom itself was still partially filled – a few had to get away from the press of flesh if only for a moment; they could always rush back in time to hear the verdict. The justices were of course absent, and were in fact having a glass of wine. The defendants were also absent, but were not having wine; they clearly had not contacted special services prior to making reservations with the court. Meanwhile, the Clerk of the Court was looking at his timepiece, and then at Lord Howell, who was still sitting at the prosecution’s table, visibly frowning. Devon Sophing leaned forward toward Howell, gently tapping him on the back.
“What’s wrong? They’ve been gone for almost half an hour.”
Howell shook his head in disgust. Barely turning his head, he answered Sophing’s question. “Not to worry. There are occasionally those who don’t initially understand their duty.”
Later, when the clerk again consulted his timepiece, his face registered surprise. He began to walk over to where Lord Howell was sitting, the latter now in a semi-controlled rage. The clerk would have conferred with Howell, when Starling’s voice was heard from behind the closed door to his chambers.
“What? What do you mean, they haven’t returned? Then see that they do! And without further delay!”
The Bailiff scurried out of the Lord Mayor’s chambers, headed across the room, and out the door to the jury room. Howell leaned back, smiling confidently. He turned to glance at Sophing, allowing the Member of Parliament to smile and sit back in his seat, his confidence now reassured.
“I had assumed we were of the same mind,” Veer said quietly.
Veer looked at Charlie. “Simply put: a guilty verdict.”
“Gee, I hope you’re not too disappointed.”
Lin Sue looked at Charlie, and asked point blank, “Are you thinking they’re not guilty, or do you just need more time for consideration?”
Charlie looked at her and decided a civil question deserved a civil answer. “I’m just trying to find the crime they committed.”
Veer was aghast. “What in the world does that mean? They admitted on the stand that they broke the law – that they failed to obtain a licenses from the Secretary of Transportation, that they had no liability insurance... They flat broke the law! That’s not even an issue.”
“It is if we disagree with the laws,” Edward quietly added.
“Are you kidding?” Veer was genuinely amazed. “The judge was very clear about this. Our job… our only job… is to find the defendants guilty or not guilty. We don’t make law here in this jury room.”
“On the contrary,” Edward replied, “that’s exactly the purpose of juries: to refuse to countenance any bad laws. The founding fathers, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and all the others; they gave us a Republic, not a democracy. And in a Republic, any jury can acquit anyone of any so-called crime if the jury thinks the law is wrong. This is what makes us a Republic. It’s called jury nullification.”
Suspiciously, Veer asked, “Are you a lawyer?”
“I am not an attorney, or licensed before the bar. I don’t have to be. But I know the law. I believe in the Republic and in the Constitution for the United States. I’m a citizen with responsibilities.”
“And you’re telling us that as a jury, we can decide which laws to enforce and which ones to ignore?
Edward smiled. “You’ve got it exactly.”
“And you’re crazy as a loon.”
“No,” Edward replied. “I’m an independent individual who believes in Liberty, and who will not submit to a tyrannical majority rule.”
Veer shook his head disbelievingly. “This is total madness.”
“Maybe so,” Charlie observed, “But it does have a lot of appeal.” Then he added, with a smirk, “Pardon the pun.”
Perhaps the appeal Charlie spoke of was only in the eyes of the beholder… or at the Federal Court of Appeals… whichever. In the Lord Mayor’s case, it didn’t quite alight in the same way. The result was instead that Starling came storming into the courtroom… followed by Robinson… as the courtroom hurried to stand up. The Bailiff was standing nervously before the bench. The jury box had eight members sitting on the hard benches. The eight who are present included: Veer, Plumstead, Hammond, Michel, Damask, Edward, Jack, and Charles. Missing were Henley, Walklet, Brightman, and Leaver. The judge did a quick count of the jurors, and quickly angered.
“This is only eight! Where are the others?”
“They have asked to be excused, your honor.”
“Nonsense! The Bailiff will draw forth the other four!”
As the Bailiff scurried off to collect his other four strays, the Lord Mayor began to look at the eight jurors. All except Edward were stoic and vaguely nervous. Within seconds the other four came into the courtroom. Henley was trembling, Walklet ashen white in complexion, Brightman sweating profusely, and Leaver almost crying.
“I will now have your verdict,” Starling declared.
Veer very slowly stood, while at the same time tried vainly to clear his throat. Then he straightened slightly.
“We have no verdict, your honor.”
Starling and Robinson were incredulous, while the courtroom was hushed.
Robinson finally voiced it. “What? This is ridiculous.”
Starling was taking the moment to study the jury. Then he began to draw on his considerable experience at imposing his authority on others.
“No verdict? Does this jury intend to defy the authority of the King, of Parliament, of this venal Court?
Howell then voiced the obvious. “Your Honor, there can be no convictions without the jury acceding.”
“I know that! Sit down!” The Lord Mayor turned to the real issue. “This jury will return to deliberations. I will give you one half hour before you feel the fury of this Court’s wrath!”
Starling rose in a huff and exited, Robinson quickly following. The Bailiff was already herding the jurors toward their home away from home.
Olivia was sitting at the table in the jury room in Denver with every one else, other than Henry Henley who was on his feet and leaning against a wall. Olivia was looking at each person in the room, when she said, “But even assuming we don’t have to find the defendants guilty on the basis of their having broken some law we don’t agree with, we still have to make a decision as to whether or not their work resulted in the death of all those people.”
“Good point,” Brightman admitted. “What about the video tapes?”
Katrina frowned. “Which may include sections of older tapes spliced into this one for effect. Remember what Henry Michel said.”
“But Henry’s not here.”
Jack asked, “Have you stopped to ask yourself why he’s not here?”
Veer held up his hand. “Let’s stay focused, shall we? Katrina has asked a question concerning the videotapes.”
Charlie turned to address Veer directly. “The relevant point is that videotapes and photos can be made to show anything. The only thing that counts is the credibility of the photographers, the processors, and anyone else who contributes to what we’ve just seen. These people we did not hear from!”
“Wait a minute,” Lin Sue replied, “If Katrina is right, then the videos may show us something that the prosecution probably did not intend. We may want to review them again. If they were made up to appear...”
Brightman interrupted, “We’re not starting that conspiracy discussion again, are we?” He frowned and turned away to add an exclamation point.
Duke was still uncertain. “You don’t think the possibility of this whole disaster being intentionally done for some anal-retentive reason by the military or NASA or whoever… is really a possibility?”
Veer was now on his feet. “Excuse me, folks! The judge has made it abundantly clear that we are not to discuss any alternative theories.”
Lin Sue shrugged. “It was brought up in court.”
“Illegally,” Veer countered. “The judge overruled it, and struck it from the record.”
Jack, smiling broadly, asked, “Are you a lawyer, Veer?"
“Does he have to be?”
Jack looked at Lin Sue, before answering. “I’m simply saying we have the responsibility to consider all of the evidence -- not just what the judge deems is relevant or not. We even have to consider the possibility that the entire thing may have been caused by UFOs, alien batting practice, or whatever. We may want to dismiss some of the latter ideas, but we still have to use our own discernment.”
“That,” Veer quickly interjected, “is a direct violation of the judge’s orders. And in case you haven’t noticed, people who ignore rulings from the bench tend to find themselves in very hot water.”
“But isn’t justice the key? Not blindly following the letter of the law?”
“The key is to do what you’re told!” Veer returned Katrina’s questioning look with a look of unchallenged authority.
Edward then quietly added, “Actually, the issue is jury nullification.”
Veer threw up his hands. “Not that crap again!”
“The room became quiet while several looked at Edward as he casually looked back at each of them in turn. Then Duke leaned forward.
“Are you suggesting we return a “not guilty” verdict? That’s a lot different from being undecided.”
“No,” Edward replied. “I am suggesting that we have the legal right and the responsibility, if necessary, to ignore Court ordered directives in our attempt to uphold justice.”
“Hold on a minute,” Henley said, from his stance along the windowless wall. “This is getting entirely out of hand. Are you seriously suggesting returning a not guilty verdict? Do you want to go outside to that crowd and tell them we’re letting the accused go free?”
“I’m saying we’re here to uphold justice. Everything else is irrelevant.”
Henley looked at Edward as if the latter was insane. But just to make his point clear, Henley asked, “An angry mob is irrelevant?”
Veer’s comment on Edward's stance was simply, “I think you’re naive in the extreme.” With that pronouncement, Veer stared at Edward, while Charlie glanced back and forth between the two.
“I’d like to take a ballot.”
“Not at this point,” Veer declared.
“Says who?” Duke’s physical size suggested that who was saying what was not always a matter of some preconceived logic… not to Duke at any rate.
“You’re right, of course,” Veer admitted. “Okay… everyone in favor of returning a guilty verdict, raise your right hand.”
Veer kept his hand up, and was joined by Henley, Lola, Walklet, Brightman, and Olivia.
“Those for not guilty?”
Edward, Thena, Jack, Lin Sue, and Charlie raised their hands. Duke, looking at Edward, Charlie, and Jack, smiled slightly, and raised his hand. Several turned to Katrina, who then slowly raised her hand. There was a heavy sigh in the room.
“Six to six.” Veer sat down with a heavy thud.
“Shit,” Henley said, mostly to himself. “Oh brother! A hung jury!”
Veer took immediate offense. “Not yet it isn’t. Not on my watch! Time to review everything!”
Charlie asked, “What exactly is the point of that?”
“You people don’t get it. We can’t choose which laws we’ll follow!”
Edward confronted Veer directly. “But we can choose the laws we allow to remain on the books. In fact, that’s our job!”
Veer was genuinely shocked. “Our job is to obey the rules!”
Edward leaned forward, addressing everyone in the room. “Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.’ John Adams said with respect to a juror, ‘It is not only his right, but his duty... to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.’ Others have said, ‘Trial by jury is trial by the people. When juries are not allowed to judge law, it becomes trial by government.’ Another said: ‘If a juror accepts as the law that which the judge states, then that juror has accepted the exercise of absolute authority of a governmental employee and has surrendered a power and right that once was the citizen’s safeguard of liberty.’ Can it be any clearer?”
Veer frowned. “You can quote to your heart’s content, but that doesn’t mean anything to us! Do you people have any idea what happens to those who go up against the grain? I’ve been there!”
Lin Sue was now even more interested. “What do you mean?”
Veer looked at her, weighing if he really wanted to talk about it. Then with a heavy frown he relented. “A couple of years ago in some small town here in Colorado, there was a marijuana trial. One of the jurors, some gal named Laura Kriho, and who had once smoked marijuana herself, got it into her head that smoking marijuana was no big deal and voted for acquittal. The jury ended up hung, but then the prosecution decided to go after her! They made up all sorts of accusations against Kriho, things about lying on her juror’s form, that she held a prejudice against drug cases, but hadn’t told the court when she was being questioned for jury duty.
“Had she lied?”
“Who cares? They can still charge you with a crime and make your life hell while you try to defend yourself.”
“Yes,” Edward suddenly asked, “But had she done anything to disqualify herself for jury duty?”
“Not that I know of,” Veer admitted. “But the fact of the matter is that the judge actually said of Kriho that she had ‘the power but not the right to disregard the law. That is not the case here in Colorado.’ Whereupon the prosecution promptly guaranteed in court that her punishment would be no more than six months. This prevented Kriho from asking for a jury trial and thus getting herself acquitted in the same way she had acquitted the original defendants. It was a done deal. And sure as hell, she got six months less a day in jail.”
Edward had leaned back, as Veer finished his tale. When no one else looked as if they were about to speak, Edward asked, “Anyone know the fate of the signers of the Declaration of Independence? Not just the ones who showed up on our various dollar bills…. but the majority of the signers who lost their fortunes, their families, who were killed or seriously wounded in the war? Can we do less than they did for us?”
Veer looked at Edward, appraising the man with rare discernment. "You really do have a death wish, don’t you?” For a moment, Veer sounded almost as if his question was meant as a compliment.
Edward looked at him. “What sort of wish do you have, Michael?”
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]