It's Never Easy
New - 22 September 2008
We the Jury, a novel:
It's Never Easy
In the main courtroom of the Sessions House, the Lord Mayor was glowering at the jury, as the foreman took his seat once again. Despite the rough benches and their bedraggled appearance, some of the jurors were sitting up straight, ready to be counted -- even though several of the others look like death warmed over. ‘No matter,’ Starling thought. ‘This was mutiny, insurrection… regicide, for God’s sake!’
“Your refusal,” Starling began, between clinched teeth, “to honor this Court’s instructions, your procrastination to deliver a verdict, your direct affront to the Crown of England, will not be tolerated. Bailiff! You will lock the jury in their room until they see reason. There will be no food, no water, not so much as even a chamber pot! Then we will see who makes law in this Court!”
Howell, uncharacteristically, stood and suggested, “Your Honor, with all due respect and honor, may I remind you: There are basic...”
“Yes, yes,” Starling relented, “I’m well aware of such things. As a concession to Lord Howell’s conscience, I will convene this Court again tomorrow morning, on a Sunday… in the interests of the health of the jurors. Bailiff, take then away!”
Starling rose abruptly and exited the court, followed by Robinson, who as always had to struggle to keep up. The jurors slowly rose and begin to file out under the leadership of the Bailiff.
Life in Denver was better. They had flush toilets.
“As some of you know,” Katrina was saying, “I am something of a NASA reject. I am also aware of the science that Matson was basing his theories on. The defendants’ science may in fact be valid.”
“If that’s the case,” Jack noted, “then NASA being an agency of the Department of Defense may very well have decided that Pence and Matson were skirting about Top Secret matters, and that therefore…”
Veer threw up his hands again (albeit this time figuratively only). “Are you kidding me? You’re relying on some off-the-wall conspiracy theory involving the federal government?”
“The federal government is a conspiracy… by definition,” Charlie noted, a mischievous grin on his face. “Everyone knows that. It’s the old saying: ‘I love my country, but I fear my government.’ Don’t you read bumper stickers?”
Edward momentarily put his hand on Charlie’s shoulders, as a confirmation of Charlie's point. Then Edward returned to a slightly more relevant point.
“One of the things that should concern us is the wholly inadequate defense. If the defense attorney had not spoken about jury rights in his summation, I would have thought him to be bought and paid for by the prosecution.”
“I picked up on that too,” Charlie noted.
It was Lin Sue’s time to look skeptical. “You’re suggesting to us that this whole court case is one giant conspiracy?”
Charlie seemed okay with the idea. “Why not? They’ve got an angry mob out there, primed for a lynching. The judge, the attorneys, the authorities... they’re politicians. They wouldn’t think twice about throwing a couple of innocent kids to the wolves.”
“Wait a minute,” Katrina challenged, “You can’t decide the defendants are innocent, and then ignore the fact that a whole lot of people died in an explosion!”
Edward shook his head, even while looking intently at Katrina. “That is something we don’t know. In fact, it’s something we may never know.”
“That’s enough! This is total madness!” Veer seemed to be attempting to wash his hands of the whole lot of his fellow jurors.
“You got that right.”
When Veer suddenly looked as if he might have found an unexpected ally in Charlie, the latter added, “But I suspect we’re talking about the jailers instead of the detainees.”
Edward then began to present his case. “There was a wholly inadequate defense, the judge summarily dismissed any and all theories of anyone else possibly being responsible for the crime, and there was a total lack of evidence which showed the experiment could have caused the explosions.”
Then Katrina, addressing herself directly to Edward, added, “There is also the ‘burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.’”
Veer suddenly looked as if he had just remembered something… like, for example, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Yeah… there was that!
The jurors were all lounging about the mini-lounge at the hotel. Initially, there was essentially no conversation, as everyone now felt faintly distant from each other. Each and every person looked exhausted, several of them with their hands over their eyes. Brightman began looking around at each other person, and then with a slight smile, sat up and leaned forward.
“Ever since I was a boy, my hero has always been George Washington. I was named after him, you know. George is my middle name.”
Veer could obviously care less. “Really?”
“Oh, yes,” Brightman replied, choosing not to pick up on Veer’s sarcasm. “I consider it a great honor. People respected Washington. Still do. Of course, most people think they know all about him. But they really don’t. Did any of you know he was “bullet-proof”?”
Even Duke could be skeptical. “What are you talking about?”
Brightman smiled. “When George Washington was a young officer in the British Army, under a commander named Braddock, they were caught in an Indian ambush. Washington had advised Braddock before the battle to use Indians as scouts, but the General had arrogantly refused. As a consequence, the British suffered one of their bloodiest and most humiliating defeats. But there was no disgrace for Washington. His perception, fearlessness, and quick decisions in the heat of battle were praised in the strongest terms by his fellow officers and soldiers.”
“What does that have to do with his being bullet-proof?”
“Later on,” Brightman answered, “One of the Indian warriors, a leader in the Indian’s victorious battle, told others that he’d had a clean shot at Washington with his rifle no less than seventeen times, and had failed to bring him down. Another Indian named Red Hawk later told the French he had personally shot eleven times at Washington, without killing or wounding him. A third chief had ordered his braves to shoot Washington, and all of then had failed.”
Veer was intrigued but confused. “And your point?”
“The Indians became convinced that Washington was protected by The Great Spirit, that his destiny was guided by the heavens, and because of this, it must be understood that one does not arbitrarily toy with such destinies. I think maybe we’ve encountered our destinies as well, and probably need some guidance right now for ourselves.”
Everyone was silent as they thought about the possibilities. It was Veer who finally voiced their consensus. “You may be right.”
Lin Sue almost laughed. “The way things are going, maybe what we really need is to be bullet-proof ourselves.”
Lola finally spoke up. “Oh, I don’t think I can be that.”
Veer gallantly admitted, “But your point’s well taken, George.”
“Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” Brightman added.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Duke was suddenly on the defense.
“Within the spirit of the Lord there is truth,” Brightman explained. “That’s what we’re striving for, isn’t it?”
Charlie smiled. "The truth, eh? You mean as in Sophia, the goddess of wisdom?”
Brightman shook his head. “No.”
Veer then added his own philosophy. “More like recovering from our fall.”
Lin Sue laughed. “Now, what are you talking about?”
“Lucifer’s rebellion,” Veer replied as if the answer was obvious.
“What?” Jack was incredulous.
Veer explained. “The angels who followed Lucifer had been duped by the Prince of Darkness. They were misled, conned, deceived, or whatever you want to call it. And they paid dearly for it. They are in fact still paying for it, and they will continue to pay for it forever. Anyone should be very careful which leaders they follow. ”
“Those angels you’re talking about,” Edward asked, “as well as those who didn’t choose to follow Lucifer -- they were all making their own choice, weren’t they? It’s the same as when we’re making our choices. It’s their… and our… God-given right to exercise our free will, to follow our conscience. Without doing so, we have nothing.”
“But such choices also require knowing all of the facts.”
Edward looked at Veer. “Does that include, for example, considering all of the possibilities?”
Veer knew a sandbag when he saw it. His answer, accordingly, spanned from that evening in the hotel to the following morning in the jury room.
“No. Not at all!” Veer was very clear on this point. “The answer is that we can’t know all of the facts. We don’t have God’s omniscience in this matter. We can’t presume to judge on whatever whim flits across our minds. Has it occurred to anyone that the angels who followed Lucifer, may not have been exactly clued in by the Prince of Darkness as to what they were getting into when they descended with him? Does it occur to you now in this jury room, that unwary jurors might find that if they follow the wrong leader, just exactly what might happen? I would suggest that anybody who chooses to go against the court, to go against the law-enforcement authorities, to go against the public welfare, society at large, and public opinion...”
“Public opinion? Do you mean mob rule?” Edward stared at him.
“Call it whatever you like,” Veer replied, feeling his back against the wall. “But when you make a choice that pits you against everyone else, when you ignore the consensus, when you ignore the victims and their families, well, you might want to think about that first. You just might want to think again before joining Lucifer in his rebellion.”
Edward smiled. “Do you know what the word, Lucifer means?” When there was no immediate answer, he said, “It means, Light Bringer.”
Veer frowned. “And your point?”
“It means,” Edward answered, “That the fallen angels are followers of the Bringer of Light, not the Prince of Darkness.”
Veer shook his head. This was almost too much... for him.
After several moments of silence, with everyone not really wanting to talk about it any more, Veer finally tried another tact. “Perhaps, we should take a vote.” When the suggestion seemed reasonable and no one had objected, Veer described the vote in more detail: “All those in favor of bucking the system, who want to ignore the people out on the steps of this Courthouse, all those who want to acquit the defendants with a “not guilty” verdict. Raise your hands.”
At first there was no movement; this was not precisely what anyone else had expected. Then, a comparatively calm Edward stared back at Veer, and with a definitive movement raised his hand. Jack and Charlie followed suit, followed by Duke and Thena. Katrina and Lin Sue were almost smiling as they raised their hands as well. Olivia, looking pale and swallowing hard, slowly raised her hand. Henley looked at Brightman, before raising his hand. Brightman turned to look at Veer, whose expression had become one of stunned amazement. Brightman then looked back at Edward, and slowly raised his hand, even as he coughed uncomfortably. Veer turned beat red, as several of the others turned to Lola. The woman’s eyes widened as she looked around at the raised hands.
“Oh,” she exclaimed. “Are we voting not guilty now?”
She quickly raised her hand, lest she be thought less of. Veer could only glower at the others, his arms pressing against the table before him. Then his personal dam broke.
“This is madness! Those bastards are guilty!”
“Obviously,” Jack noted, “We don’t agree. Or else we simply have a reasonable doubt.”
“Don’t you people get it?” Veer was now irate. “If we acquit these two, then guess what? No one will ever be convicted! No one will ever be punished. In any subsequent trial of another accused, the jury has to figure the prosecution was wrong the first time, and therefore, that’s reasonable doubt in and of itself! Any second attempt to try someone is even more likely to be wrong. This is true even if we become a hung jury... a hung jury in itself creates future reasonable doubt.
"You people have to realize that if we acquit Pence and Matson, it’s tantamount to never finding anyone guilty for the most heinous crime in this State’s history! The guilty parties will never be brought to justice! The victims, for God’s sake, will never find resolution or be left in peace!”
Everyone was momentarily hushed by Veer’s emotional appeal. Lin Sue looked at Brightman and Henley, who suddenly seem unsure of themselves.
“In one of my journalism classes,” she began, “I read about a poll taken in New York State. Out of one hundred homicides, there were 20 indictments and 15 convictions. There are a lot of victims not being left in peace.”
Jack was amazed. “That’s an incredible statistic.”
“I don’t think,” Charlie said, “That we’re responsible for bringing people to justice. We’re here to determine the guilt or innocence of two men.”
Veer stood up, folding his arms in defense. “I say they’re guilty. I’ll hang this jury before I tell the judge those bastards are innocent!”
"But wont' that create... 'future reasonable doubt'?"
"Go to hell," was Veer's succinct reply. But he couldn't leave well enough alone. "There are punishments for not voting guilty. You're all about to understand that!"
Veer was standing as Foreman, looking directly at the Lord Mayor. There was no hint of what was in the foreman’s mind… other than perhaps a burning desire to escape the jury room’s uniquely styled custom prison and torture chamber. Slowly, the Clerk of the Court stood to ask the fateful question. He first looked to Starling, but the Lord Mayor did not seem inclined to bother with ordering the Clerk to do his duty. The Clerk then took a deep breath.
“How does the jury find for the defendant, William Mead?”
Veer took a breath and in measured steps answered, “Not guilty of the indictment.”
“For the defendant, William Penn?”
Veer took another breath. “Guilty… of speaking in Gracechurch Street.”
Starling could not believe it. “What?”
Robinson was just as confused. “There’s no law against speaking! The verdict means nothing.”
The Clerk tried one last hope. “Is that all?”
Veer replied, “That is all I have in my commission.”
Starling was now livid. “You have as good as said nothing! I demand to know why this jury refuses to obey the directive of this Court!”
Edward stood in the jury box and hesitated, waiting for the Lord Mayor to notice him. When Starling finally looked directly at him, Edward took that as license to speak. “This Court has no power in Magna Carta to dictate the jury’s verdict.”
Starling responded to the gauntlet thrown in his face with, “This Court has any power it chooses! To disobey it is to bring disgrace upon the Court as well as upon yourselves!”
“We follow our consciences which is to bring honor to this Court, and we can do no other. If this be not honor, then we charge this Court has no honor.”
Oooo! The gauntlet was suddenly seen to have spikes all over it.
“Your insolence,” Starling yelled, “is beyond endurance. It is the direct order of this Court that you bring in “guilty” against both prisoners.”
“No, my Lord,” Edward calmly replied. “This the jury will never do, for we will not betray our liberties. We know our rights in Magna Carta.”
Starling scoffed at the very idea. “And those rights will starve you!”
Edward shrugged. “So be it, my Lord. But on this point we will not equivocate. We will never yield our rights as Englishmen.”
The crowd suddenly went wild, cheering and standing, waving their arms, and hugging one another. In the bedlam, the Lord Mayor did nothing to quiet the crowd; instead staring at Edward and the other jurors. Finally…
“Bumbleheads! Take them away!”
Edward was sitting at the juror’s table in Denver describing the history of the Penn and Mead trial, while the others listened intently.
“London’s Old Bailey had gone wild. The spectators continued to cheer long after the jury had been returned to their jails. Never had an English Court of Law been so successfully put down. Never had the entire government been so effectively overpowered by a handful of conscientious commoners – or, as the Lord Mayor described them: Bumbleheads. That night the twelve spent a fitful time on the floor of the barren jury room. They received only limited rations from the sympathetic public, who had been sending packages in through the windows until the soldiers drove them away. That jury had acquitted the defendants because they believed every man and woman had a right to worship God according to their own conscience. More importantly, they had defied the Court in the interest of justice. They had defied the King and the Conventicle Act. They had determined among themselves to sit until death on that principle. Yield now and their families and all of England would be enslaved. No one but the jurors stood between religious liberty and thought control.”
Edward paused as the others continued to look at him, including a stoic Veer. Then he added:
“We cannot accept the verdict of authorities for our decisions. We must search for the truth, and in the end, if necessary, ignore the law, the courts, the media, even the crowds in favor of a lynching. Just because a man is accused, it does not make him guilty. And while acquitting a man may indeed make the real perpetrator less likely to be convicted, it is not a reason to convict an innocent man, or to capitulate to mind control.”
The jurors filed in, looking bedraggled, aching, and filth-ridden. The Lord Mayor was scowling, but silent. The Clerk stood to address the Foreman, who had not yet sat down. But seeing the Lord Mayor hold up his hand, the Clerk hesitated.
Starling asked, without waiting for the clerk, “Your verdict?”
Veer said evenly, “For the defendant Penn, guilty of speaking in Gracechurch Street. For the defendant Mead, not guilty of the indictment.”
Starling ordered, “Bailiff, lock them up… no food or contact with the outside. This Court will convene tomorrow morning.”
The exhausted jurors sat at the table or leaned against the walls.
“There is a higher law,” Charlie suggested.
From an open window, a voice yelled, “God bless ye!”
A second voice said, “We will not forget what ye have done!”
Jack shook his head. “I wish I could believe that.” Jack’s statement was said with such conviction that several of the others looked at him, wondering.
That morning, the juror’s bus approached the Courthouse. Signs and placards were everywhere, all exhorting the jury to convict and execute the defendants. One might even have assumed that the exhortations included the jury operating the death mechanism: gas chamber, electric chair guillotine themselves.
The screams directed toward the bus included several variations.
“What’s taking so long? What are you doing?”
“Please! We’re in pain. Convict them!”
“They killed my children!! Kill them!”
In the jury room the jurors sat quietly as they handed their ballots to Veer. From an open window, the noise of the crowd could still be heard.
“It’s time! No more waiting! They have to be punished!”
Veer silently took the ballots and began looking at them one by one, before placing each in turn onto the table in a single, neat pile. As he finished, Thena began looking at each ballot in turn, transferring them one by one into a second pile. As Thena looked at him in apparent agreement, Veer stood up and walked to the door. After a brief knock, the Bailiff opened the door.
Veer said quietly, “Tell the judge we have a verdict.”
The jurors were sitting on the benches, weakened, urine-stained, and barely able to sit up straight. The Lord Mayor entered, followed by Robinson. Everyone in the courtroom, save the jury, rose to their feet. Starling sat down and looked at the Clerk. Without a word, the Clerk turned and faced the jury.
“For the defendant, William Mead, how do you find?”
Veer slowly got to his feet and, barely able to stand, hesitated for several seconds. Then he said, “Not guilty.”
“For the defendant, William Penn, how do you find?”
There was dead silence in the courtroom. Lord Howell looked to the judge, who was staring at the jury, his rage mounting. The Lord Mayor looked at each juror individually, before speaking.
“Each juror will now stand in turn and take responsibility for this outrage.”
Plumstead, who had been sitting next to Veer, struggled to his feet.
Then Olivia, in Denver, said, “Not guilty.”
Damask in London said, “Not guilty.”
Thena in Denver said, “Not guilty.”
Duke in London said, “Not guilty.”
Lola in Denver (or so it was assumed) said, “Not guilty?”
Brightman in London said, “Not guilty.”
Henley in Denver said, “Not guilty.”
Jack in London said, “Not guilty.”
Lin Sue in Denver said, “Not guilty.”
Charlie in London said, “Not guilty.”
Katrina in Denver said, “Not guilty.”
Edward in London said, “Not guilty.”
There was a long silence.
The Lord Mayor’s expression was one of semi-controlled rage.
“So be it! You have condemned yourself. For going against the clear and manifest evidence, each Juror is hereby fined forty marks.”
Several of the jurors blanched at the sum – a year’s wage to many of them -- and turned to look beseechingly at each other. Edward looked more curious than concerned, as he stared back at the judge.
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