And Justice for All

16 11 2009

Last Tuesday, November 10, John Allen Muhammad, the DC Sniper, died by lethal injection.  The death sentence was carried out seven years after he killed at least ten people, terrorizing the population in the DC area during October, 2002.

Tomorrow, on Tuesday, November 17, I am scheduled for jury duty in  Fairfax Circuit Court.

These two occurrences happening a week apart has me thinking about the last time I was called for jury duty.  In 2003 Jay Lentz was charged with kidnapping and killing his ex-wife, who disappeared in 1996.  The prosecution claimed he lured her to his home under the false pretense of picking up their four-year-old daughter, killed her, disposed of her body, and left her car in a seedy part of the District, suggesting foul play at the hands of a stranger.

No body or murder weapon was ever found.

(There are loads of additional details supporting both sides.  It’s quite a story.)

The trial, in which the prosecution intended to seek the death penalty, was held in Alexandria Federal Court.  I was part of a large jury pool.  The first day that we reported we got lots of instructions and filled out  lengthy questionnaires.  The second day we were called in the court room one at a time and questioned by various attorneys.

I gave a rather convoluted and disorganized description of my views on the death penalty.  The prosecution probably had the feeling it would be pretty hard to get me to vote in favor of capital punishment.

My husband works in law enforcement, so the defense probably saw me as a law and order sort of a person, not likely to be lenient.

So I have no idea who punted me from the pool.

The trial grabbed headlines more than once.  After days of testimony and an almost hung jury, the jury convicted Lentz.  But the judge overturned the decision, saying it was unjustified based on the evidence presented and the requirements of the judicial code.  (I didn’t even know that could happen.)

While the fury was still raging over that brouhaha, the bombshell dropped that a piece of disallowed evidence had been found in the jury room, a day planner in which the victim had made notes about threatening phone calls, references to attempts at a restraining order, a domestic violence hotline telephone number.

The judge suggested that an attorney for the prosecution had planted the evidence.

That charge was not upheld, but a mistrial was declared and a second trial took place in Richmond.  Lentz was found guilty and is now serving a life sentence.

So he went from guilty, to acquitted, to mistrial, to retrial, back to guilty and finally life in prison.  As far as I know, he maintains his innocence to this day.

I love black and white, hate the uncertainty of those gray areas.

Hopefully when I report to the courthouse tomorrow I’ll be faced with something a little more mundane, maybe violation of a neighborhood sound ordinance or an illegally parked vehicle.

(Incidentally, in the midst of the long periods of waiting during the earlier jury duty, I happened to have for reading material The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, about the Soviet Union’s forced labor and concentration camp system.  Now there’s a prison system you would have wanted to avoid at all costs.)

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