When I was on jury duty in Brooklyn, the case was slightly complicated. The defendant was accused of breaking into an apartment in Crown Heights, strangling a woman whom he knew from church in Park Slope, attempting to rape her, slashing her face and hand with a knife before she escaped from her apartment naked via the window, taking shelter in a nearby bodega.
One of our jury members was a slight 56-year-old woman who was living in Bay Ridge wither her mother, and claimed she was an actress. I doubted the actress part, as she didn’t fit the norm. Her dialect was Brooklyn strong and she was very awkward.
Once we started deliberating, we quickly found the older actress did not understand reasonable doubt and deliberation stretched into multiple days because of this misunderstanding. The rest of the jury understood that this man was guilty on some counts, but not guilty on others such as attempted rape as there was not enough evidence to prove it. The aging actress kept saying, “Well I understand reasonable doubt, but I have a feeling he tried to rape her, even though there is no evidence of it.”
After two days this woman was still standing strong in her feelings and she broke down in tears for 30 minutes because of the pressure. Through her tears she said she could not in her good conscience say not guilty on any of the counts even though there was reasonable doubt. “I have a feeling he meant to do all of those things, I can’t let that go. We have to say guilty on all 5 counts. They didn’t prove he was guilty, but I feel he is!”
I finally said, “I have a feeling he did all of those things too, but did the prosecution prove it beyond a reasonable doubt? No! There are a lot of unanswered questions here, and it’s not cut and dry. We can’t say he is guilty because we feel he is guilty, we have to say it say it because there is NO DOUBT that he is guilty.”
When I finished, others chimed in as well adding to the conversation and the aging actress finally came around. It was hard to tell this crying woman that she was wrong, but we had to or else it wouldn’t have been a fair trial.
We finally made a united decision, and went out to the courtroom to read our verdict. He was guilty on 3 out of 5 counts. That trial was a hard one, and I remember after it was all over and I broke down into tears. It’s a hard task to decide someone’s fate, but we did it fairly and that brought me solace.
6 months later I was on the subway and I saw the aging actress woman from the jury sitting across from me memorizing lines from a script. I guess she had been an actress after all. There was no reason to conjure up those 5 days at Kings County Court as they were painful, so I didn’t say hello. I just let her ride in peace.