I Hung the Jury

The trial ended yesterday with no verdict. Eleven jurors voted not guilty, but I voted guilty and refused to change my vote. A mistrial was called.

We heard testimony about and deliberated on not one, not two, but 28 counts of sexual assault. The defendant, a former police officer and then the manager on the island for another state law enforcement agency, was accused of raping his stepdaughter, beginning when she was 14 years old (she’s now 24). According to the victim’s testimony, over a period of approximately four years, he assaulted her two to three times a week. He threatened her with death if she told anyone. She eventually broke down and told a friend and then a relative what was happening, and from there it went to the police, the prosecutor’s office, and the grand jury. The trial was the last stop on a long, difficult road.

The testimony we heard from the complainant was disturbing, to put it in the nicest way possible, and sad, but I found her very credible as well as the other witnesses that spoke for the prosecution. The complainant was consistent, and her distress on the stand as she recounted what had happened to her was obvious. Other witnesses supported her testimony. She wasn’t acting. The defendant and his wife were the only witnesses presented for the defense, and the wife made false statements in her testimony. They didn’t refute anything the victim said – the defendant only said, “I didn’t do it.” I had been eager to hear the testimony from the defense, but in the end it was completely underwhelming. Basically, there seemed to be no defense – just a lot of smoke and mirrors from the attorney (which was his job, I guess).

From the moment we entered the jury room though, the other eleven jurors began to tear apart the victim. They accused her of making it all up. There was no acknowledgement that an act of assault causes trauma, that a victim might not remember every single detail, that a victim might have been terrified. There was no attempt at all to try to understand what it might mean to have been assaulted repeatedly, especially as an adolescent. Not one other juror ever took the time, at least not in the jury room, even for a moment, to imagine how the victim might have felt. Over and over again someone would say it couldn’t have happened because she didn’t tell anyone, or she didn’t run away (she testified that the stepfather had threatened not only her but her siblings with death if she left).  My least favorite comment though was “Where’s the evidence?” like she would have kept mementos from the assaults, some that occurred seven years earlier. One juror seemed to want or expect pictures of her in torn clothes, with blood and semen running down her legs – without those it just didn’t happen. Several of the assault descriptions were judged to be physically “impossible,” like having intercourse standing up in the shower for example (intercourse is too polite a word for what she described in her testimony).

Here are a few things I heard in the jury room:

  • She was in love with her stepfather, and they were having an affair, but when he broke it off she accused him of assault. (This juror stuck with this story until the end. Unbelievable.)
  • She cried on the stand because she had lied and now her lies were coming out.
  • I have a lot of family on this island, and I don’t want to deal with me or any of my family living with the aftermath of [the defendant] being convicted. (It didn’t matter that he had been abusing his stepdaughter for years.)
  • She was jealous of her younger (biological) sister so she made all this up. (This was actually the motive someone offered – sibling rivalry, which caused the victim to falsely accuse her stepdad of assault?)
  • She enjoys being a victim and likes all the attention it brings.
  • His daughter is getting married on Saturday, and if we convict him he won’t be able to walk her down the aisle.

There was more, but I think you get the idea.

They also all believed if he was not guilty of one count, he was therefore not guilty of ALL counts. They were ready to acquit after less than an hour of deliberation.

The judge came and spoke to us before we left the jury room yesterday, and told us there was no problem with not being able to reach a unanimous verdict. She told us that it can be difficult to do so in sexual assault cases, especially one with so many counts. She also told us that there was lots of evidence we didn’t get to see, things that had been preemptively excluded from the trial. I hope that registered in a few people’s heads.

While the trial is over it’s going to take a while for me to get over it. Besides the testimony, besides the deliberations, it was a bitter experience. The other jurors hated me for not agreeing with them, for arguing, for defending my opinion. I was accused of always dominating the conversation – I guess it seems that way to others when you’re the only one arguing for a side. One juror said she wished they could call in the alternate juror (so they could get rid of me) and acquit the defendant on all counts. Another juror asked me at one point, “What can we do to help you see things differently?” I told her I didn’t need any help, thank you, that I  believed the complainant’s testimony, and it was my belief based on that testimony that the defendant was guilty, guilty, guilty (28 times). Only one other juror stood up for me, and reminded the others that I was entitled to my opinion, and that it should be respected.

The whole experience has also caused me to wonder why any women or child bothers to report sexual assault. The journey this young woman took to get to this trial took a long time and was emotionally grueling. She had told her what happened to her seven times before the trial – to a friend, to family members, to the police, to the prosecutor, and to the grand jury – they all believed her. But 11 people on the jury yesterday thought she was a liar and had  fabricated the whole thing. It was ugly and cruel.

I need a couple of days to recover, but I’ll be posting again by the end of the week.

 

38 thoughts on “I Hung the Jury

  1. Anonymous on this one says:

    OMG, that’s horrid. That poor girl. And poor you having to defend her alone. Thank god you were there. I’m sickened reading this, and I didn’t even have to listen to the details. I give you great credit for holding your ground. It must have been awful.

    My mom was a victim of incest by a sibling at a young age, a fact that wasn’t revealed to us until she was in her 50’s. It explained a lot of her ‘issues’ over the years (anxiety, intense religious fervor, puritan views, etc), but it also just rocked our family. And no one in her birth family wanted to discuss it, although it was clear at least two of her sisters had also been victims. It takes such amazing courage to confront this issue, and I feel SO bad for this young woman. After all she went through to have a mistrial and see that guy walk must be devastating beyond belief. Will he be retried? (After walking his daughter down the aisle of course…ugh!) And what a horror to have your mother turn on you. I’m just sick thinking of it.

    Again, I admire your courage in standing up to the rest of the jury. On top of all you have had to deal with this week. Sending you a big hug.

    Like

    • Laura says:

      As deliberations continued, I kept wondering if anyone cared even a tiny bit for the victim. And do they ever read? It was mind-boggling – they were ready to acquit on all charges the minute they walked into the jury room. Actually, the longer deliberations went on, the stronger I became (and the nastier some of them got).

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  2. Snoskred says:

    Good on you for standing your ground. Things like this are exactly the reason why so many people do not speak up about these kinds of things. :/

    Things like this are also the reason juries should be a thing of the past. Then again sometimes the judges can get it very wrong too.

    I partly believe that the real reason people want to disbelieve these kinds of things is they are in major denial and want to think this kind of thing could never happen to them or someone they love.

    It is the exact same reason why many people want to call scam victims stupid, rather than realise it does not matter what level of intelligence the crime victim has, the person to blame is the scammer who is a criminal, not the person who fell for their scam. 😦

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    • Laura says:

      In Oregon, only a majority is required to convict (not sure of the exact ratio though). So, if we were there he would have gone free.

      I totally agree about the denial part. The disbelief that assault took place because the positions were “impossible” was puzzling. Just a whole lot of denial going on.

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  3. UnwrittenLifeBlog says:

    Oh Laura, I’m so sorry you had to experience this! It is unfathomable that no one else could even try to see her side of it and think it possible. THANK YOU for standing up to them and refusing to back down. Because of you, he didn’t get off scott free. Hopefully, karma is a complete bitch.

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    • Laura says:

      My heart felt crushed when we left the jury room last Friday, and yesterday I felt dirty after being in that room, and hearing the things that were said.

      Karma doesn’t come with a menu. It serves you what you deserve on its own schedule.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Mamie says:

    I am absolutely, totally, completely heartbroken for this young woman and for you. This is society at it’s worst – both the perpetrator of these horrors, and the 11 people who blamed the victim. Thank you for having the courage and conviction to stand on the side of truth.

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    • Laura says:

      I am also heartbroken for the victim. One of the arguments made against the victim was that she had her whole life ahead of her to rebuild, but the defendant didn’t. Shaking my head – they KNEW he had abused her but were unwilling to convict him.

      Like

  5. Leslee Horning says:

    What an awful thing to have to go through!! THANK YOU for standing up for your thoughts and gut feelings… Sadly, the evidence that was not permitted could have helped the other jurors understand your and the victims side. Hopefully, your surroundings (Kaui’i) can help cleans your mind and soul…

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    • Laura says:

      I hope that learning that there was further evidence (the judge said ‘lots’) gave at least a few of these people a little twinge of remorse, or something.

      Kaua’i is beautiful, but I got to see the ugly during the trial and in the jury room.

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  6. Hawaii Planner says:

    What an absolutely maddening experience. It’s so hard to do the right thing in the face of so much resistance, but it’s important. You are correct – this is why people don’t report assaults like this. And, the mental gymnastics people use to convince themselves is really mind blowing.

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    • Laura says:

      Maddening is one description. Shocking, sobering and soul-crushing are others that come to mind. I get it now why people don’t report abuse – who would want to be put through this after you’ve already been victimized. Mental gymnastics is a perfect description of what was going on.

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  7. The One in Debt says:

    I can’t believe the crap the jurors said when deliberating – sick at the pit of my stomach. And there is a lot to be stated from just having that many counts against him. Was there a mistrial previously? Being that there was a lot of evidence you all did not get to see? When it goes to trial again, they will not be able to use the evidence from the trial you just had. But I hope justice can be found. Thank you for standing by your vote.

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    • Laura says:

      I think I was just sitting there with my mouth hanging open at the end from the stuff I was hearing. We weren’t allowed to consider the indictments as evidence, but we were allowed to use common sense. I didn’t hear much of that.

      I actually voted to acquit on four of the charges, not because I thought the assaults didn’t take place, but because the evidence in those counts was mushy, or could have been provided and wasn’t (and now I know it could have possibly been excluded). But for the other counts, i had no problem voting guilty.

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  8. Vicky says:

    I’m glad you stuck by what you believed and did not take the easy road and give in to the pressure to change your vote.

    I’m wondering if the defendants position of power through his employment gave him power and credibility to your fellow jury members. It’s sad to say I’m not shocked to hear some of the explanations given by your fellow jurors. As a victim of sexual abuse as a child of 7 I never told anyone of what happened because of the threats my abuser made.

    All I can say is it is a sad, sad, world we live in today.

    Like

    • Laura says:

      One piece of testimony I clearly remember is that the victim was asked, “Why didn’t you go to the authorities?” She answered, “He WAS the authority!! No one would believe me.” She was in an impossible position, and totally powerless.

      Thinking lots of powerful good thoughts for you. It never goes away, and no one on that jury seemed or wanted to get that.

      Like

  9. JJ says:

    How horrible. I’m impressed you were able to stand your ground. I imagine it must have been difficult and I don’t think a lot of people would have been strong enough to do what you did. At least you can sleep at night knowing what you did was right.

    I know Kauai is a small island, so I wonder if any of the jurors know the defendant or the victim. I wouldn’t think anyone who knows either of them would have made it past voir dire, but I know that sometimes happens in small towns. Not that it excuses their behavior because it doesn’t.

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    • Laura says:

      I did hear things after we had turned in our verdicts to the judge that a couple of people did know him, or at least members of his family, and they got through voir dire. I wish they could or would move a retrial to another venue.

      We couldn’t talk with each other about the trial while it was ongoing, but now I have to wonder what they were thinking when the victim testified. It was like some started hardening their hearts back then.

      Like

      • JJ says:

        It’s difficult to find completely impartial people in a small town because everyone knows everyone. I agree they need to move the trial to a different part of the island or maybe even a different island. That’s the only way this poor girl will find justice, I’m afraid.

        I’m sure this will stay with you for some time and that’s only natural, but at least you can put your mind at ease knowing you did everything you could.

        Like

  10. anexactinglife says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. I got the feeling the other jurors wanted to acquit the defendant because he was “one of their own” and they sympathized with him (as evidenced by the “walking down the aisle” comment). I wonder if there is anything that could have happened in jury selection to prevent this kind of bias. But I would guess not. It is society’s bias against women and girls in action. I hope you take good care of yourself in the coming weeks and do some relaxing and happy activities!

    Like

    • Laura says:

      I physically felt heartbroken on Friday when we left the jury room for the weekend, not because people didn’t agree with me (everyone on a jury is entitled to their opinion) but because of the things I had heard them say about the victim. It was awful. I do think they were protecting “one of their own,” but the victim is “one their own” too. I was disdained as the newcomer, someone who didn’t understand island ways or Hawaiian ways (is there a Hawaiian way to handle sexual assault?).

      This trial, and my experience, is going to stick with me for a long time. I am happy it’s over though, and that I can turn it over to karma.

      Like

  11. Jan says:

    “It is easy to stand in a crowd. It takes courage to stand alone.” -Gandhi
    Thank you for standing. It means so much to so many of us who are survivors.

    Like

    • Laura says:

      I didn’t feel like I was taking a stand, but I strongly believed the testimony of the victim. There was nothing she said that sounded false or made up, she had absolutely NO motive to make up a story, and not one person on the jury offered anything that made me question my belief that the defendant was guilty. He’s back in court next month – I sincerely hope they try him again or attempt to move the trial to another island, but the thought of her having to testify yet again about this monster hurts my heart.

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  12. vivian says:

    The fact that at least one juror believed her will make all the difference to the victim. You did a very good thing and know that you made a difference in her life.
    I know being the voice of reason is very difficult. Even though you are in the right it still makes you extremely tense and distressed to go against the flow. It will take a while to recover but in time you will regain your equilibrium and you will sleep better knowing you did the right thing.
    I have been called 16 times and served on 9 juries. Sending a man to jail for 15 years was one of the hardest things I ever had to do ( even though I was sure of his guilt) and it made me nauseous at the time. I later learned from the newspaper the excluded evidence we were not allowed to see. It gave me a great relief to know we had made the right decision. You did what every juror should do. You weighed the evidence and testimony presented and reached a logical conclusion. Despite pressure from others you held your ground. Well done!

    Like

    • Laura says:

      Thanks so much for writing this. I am still struggling with the experience. Memories of things that were said keep coming back. I know they will eventually diminish but it’s hard right now. I know I did the right thing – that’s what I have to keep reminding myself.

      I think what’s been the most difficult is having to acknowledge that there’s a very ugly side to this beautiful island.

      Like

  13. Isabella says:

    Thank you for the courage and conviction you demonstrated. In the face of those other jurors, that took guts. Too often the victim in sexual assault cases is raked over the coals like this.

    Like

    • Laura says:

      I have read that for many victims of sexual assault, testifying about it is like being assaulted all over again. After what I experienced, I believe it. From the moment we walked into the room the other jurors did not want to believe her for who-knows-what reasons. I found absolutely NO reason or evidence not to believe her. No one makes all of that up. I honestly hope the case is retried, but the though of that young woman having to go through this yet again makes me very angry and sad.

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  14. Practical Parsimony says:

    Thank you! The females of the world thank you! All the things they said about her are said of sexual assault victims. By the way, it is possible to do it standing up! I think you should make your views known to help her. I am not sure how. The jurors who passed and got onto the jury lied to get there, and probably to help the guy. That happens. And, if you report the comments, maybe anonomously, they can be in trouble because they lied under oath.

    My throat tightened as I read your report of what happened. Now, some places have a rape/assault expert come to court to refute the common assumptions. The person can say why victims don’t come forward, and other important issues that the ordinary person never hears.

    Like

    • Laura says:

      Oh my – the prosecution had an expert on child abuse/sexual assault testify. He talked about why children who are assaulted take so long to report the abuse. The defense, on cross examination, asked him how much he was paid to appear ($1600), and then in closing reminded us that our tax dollars were paying for this expert. So, you can just guess what most of the jury focused on in the jury room. If you said it wasn’t his expertise you’d be correct.

      I do think a couple of people on the jury knew the defendant, or had connections to his family just from some things that were said. But Kauai is like a small town so maybe that was expected.

      Like

  15. quesoit1 says:

    Oh, Laura, I am so sorry you had to go through this awful experience. Good for you for standing your ground. The behavior of the others on the jury panel is shocking. I am beyond disgusted by what you described of their bullying, refusal to follow instructions, lack of empathy, and attacking of the victim’s character and credibility. It’s a travesty. I do think what you did made a difference and, as another commenter said, I think the fact that at least one juror believed her would be meaningful to the victim.

    I saw somewhat similar behavior, though with ultimately a better outcome, when I was a juror on a child molestation case some years ago. The defendant is our case was charged with multiple counts of sexually abusing his two young stepdaughters. The testimony was very graphic and disturbing. One of the most upsetting things was a defense expert, a smarmy gynecologist, who sat there smirking as he pointed at huge poster-sized photographs of the victims’ genitals while he opined that they had not been molested. (He had never examined the victims. A prosecution expert testified that you can’t tell whether a child has been abused just by looking at a photograph.) I felt that was an unnecessary violation of the victims’ privacy and dignity, even if not done in front of them. It was heartbreaking to hear and see the victims (14 and 12 at the time of trial), obviously traumatized, testifying about what their stepfather had done to them and how the older one had told their mother and instead of being believed, had been scolded for it. Their mother had testified earlier for the defense, calling her daughters liars. During deliberations there was a lot of judgment by jurors of the family’s circumstances (they were undocumented immigrants living in a converted garage), comments about how children often lie, and a lot of speculation in an effort to come up with innocent explanations for the defendant’s actions. Ultimately, the jury did convict on most of the counts. I am convinced we wouldn’t have gotten to those guilty verdicts had there not been corroborating testimony from the victims’ two young half-brothers. That was another awful thing — to see those 7 and 9 year old boys taking the standing, shying waving at their father at the defendant’s table, before describing multiple instances of seeing their father get into bed with their sisters, going into the bathroom when the girls were showering, etc. But there are many sexual molestation cases without physical evidence or corroborating evidence, and when it comes down to victim’s story versus the defendant’s, I think the victims are often disbelieved and the defendants given the benefit of the doubt. Sorry for the long comment, but as you can see, although this trial was about 10 years ago it still upsets me.

    It is outrageous that in our culture there is a such a bias against victims of sexual assault. I was previously a juror in a double rape case where the juror acquitted the defendant of raping one victim. In that case some of the jurors went into contortions coming up with far-fetched scenarios to put the defendant elsewhere than in the parking garage where the assault occurred. We did convict in the counts involving the second victim, attacked minutes later — probably because the security guard in her gated apartment complex saw the rape in progress and chased the defendant to his father’s apartment, where the police found him panting, with his pants unzipped, hiding in a closet. Again, a case in which corroboration by a MALE witness might have been the key factor in the conviction.

    You did all you could. I hope you can take some comfort in that.

    Like

    • Laura says:

      The experience was a real eye-opener for me. I know at times I spoke of previous experiences in Oregon, but never in the sense that “that way is better.” But I was definitely the newcomer who didn’t know her place. Jurors tried to link my vote to us having daughters, they asked me how I’d feel if my son was arrested, etc. It was a very depressing experience.

      I hope my vote makes a difference – I believed the victim. Her testimony sadly was similar to so many other teens’ and women’ experiences of being assaulted.

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  16. Libby says:

    Stunned…..

    I echo the comment that you gave the victim a gift – not that it was your motive. For the stepfather to get off scot-free would have been the worst outcome. At least she knows that a minimum of one other person believed her.

    Group think is a powerful force and it is very difficult to be the lone voice.

    I’m thinking about how your choices to live frugally without debt are not “in step” with mainstream society. Similar but not the same as having the courage to face down 11 adversarial jurors.

    Are you concerned about running into fellow jurors at the farmers market? Any potential repercussions from the stepfather?

    I’m also wondering if this does go to another trial if the prosecuting attorney can do a better job of picking jurors. Surely there must be at least one other person with your sensibilities on the island.

    Thank you again for doing your civic duty with intelligence and courage. There is nothing like “keeping your side of the street clean” to be able to sleep well at night.

    Like

    • Laura says:

      Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. I hope it goes to trial again, and I think the prosecuting attorney can use the voir dire to find out more about jurors’ views and also instruct about sexual assault. The hearing for whether to retry the case will be on the 20th.

      Last weekend we went to Costco and I was so afraid of running into someone attached to the trial. Same for the farmers’ market this week. But as more time has passed I’m less afraid – they don’t know my name or where we live, so we will just go on as before. And, as you said, I can sleep well at night. I can’t say the same for a few of the other jurors.

      The judge asked us at the end if we would consider serving again – I was the only one who said yes (but not for another year at least).

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