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The jury is… without me!

February 28, 2012

"Are you juror 2776?"

"Yes, Your Honour."

"You're a consultant?"

"Yes, Your Honour, self-employed."

"And you travel internationally in your work?"

"Yes, Your Honour."

"And if you don't work…"

"… I don't eat."

"Thank you. You're excused from these proceedings."

"Thank you."

And with that, I turned, and left the courtroom. The entire exchange did not last 15 seconds.

Arriving at the courthouse this morning at 8:30, I was answering the call to civic duty. I understand that I was just one of several hundreds of people being screened for jury duty this week, with the prospects of spending four days per week in a jury box until well into the month of June. Perhaps 120 of us were congregated in one courtroom this morning, filling out a questionnaire, reviewing a potential witness listing, and declaring ourselves as ready, willing, and able… or not.

By my notes, above, you will understand that I was… 'not'.

At 9:00, we all rose. The judge entered. He sat. We sat. Then, he proceeded to introduce us to the process, briefly describe the case, point to the attorneys on both sides, and to the accused, seated on his right side in the dock. The judge spent almost 30 minutes describing our duty as citizens, and the importance to our free society of the fulfillment of this duty. He assured us that, should we be selected to serve among the 12 jurors, our experience would be one which we would never forget. Knowing the case in question, I'm sure he was correct in this, though perhaps for a reason different from his intended meaning.

He concluded his remarks with an explanation of who can reasonably be excused from jury duty. Physical disabilities, health issues that prevent sitting for long periods, stay-at-home moms with young children, and significant financial sacrifice covered the main bases.

While we remained in the corral of Courtroom #20, he and the lawyers (and the accused) moved over to Courtroom #21. We were led into a staging area in small groups, then one by one into the courtroom to the lectern where the judge reviewed our questionnaires, asked a few questions, and rendered his decision.

While it was a no-brainer to excuse me from jury duty, I'm left conflicted on the matter. I do feel an obligation to fulfill my civic duty. With so many people following the same exit strategy this morning, is the jury pool left consisting only of the unemployed and retired? Not to say that these people are not qualified. Far from it, but how can one hope to find a jury that reflects the community? Who can step out of the world for up to four months at a stretch? Dilemma number one.

Moreover, I'm sure the experience would have been an education in itself. Intellectual exercises always intrigue me. Here's the thing. Could I constrain myself to an intellectual exercise sitting on such a jury? The details of the case (as little I know of them) lead me to think not.

One Michael Rafferty is charged with the 2009 kidnapping, sexual assault, and first-degree murder of eight-year-old Tori Stafford, a girl living in Woodstock, Ontario, about 40 minutes from here in London. Rafferty's 'associate', Terri-Lynne McClintic, has already been found guilty of first-degree murder in Tori's death. She was caught on video, escorting the child from her school on the day she disappeared. Dilemma number two.

When Tori Stafford was eight, my younger daughter was nine. Dilemma number three. My goodness. When I visited Cuba in 1997, my elder daughter was just 12. During this vacation, I was deeply affected by the same-age local girls acting as escorts for men at the resort. How could I not be affected even more so as a juror in this trial. As clinical as I profess to be… as analytical as I may see myself… I come at the problem already presuming guilt, and ready to pull the switch myself. There has been so much press over the past three years on this case. How can anyone not be biased on the way in?

I'm not struck by any particularly morbid sense of curiosity. I really don't want to know the details of this case. I certainly do not want to be haunted by what will certainly be very graphic descriptions of this little girl's suffering. Dilemma number four.

I'm sure it would not be difficult to isolate and identify even more dilemmas centred on the prospects for such an experience. I walk away with mixed feelings, some regret, but no uncertainty as to my choice in the matter. I'm not sure I'd be up to the task.

I am sure that sitting on this jury, in the words of Justice Heeney this morning, would be an experience I would (and could) never forget. Looking across the courtroom at the accused, I could not help but to ask silently, "What happened in your life that enabled you to do these things to an innocent little girl?"

All I could do was to walk away. For better or worse, that's what I did.

With respect,

Kevin Graham

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