Carol W Hazelwood

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A View From The Jury Box available from

A View From The Jury Box

by Carol W. Hazelwood

Chapter 1
Trade Paperback 6x9 - $11.50
Pages : 111

In May 1987 Ronald James Blaney was accused of killing his girlfriend, Priscilla Vinci, and her Mother, Josephine Vinci. In June 1989 the matter came to trial in the Santa Ana Superior Court of California. This particular case was different from the thousands of murder trials that pass through the court system every year, because the defendant, Ron Blaney Junior, and his girlfriend, Priscilla, were deaf-mutes.
A trial by design is a sterile proceeding, unlike fictional television versions. Due to the use of the American Sign Language in the courtroom in this trial, the environment was even more sterile, more structured, and yes, more interesting than a “normal” trial.
This is the story of the jury in that trial. For twelve jurors and three alternates, this trial bit into five months of our lives. This is not intended to be a defense or an argument for the decisions that were made by the jury, but rather an account of the interaction of people, who in the normal course of our lives, would never have met. I have laid out the trial in general terms, and have not included every detail. Quotes attributed to people are simulated and not the exact words used, although I have tried to keep the meaning, intent, and tone of the speaker.
This is a story of the compassion, the pettiness, the stupidity, and the inventiveness of a jury struggling to come to a right and fair judgment as the law dictates. This is the story of our jury system and the flawed human beings who are brought together to rain judgment on another.

Chapter 1
The morning of June 7, 1989 I’m in a blue funk as I hurry from the gravel parking lot, past the jail, and on through the littered filth of public walkways to report for jury duty at Santa Ana Superior Court in California. Four years ago I did my stint, serving on the jury of a rape case. Although a firm believer in the jury system, I’m not happy about being called up again. In fact, I’m angry. Why me? Others seem to dodge the public service bullet, but not me. Volunteer and public service, like election boards, community boards, and literacy boards occupy much of my time. Feeling very righteous this morning, I shut out the voice of a little fellow who follows me around, sits on my shoulder, and says, “Gotcha.”
I walk up the dirty concrete courthouse steps and notice one thing has changed. The jury assembly room is new and clean.
But the procedure is not new. A long table extends across the front of the room with student chairs lined up auditorium-style facing it. On the table are index card boxes with their tops gaping open; rows of colored cards are neatly arrayed in front of each box. Each row of cards has a different color, signifying different panels. You find your name on a card and put the card into the corresponding index card box. From your card, if you know what to look for, you learn your panel number as well as your juror number. Later these numbers will become light beams in a sea of fog. I’m juror number eight of panel twenty.
I join the crowd of strangers of the audience. These are my peers and the peers for every defendant about to go to trial. Not a handsome lot. Ordinary people dressed in ordinary clothes: skirts, jeans, shorts, dresses, all lacking any pizzazz, as though we believe that moderation of dress will make us unnoticed. Who does buy the designer fashions?
Those of us in this assembly room are the law-abiding citizens who have responded to the summons for jury duty. Because we are on the Department of Motor Vehicles’ list, the registered voters’ list, the phone book, or previous computer juror listings, our names were selected. We’ve won the wrong lottery.
We, the potential jurors, are to uphold the constitution for a mere five dollars a day plus fifteen cents a mile one-way. Why “one way” is never clearly explained. Our magic carpets will carry us back to our original starting point, while private lawyers drive to and fro in Bentleys, BMWs, and Mercedes. They, too, are holding up the constitution and using it to drive their un-American cars. Only the judges seem to go about their business unseen by those of us who will be “owned” by them for the term of a jury.
The public defenders and the prosecutors must, by the code of ethics of their profession, distance themselves from any public contact. These people come and go with large boxes, folders, and files wheeled about on small dollies. They are seldom seen smiling and, unlike the private lawyers, their suits do not come from Brooks Bros.
All the inner workings, as well as the outer hull of this concrete edifice designed by the master of the school of bureaucratic design, are paid for by you and me, the public. The people pay for the slug-like pace of the court system. Court consultants draw from the public coffers. You and I pay for all the legal indiscretions of the system. We are part of the system.
The official heart of Orange County is a renovated inner city with county buildings surrounded by pleasant middle and lower-middle-class homes. This is part of Santa Ana, California, where the lack of inspiration of public architecture is only equal to the lack of feeling the government has toward those it governs.
This is not the well-heeled, glamour-frosted, conservative haven of Orange County, California. Outside the courthouse, sleeping on benches, parking their confiscated shopping carts full of their meager belongings, are the homeless. Inside the courthouse, laws are adjudicated. Outside, the same laws turn their back on the litterers, the trespassers, the scavengers, the mentally ill, the homeless. Outside, pushcart vendors sell food under the permission of the health department and the city.
A new parking structure is halted due to building code violations. The landscape around the area crawls with grime. Osmosis occurs, drawing the outside world into the inside world, where floors are not washed for months at a time, and bathroom graffiti grows like hideous weeds. Seats, sills, windows, and walls are left to gather dust, dirt, gum, scratches, and smoke residue.
It’s in these environs that people from all walks of life – the housewife, the retired, the professional, the laborer, the managers, the students, the rich, the poor – come to serve as jurors. Twelve people are thrown together by chance and by legal maneuvering to decide the fate of a defendant. For all its pitfalls, its overly tuned legalese, its lack of personalization, its tactics to hide the evidence – for all these, it’s still the American system and because of that, jurors, despite their ambivalence toward the system, will serve to the best of their ability. The good and the bad are both in the system and in our own nature.
It’s 8:00 on a bright, smoggy, summer day. The new potential jurors straggle in after fighting to find a parking place. Waiting in various states of discomfort, people read, fidget, fume, sleep, or dream, until a heavy, dark-haired woman takes the microphone. She is Evelyn Valle, the Jury Service Supervisor. In a pleasant and succinct manner, she explains the procedure: “Look for your name on the computer read-outs on the wall. Proceed to the front table and find your name on the card and put it in the box in the same row. This is the only way we have of knowing you are present and fulfilling the obligation of your summons.”
After people scurry forward to obey, she introduces the speaker. “Judge R… would like to say a few words to you this morning.” A small man immaculately dressed in an expensive gray suit, steps forward.
“The duty you are about to perform is very important to our constitutional system of government,” he begins. He has a captive audience of good citizens. He uses this power to harangue those of us who have acceded to their jury summons. I’m not pleased. “Our law comes from the time of Aristotle and Plato,” he continues, launching into a dissertation about philosophy. I look about the room at the various faces, some rapt, some bored, some uncomprehending. Is this really the time to educate his captured flock with lofty self-indulgent remarks?
Finally, he finishes, and the film begins. At least it’s not the same film with Herbert Marshall shot in the 1950’s. They’ve redone the film with Fess Parker. You remember him, Daniel Boone. It’s a short feature outlining the basics of jury duty. An efficient piece of work, but it does not prepare the juror for a long and complicated case. For some things preparation is impossible.
The movie is over. That’s all, folks. Now we learn our first and most important lesson. Patience. Sitting and waiting are the two most important features of jury duty, which is why it’s such a broadening experience.
After an hour my panel, along with one other, is called. With anticipation we troop to the elevators and up to the fourth floor to a very small courtroom. No one talks, a few smile or nod. We all have blinders on as we face uncertainty. We do not let our neighbor know our anxiety over our future in this courthouse.
It’s a civil case, architects are being sued by the owner of a building, and the architects are counter-suing. The color of the tiles used on the outside of the building, the one on the corner of Jamboree and Bristol in Newport Beach, isn’t correct the suers claim. I pass it every day and haven’t noticed anything outlandish. It seems a waste of jurors’ time, and the court’s time, to say nothing of the taxpayers’ money.
Fortunately for me, and perhaps for the litigates, I’m never called to the jury box, and return with other panel members to the jury assembly room.
Two days later several panels are asked to report to Harbor Court for a murder case, but my panel is not called. An hour later, I hear my name over the loudspeaker. Apprehensively, I approach the desk and Evelyn Valle asks if I would transfer panel cards over to the Harbor Court. My name would then be included in that group. I agree immediately since that court is only five minutes from my house.
That afternoon at Harbor Court we are assembled in a medium-size courtroom to be sworn in just as we were previously. “You do solemnly swear that you will true answers make to all questions propounded to you concerning your qualifications as a juror, so help you God.”
It’s hot and sticky in the courtroom. Jurors are selected at random from the card pile in front of the court clerk. Like a drum roll the clerk calls the names with an unwavering cadence. “Panel number 71, juror number 18, Lisa Blumenthal, B-L-U-M-E-N-T-H-A-L.” The woman rises, smoothing her light summer dress, picks up her large purse and with awkward precision makes her way to the jury box. The bailiff swings open the small three-foot-high wood door and directs her to the correct seat.
The audience remains quiet, expectant. The cadence of the call-ups continues until each seat is filled. Voir dire begins. (At the time Proposition 115 had not been passed. Voir dire is now different in the California system). 1.
It’s a murder case. Boyfriend shoots and kills girlfriend. The defense attorney is dull, and his speech pattern lulls the audience consisting of the juror panels waiting to be called to the box. Most sleep or doze. Jurors are questioned and released. More jurors are called. I’m not prepared for the “hot seat” when my number and name are called.
“You’ve heard the questions asked of the other jurors. My client is being prosecuted for killing his sweetheart in this murder case. Do you know the defendant or any of those people named who will be testifying in this case?”
“No,” I answer. My nervous switch is on one hundred. I’m uncomfortable and sweating, feeling as if the world is watching me.
“Does it bother you that the young girl was killed?”
When the prosecutor’s turn comes, he jumps on this same question and my answer. I repeat the same answer, thinking I should be succinct. The prosecutor is furious. I don’t get a chance to clarify my answer. Who can think with this man glaring at me as if I’ve said something loathsome? I thought his question was directed as to whether or not I could deal with the trial where such information would be brought out. I’m not given a chance to correct the impression my blunt answer evoked.
“I stipulate and dismiss her for cause,” the prosecutor says, and gives me a withering look.
“Thank you,” the judge says. “You may leave.”
As the bailiff returns my juror card, I feel as though everyone in the room is castigating me. I walk out of the courtroom feeling depressed, angry, and unworthy, all because I’ve been nervous and given monosyllabic answers. Yet, I have done nothing wrong. Little do I know then that I have been in training for the big show.

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