It's like being in a telephone booth. (I know saying this ages me.) But here I am, on a jury trial, in the middle of a global pandemic, double-masked, sitting in my seat in the jury box,
surrounded by plexi-glass.
I can't imagine how the defendant must feel. He's masked too, and sitting on the other side of a partition from his attorney. What's it like to look out at the jury, all of us strangers, and only able to see our eyes? We're a nice cross section. Men. Women. White. Black. Old. Young. The guidance counselor. The hospital security guard. The violin player in the Columbus Symphony.
The trial feels like a play I've seen before. The attorney for the state arguing that we have to find the defendant guilty. The judge giving us instructions. The defense attorney sidling up to us and trying to be friendly, get us on his (client's) side. He's kind to me, It says here you work at a library. How do you like that?
Well, I've been furloughed...
He moves onto the guy in the jury box who can't seem to stay awake. Are we boring you? he asks. The guy says no. (He doesn't make the cut onto the jury.)
The case is simple. A man accused of violating a protective order. Two witnesses. The ex-girlfriend accusing him of violating the order. And the friend who says she made the whole story up. Who's telling the truth?
We break for lunch. I walk with a fellow juror down to a Subway. Downtown is shuttered and quiet, slashes of graffiti and boarded up windows. I haven't been down here since the protests. I haven't really been anywhere. It's been strange to suddenly be around hundreds of people. To ride in an elevator. To sit by masked strangers. Only one customer in the Subway eating, and I am not making this up,
I grab my food and go, the fellow juror telling me she's stopping at the bar next door for a beer. Do I want to join her?
(oh my god) No.
Back at the courthouse and the other jurors are milling around in our juror room. One complains about having to wear a mask all day. It's giving her a carbon monoxide headache, she says, and I try not to roll my eyes.
She takes her mask off and I escape into the hallway. I'm remembering how much I don't like people lately. Back to the courtroom for the closing arguments. I know that I can't in good conscience find the man guilty. Honestly, I have no idea why there was a trial.
Only two witnesses that basically cancel each other out and no other evidence at all, but I have no idea what my fellow jurors think and I'm worried. Did they hear this case the same way I did? Will we have to argue with each other?
We're dismissed to deliberate and I gird myself for a fight. But the Allegedly-Drink-a-Beer-at-Noon Juror says, I don't know about you people, but there's no way we can find this guy guilty. Everyone agrees and boom, we're finished in fifteen minutes.
The court is filled with police officers when we return to our individual plexi-glass phone booth seats in the jury box. Apparently, while we were deliberating, the families in the gallery got into an altercation and were escorted out of the building. I watch the defendant's face when the judge reads the verdict.
This was a felony and if we'd voted guilty, he'd have gone to prison. We all look so placid in our masks but a mask can't hide tears. He brushes his away and I remember he is a person. All of us are. The Monoxide Headache lady and Miss Alleged Beer at Noon. Fighting families and police officers. Random guys coughing in the Subway.
The judge thanks us for our service and we all head our separate ways home.