When I was in my early 20s I was chosen for a jury in Gwinnett County.
I wound up in Probate Court, the task before me to determine the validity of a man’s will which had been contested.
The man had left all his worldly possessions to someone, and some other someones were unhappy about it. They sued on the basis that his will was not his intentions because he took pain medicine and was not in his right mind when he signed it, and therefore a previous will — one that left some stuff to them — was the valid will.
It took three days and had all the high drama one could expect from a courtroom. Testimony revealed dysfunctionality, deceit, betrayal, disdain and a gamut of emotions from anger to debilitating sadness.
It was riveting.
At the end of it all, the judge charged us, the jury, with our duty. If you’ve never been on a jury, this part is extremely important and at least in this case, takes forever.
It went on for what seemed like hours. The judge went over the questions before us, he went over state law, even going over in detail precedents that showed the proper application of those laws. One thing he stressed over and over: It doesn’t matter how unfair you think the will was. You make your determination based on the law.
The judge said — and this is almost verbatim — in Georgia, you have to be swinging-from-the-chandelier insane to not have a signed, witnessed will upheld. He even gave an example of a previous case in which a man who lived in a hollow log in a swamp had his will upheld because though his choice of residence might’ve seemed crazy, no one ever proved in court that he was crazy.
It seemed pretty clear to me, so when we got in the jury room I thought, “This will be over in 10 minutes.” The attorneys for the people who contested the will hadn’t come close to proving the man was insane. And the other side paraded witness after witness who attested to the man’s clear intentions and lucid mind when he signed his will.
It should’ve been case closed, let’s go home.
The first vote was split 6-6 down the middle.
You can imagine how heated the discussion quickly became. Six of us, based on the law the judge had explained, voted yes, the will was valid.
The other six said it was unfair.
We then spent the next I-don’t-know-how-long trying to explain to them that that wasn’t what the judge asked us to do, that we had to make the determination based on the law, not on what our heart said. We swayed a few. But the vote had to be unanimous. Finally, in frustration, we sent a note to the judge asking him to clarify our task. He sent back a note scolding us for not listening the first time, and told us if necessary, he would charge us again. No one wanted that.
We worked our way down to one holdout. One person just could not see letting the suing party be cut out of what they thought was the party’s rightful inheritance. We hammered away, but they wouldn’t budge.
Finally, at some point, it sank in, and that person said the magic words that I will never forget: “Well, I guess if I have to do it based on the law then I have to vote ‘yes.’”
Three thoughts then went through my mind: 1) We finally get to go home, 2) Why couldn’t the holdout have figured this out three or four hours ago? 3) Most importantly, we made the right decision. We followed the law. We upheld the deceased’s wishes.
I would imagine a similar situation in the jury room during the Casey Anthony trial. I would imagine there were a few who couldn’t stomach the idea of letting her go. I also imagine the rest having heated arguments with them, wondering why the holdouts couldn’t see that the prosecution didn’t prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
That’s how it works, like it or not. You can’t have a doubt in your mind. You can not like the person. You can see it as unfair. But if you follow the law and there is any doubt in your mind, you acquit.
Is Anthony guilty of something beyond lying to police? Only she knows that for sure, but my guess is probably. Whether it was negligence or homicide, I don’t know. And is her behavior after the death of her daughter evidence of callousness, a cold heart? Sure.
But it’s not evidence of murder.
If you’re angry because you think Anthony got away with murder, be mad at the police and the prosecution for not presenting evidence to convict beyond a reasonable doubt.
Don’t be angry with the jury for doing its job.
Email Nate McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.