Scan the faces of potential jurors waiting in an Orange County courtroom and you'll undoubtedly see people who can't hide that their brains are furiously crafting mini-speeches that will allow them to escape jury duty.
This phenomena is particularly noticeable when the case involves a gory murder and the trial may last a month or more.
Today inside Superior Court Judge James Stotler's Santa Ana courtroom, prosecutor Michael F. Murray and defense lawyer Derek J. Bercher selected jurors for the upcoming case of Sandra Jessee, who is on trial for allegedly hiring a $50,000 hit man to kill her husband in Placentia.
Over and over, potential jurors--mostly retired folks--assured the lawyers how fair they could be if chosen. Bercher wants independent jurors who are strong enough not to cave into group pressure and don't automatically believe law enforcement officers can't be mistaken or deceitful. Murray wants jurors who aren't estranged from common sense and won't create imaginary, fact-less scenarios that make the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard impossible. Almost everyone told the lawyers what they wanted to hear.
But then came would-be Juror #186. She'd created a speech and put a determined look on her face. "I have a long list [of reasons not to serve]," she said. "Stop me when you think I've listed enough."
The woman took a deep breath.
"First, I don't want to be on this jury," she said. "I don't want to see gruesome pictures. I don't want to decide someone's fate."
The judge seemed to scribble notes, but remained silent.
"My sister has stage four ovarian cancer and I should be with her in Oregon."
"Okay, okay," said Stotler, who noted that both Murray and Bercher were nodding their heads that the woman should be dismissed from duty.
The woman left the courtroom quickly and minutes later another woman, perhaps encouraged by 186, said she already sided with the prosecution because the victim was "a nice man." She said she couldn't be fair. Not one bit of testimony or evidence had been presented, but she was sure the defendant was guilty, she claimed to believe.
Stotler, a veteran judge, shot her a look: nice try but not so fast.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
She remained in her seat as jury selection continued in an effort to find 12 worthy citizens.
Opening statements are expected to begin next week.
The Weekly featured Jessee's first controversial trial HERE.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly