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.
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.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.