Verdict is coming in on nation's jury system


This hasn't been a very good week for those who believe that there is something sacred about the American jury system.

In the O.J. Simpson trial, another juror has been tossed out for violating the judge's instructions on how jurors should behave.

At the rate jurors are being replaced, Judge Lance Ito could run out of warm bodies before the trial is over, and they'll have to start over again. If that happens, even animal lovers will begin hating the legendary barking dog.

Also in California, another judge blew his cork when he learned that jurors in the trial of Heidi Fleiss, the enterprising young woman who provided horny guys with female companions, made up their own rules.

To get the case over and go home -- the primary goal of most juries -- some of the Fleiss jurors have admitted swapping votes and voting guilty when they thought Fleiss was innocent. So this trial might have to be repeated.

But the most educational insight into how juries operate was provided in Chicago by a juror in the original trial of three men for the rape-murder of Jeanine Nicarico, a Chicago-area child.

Two of the men, Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez, were convicted and sentenced to die. The jury couldn't decide on the third man, and charges against him were dropped.

After 12 years, the case is still bouncing around the courts. It's a legal mess, and third round of trials are going to be held.

And after 12 years, this is what the juror had to say about his deliberations in a message he posted on a computer bulletin board where a discussion of the case was being held:

"My group was the first to find two of the three guilty. . . . I was never totally satisfied (even while we were deliberating) that Cruz and Hernandez were the culprits.

"All I could hope for was that the truth would eventually come out during the appeal process, because even though I voted to convict the two, I was far from convinced that Cruz and Hernandez were really guilty and I knew I would never had voted to give them the death penalty based on the 'evidence' heard at the time.

"Most of the jurors felt that the authorities would not have arrested the three if they did not commit the crime. Most of the jurors were convinced of the guilt before the trial started and the procedure was a mere formality.

"The first day of the trial . . . the person who was ultimately selected as jury foreman said, 'Well, these guys are here, so they must be guilty of something.'

". . . If I had had more guts, I would have followed what I really believed, which was that there was not enough quality evidence to send Cruz and Hernandez to the electric chair.

". . . I voted to convict only because I did not want to be the only juror who would hold out. Actually there might have been two or three more jurors . . . who were not convinced. However, the pressure of the situation was something that is hard to describe.

"During the course of the trial, I kept thinking that it would end in a 'Perry Mason' type of ending, where the guilty person would just come forward and admit to the crime.

"When this did not happen, I got sick to my stomach.

"Again, I felt I could live with myself knowing that sooner or later the real person or persons would be found, and I rationalized this in my decision-making process."

So here we have a man who flatly admits voting to convict two men he thought had not been proved guilty.


"I live in DuPage County (Ill.), have a family in the county, and I felt I did not want to be the person who would go down in history as the one who let . . . murderers go free. I really felt that the appeal process would ultimately get to the truth."

If that shocks you, it shouldn't. Most trial lawyers will tell you this kind of wishy-washy thinking goes on in most juries.

The lawyers don't mind.

They don't want jurors who are a threat to think clearly and with total fairness.

They prefer people who can be swayed and prodded.

That's why jury selection is often a demonstration in the dumbing down of the legal system.

Anyone with an impressive education, a high IQ or a professional job is usually given the boot.

Just the other day, a high-ranking White House official was called for jury duty.

The lawyers rejected her.

And that's why people often get angry at the wrong people when they read about a woman being awarded more than $1 million because she had spilled her hot coffee on her lap. It was a jury of allegedly average people who decided that a person is not responsible for her coffee and her lap.

Back in the simpler times when a jury of farm neighbors would decide on which pig farmer owned a stray pig, the jury system might have worked.

But today, with civil and criminal trials becoming more complex, jurors can't absorb all the information.

Especially when the brightest people are shunned.

There has to be a better system. But I can say that because I'm not a lawyer with a high regard for stupidity.

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