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Above and beyond civic duty


On Day 2 of deliberations in a city murder case, the jury foreman passed an unusual note to the judge: "After arriving home from jury duties I found out my son had been [shot] in the head."

There was more: "I am prepared to continue if this is your will."

Even as his only son lay dying in the hospital, Bobby Anderson Sr. kept deliberating with 11 fellow jurors. A day later, Anderson came to court with another message for Baltimore Circuit Judge David W. Young.

His son had died overnight.

He still didn't want to give up jury duty. "I wanted to see this through," Anderson said in an interview about the trial that ended this month.

In a city where prospective jurors seem to drum up any excuse to get out of serving on a jury - or simply ignore their summonses - Anderson stands apart as unusually dedicated to his civic duty.

About 800 prospective jurors are called to the Baltimore Circuit Courthouses on Calvert Street each business day. Of those, an average of 250 show up. Jury Commissioner Nancy Dennis said she hears weak excuses every day. Someone complained recently of a blistered toe.

But Dennis said she also hears tales of jurors who continue to serve amid personal hardship. There was the older man with a medical condition that qualified him for being excused. He served anyway. And there was the woman whose terminally ill sister had only a few days to live. She declined a postponement.

Anderson, Dennis said, was the most determined juror.

"There's a pain in my heart because I know he's suffering," she said. "But it's also a reaffirmation for me. I know that there are good people in this city - people who care, people who have integrity. He's obviously one of them."

Anderson is a numbers man. The 53-year-old machinist said he passed breaks in the murder trial by tallying up the cost of paying hundreds of jurors $15 per day. He knew that if he excused himself, the case would have ended in a mistrial and would have had to start from the beginning.

Besides, he told the judge and lawyers, he had made up his mind on the first day of deliberations, before learning about the shooting, and he felt he could keep the two crimes separate as he and the other jurors endeavored to reach a unanimous decision.

The murder trial of Corey Anderson began, like any other, with jury selection June 1.

Through the process of voir dire, the lawyers whittled the jury pool of about 75 down to a panel of two alternates and 12 jurors. Bobby Anderson, a Northeast Baltimore resident who works for a manufacturing company in South Baltimore, was among them.

Anderson said he has been summoned for jury duty about seven times over the past decade and served on three juries, twice as foreman.

The defendant in this case, 25-year-old Corey Anderson (no relation), was charged with first- and second-degree murder and two weapons violations. He was accused of fatally shooting Kelvin Larkins Jones Jr., 19, one afternoon in February of last year on Beehler Avenue.

Over about five days of testimony, jurors listened to prosecution witnesses as the defense attorney tried to plant reasonable doubt.

When the jury got the case the afternoon of June 7, they took a voice vote. It was about 50-50, Anderson recalled. He said he was among those who had decided the defendant was guilty of murder.

The jury was dismissed that evening. Anderson's brother greeted him at the door of his Chesley Avenue home. "Bobby, I have some sad news."

Police believe Bobby Anderson Jr., 35, was shot during a robbery that day at Just for Flowers in Park Heights, where he ran a pager business out of the flower shop. Another owner found Anderson unconscious and bleeding from a bullet wound to his head about 1 p.m. Police have no suspects.

Bobby Jr. never drank or smoked, but he did sometimes conduct business "in the gray area of the law," as his father put it. He had served prison time for illegally programming beepers.

"He was starting to turn a corner," Anderson said of his son, who was a father of five. "But you can't say when you come into life and when you leave it. Life isn't fair in that way."

Bobby Anderson Sr. rushed to Sinai Hospital that evening, where his son was on life support and in critical condition. Even if his son were to survive, doctors told him, he would likely be severely impaired.

When Anderson arrived at the Courthouse East building the next morning, he wrote his note to the judge.

Jury duty, Anderson said later, is no great love of his, but "if I'm told to do it, I'll do it." He traces his commitment to citizenship - "I vote every year, never fail" - to a civics class he took during his senior year at Carver Vocational-Technical High School.

The judge called Anderson to the bench to ask whether he was sure he could continue. Anderson said he could. Neither the prosecutor nor the defense attorney objected. All three said they were impressed by the man's composure.

"It's a testament," Judge Young said. "Here's a man who stepped up to the plate and did his civic duty under impossible odds."

Defense attorney William R. Buie III added: "I haven't seen too many individuals with the fortitude - and willingness - to continue with the process under those circumstances."

Deliberations continued.

Anderson said he led the jury through a re-creation of the case, from six minutes before the shooting all the way up through the trial. "We put all the facts together and analyzed them as best we could," he said.

They took another vote. Eleven wanted to convict. One woman said she didn't think there was enough evidence. The jury broke for the day.

Anderson's son died that night, and the traumatized family began making funeral arrangements. In his family's obituary, they called Bobby Ray Anderson Jr. "King Midas" because of his business sense.

Bobby Anderson Sr. came to court Thursday morning to share his bad news with the jurors - most of whom he considered friends. The group was glued together by hours of down time, a murder case and, now, a tragedy of their own.

They had played cards, dined at Lexington Market and swapped stories about their jobs and families. When the jurors learned that Anderson's son had died, they consoled him.

"We really bonded," said juror Jimmey Utsey, 48, who attended Bobby Jr.'s viewing. "We ended up getting real close."

Perhaps that's why many of the jurors became agitated when the holdout juror wouldn't change her mind. Everybody took a turn trying to convince her, Anderson said, and they pressed her for reasons why she didn't feel there was enough evidence.

She wouldn't budge. Anderson said he had to calm some of the irritated jurors. "People were getting more and more emotional."

Anderson's situation didn't influence the jurors' minds, he said, but it did influence their hearts. "They got angry she was holding us up because they knew about what was going on with me."

Anderson said he spent about three hours discussing the case privately with the woman. Finally, she told him that she didn't feel as though she could sit in judgment. She quoted Scripture.

On Thursday, June 9, at 3:29 p.m., the deadlocked jury sent a note to the bench. "Judge, we are still unable to reach an agreeable verdict as one of the jurors states she cannot judge the defendant because of her religious beliefs."

During voir dire, Young had asked whether anyone held religious beliefs that could prevent making a judgment. He asked if anyone had any philosophical or moral qualms with rendering a decision. And then he asked if there was anything at all that they felt could prevent them from reaching a fair and impartial verdict.

After receiving the note, Young declared a mistrial and reset the case for August.

Some of the jurors cried out of frustration. Anderson went home to bury his son.

He said his experience on the jury, and with his personal crime story, has left him feeling disheartened about crime in Baltimore and about the criminal justice process. He suggested the idea of hiring professional jurors - ones who could be more detached, like judges.

Still, he knows how he'll react if he gets his summons in the mail next year. "If they call," he said, "I'll have no problem serving."

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