Final words about jury duty, a Boulder murder trial and vicarious trauma

My recent summons to jury duty came as I was nearly done writing the manuscript for North of Grand, my second crime novel. Having no idea what was on the docket, I tweeted something to this effect shortly before leaving home for the Boulder County Justice Center:

Reporting for jury duty. Potential fodder for a new crime story?

I deleted it soon after learning about the nature of the case.

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Pixabay image

As it turned out, I wasn’t among the first 44 individuals to be questioned during voir dire, so I expected to be done soon. I was wrong. Several people in that group were excused for various reasons so other names, including mine, were drawn from the pool of dozens of prospective jurors.

One of the prosecutors asked if I thought I’d be a good juror, and why. I said yes. I mentioned that I had a longtime interest in the workings of the justice system, that I’d served on a jury in a criminal trial in the past and had covered police and courthouse beats at times as a reporter.

I also mentioned writing crime fiction, just in case that might be important to anyone. The prosecutor smiled and asked if I would be using the case at hand in a story. Not directly, I said, adding that listening to real courtroom dialog again and seeing how people interact certainly could be useful in some way.

Eventually I found myself one of 16 jurors who were sworn in to serve on the panel. We could only wonder about which four of us were alternates until after the lawyers’ closing arguments. I was among the final 12 tasked with reaching a verdict.

During the three-week trial it was difficult to focus on much of anything else. I fell farther behind where I had hoped to be on my new manuscript. No urgent day-job deadlines loomed but I was able to do a few tasks some evenings and weekends.

It became almost impossible to walk by my suitcase in the basement without seeing things I cannot unsee. A touch on the shoulder or a bit of pain in my hip brought to mind the sight of a reciprocating saw and other cutting tools that were used to dismember the body of young Ashley Mead.

After reading the guilty verdicts in the courtroom and releasing us from jury duty, the judge asked us to meet with her in a conference room. She thanked us, answered a lot of questions, and asked us for feedback about the experience. We learned that there is something called vicarious trauma, and that the county would pay for two counseling sessions for each of us. The judge gave us a list of several professionals who would make time for anyone within 48 hours, and she encouraged everyone to contact one of them soon. I know I wasn’t the only juror to take advantage of the offer.

Now that the trial is over, I’m back to work on my day job, where there is no bailiff to say “all rise” before I enter a room. It’s good to be inconspicuous again.

I am also back working on my new manuscript, the second crime novel featuring Detective Red Shaw. There was no trial in Blood Solutions, and there will be no trial in North of Grand, but it will be a better story for the delay.

I did move my suitcase just a little farther back in the space under the stairs to the basement, recognizing as I did it that hiding it completely would be futile. I do trust that the images it brings to mind will fade with time.

That’s one of the positive things I can think of right now. Another is that the trial is history and I don’t feel compelled to write another word about it.

B.J.

A few words about a murder trial

Imagine being plucked from your day-to-day routine and plunked down in a jury box for three weeks.

Imagine what you see and hear as prosecutors try to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant murdered, disemboweled and dismembered the mother of his child, stuffed her headless, limbless torso into a suitcase, and dropped it in a dumpster in another state.

Suppose you can discuss this with no one, not even your fellow jurors, until the appointed time comes to deliberate.

That time came for me yesterday. The trial ended a few hours ago. The jury on which I served found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder and three other charges.

I leave the details to your imagination and the news media because for now I don’t have the words to describe the experience beyond this:

Whatever discomfort the jury felt, it was nothing compared to the horror that many others in that courtroom have been through and will remember with such pain and sorrow for the rest of their lives.

If I write about the experience again, in this space or elsewhere, it is simply my way of coping. Some questions are too difficult to discuss in person other than with my closest family and friends.

B.J.

 

Giving away a story of dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease

If you read to the bottom of my previous post, you might be surprised to learn that there is one book I am more than happy to just give to anyone who might find it useful.

Mom
Rosemary

Miles to Go: An Alzheimer Journal is free for the next few days on Amazon. Beyond that, since the platform limits how long I can offer it for nothing, it’s the minimum of $.99. Anyone who wants the book but doesn’t like buying online can just ask me for a PDF any time using this simple form.

I initially published the whole thing on a previous blog so anyone who came across it could read freely. Having it on Amazon makes it possible to reach more people.

Since the scourge of Alzheimer’s Disease remains an awful reality for so many, I hope others can learn from my family’s experience, as did the reader who included this in an online review:

“I even took notes because the emails showed subtle changes that many other family members could not see and yet is what everyone in this type of situation is going through.”

B.J.

Now Jeep-less after all these years

Back in the day, by which I mean since x number of years ago until a few hours ago, I had a Jeep. Not just any Jeep. I had a 1991 Wrangler Renegade, which I bought from my car-salesman brother-in-law. He got almost all of my business while he was in that business.

wrangler1The story went that the previous owner lived in Madison, Wisconsin, and drove the red
Renegade mostly to church on Sundays. She was the proverbial little old lady.

Stop laughing.

The Renegade had only 30,000 or so miles on it at the time, after 10+ years, so I was inclined to believe it.

That thing could handle snow. When I bought the Renegade, we lived in Iowa, halfway down the hill on a dead-end street, so 4WD was important. I drove it to work and back for years. I could go anywhere. I drove it from Iowa to Colorado twice, and all the way back to Iowa once.

We went fishing together. We drove some bad Colorado mountain roads that tested our nerves, and our wariness of heights, and our shocks. We flew down the highway topless, usually when it wasn’t raining and the sun was hot overhead.

Then came the day.

The choice: Sell the 2007 Prius, which faithfully takes us 50 miles on a gallon of gasoline, or the Renegade (17 mpg on a good day). Something had to give if we were to leap into the 2017 Escape we were eyeing.

What would you do?

Used to be it was easy to spot my ride in a huge, crowded parking lot. A boxy, rusting, red thing the likes of which I’ve never seen elsewhere. Now, to find my car at the park-n-ride or the parking lot at DIA, I will look for the teeny Iowa Hawkeyes sticker in the left-rear window of my little black Prius among a sea of little black Priuses. I have to hope no one else out here puts that same sticker anywhere near the same place.

Mrs. Smith Compound drives the sleek, white Escape. It looks great on her.

 

Furious and done being polite

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Midwestern sunset, via Pixabay

Most of you who are reading this don’t know me, but I want you to know I am furious that my daughter-in-law should be unwelcome or even feel unwelcome anywhere in this country.

I’ll extend that to her wonderful sisters and parents, and to my new granddaughter, who is too young to know about any of this, and to the rest of my diverse, extended family.

The discomfort, the fear described on her Brown Noise blog have heightened significantly since the victory of our new president-elect.

They are not entirely new feelings. I know this for a fact, because I heard about them long before the election, long before the latest campaign for president. They go back decades.

They don’t come out only in the rural Midwest, where the young family encountered the MAGA-themed McDonald’s ad described in that blog post. They can and do turn up anywhere.

The difference now is obvious and stark. Things are worse since the Republicans won. Bigots are out in the open, unashamed, and unafraid of the light.

I’m done being polite.

Damn the people who elected our soon to be pseudo-president, thereby emboldening his bigoted followers, and directly or indirectly contributing to this extra-toxic culture we now live in.

That is some harsh talk, coming from me. The people who elected him include some of my friends, acquaintances, and even family members.

They have disappointed me, and they need to know it.


First published on Medium, December 20, 2016

Escape

All is shades of black
and white and grey
and sad cloud underbellies
that hide silver rumors
from the soul.

There is no way out.

There is no way out.

There is no way out
until there is.

Sweat and motion
and words and sounds
of clash and hurrah
call to the inner desert
and cold silence.

Ceilings crack
and buckle as sweet
agony burns the air
and sucks life itself from the dark.

Cyclists as targets, as humans

A few days ago I met a man who within minutes referred to cyclists as “targets.” He was driving down a Boulder County hill that is very popular with cyclists, runners, walkers and occasional daredevils on skateboards.

As politely as I could, I let him know that his comment was not funny even though (I hoped) it was intended as a joke.

I didn’t see him again until this morning. The first thing he did was apologize and shake my hand. I thanked him for that. I told him there are people who really do treat us as targets. He didn’t seem to know that.

Judging solely by their actions, some motorists do think of us that way. They target cyclists for verbal abuse, spit, bottles and cans, black smoke and worse. Some drivers buzz by within a foot or even inches in order to intimidate, and I imagine some of those drivers have hit their targets and left the scene.

I didn’t expect an apology from my new acquaintance. Apologies, especially real ones, are rare these days. I hoped simply that he would remember our brief exchange when encountering people on bicycles and think of them as fellow human beings.

The apology was a nice bonus.