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.

dna-1811955_1280
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.

 

Grab that book while it’s free

You haven’t read Blood Solutions, the first Detective Red Shaw crime novel? Grab the ebook FREE on Amazon on Sunday, March 4, and read it before the next book is out.

Be one of the first to know when that new one is ready. Join the mailing list!

splashes-296829bq (2) (1)

Note to self: Good job of fighting through that thing you’ve got about not giving good stuff away.

Me: Thanks, but it ain’t gonna happen very often, that’s for damn sure.

I am a child with silver hair

My first documented arrival on the planet that I now share with you was in the United States of America a little more than three-score Earth years ago. In the grand, cosmic scheme, I am but a child, a baby of the boom.

The third of six children, the son a now long-dead alcoholic physician whom I rarely acknowledge and a smart, loving, hard-working mother who was single for far too long before she died, I am among the luckiest of men. I am loved by and tolerated by and married to a wonderful woman who keeps me alive.

And still I am but a child as I sit here wondering why my foot hurts and my knee aches so much for someone so young.

Though still a child in these crying, drying eyes, I have outlived a sister, and cousins and friends, and many, many faithful dogs, and some cats that I never understood.

My hair turned white somehow, somewhere along this lucky streak of mine.

My love calls it silver. I am a child with silver hair.

Writing is therapy

Media preview

Words hover out of reach

macro-1834138_1920bWords hover out of reach
like dragonflies
on a hot summer day,
fleeting glimpses
in shimmer and haze.
The mind drifts
from passing thought
to passing thought
to yet another.
Eyes see fear
in clouded eyes
and look away,
witnessing their own future
as a fading memory.

Knives and hammers are irrelevant when the topic is death by gunfire

Denver Post columnist Jon Caldara left out some important numbers in his attempt to trivialize the role of rifles in U.S. mass murders and to mock the growing outrage that millions of Americans feel over our monstrous epidemic of death by gunfire.

boy-958478_1920bHe accuses people of focusing on and misunderstanding assault rifles, as if those details were all-important, while entirely missing the much larger picture of this nation’s gun fetish himself. He points out that rifles were used in only a tiny fraction of last year’s 11,004 homicides by firearm (So what?) and he completely ignores some 20,000 or so other gunfire deaths.

It’s true that there is no media sizzle in the deaths of one or two people at a time. To our eternal shame, most of the 93 individual deaths per day by gun are not newsworthy on a national scale because we are so used to them and there are just too damn many of them.

Caldara can rest assured that a single mass murder by knife, blunt instrument or hammer would make the national news. There would be sizzle, but those murders would still be irrelevant to guns.