When I came back from vacation, I had a letter stating that I had to report to the Frank Crowley courts building at 8:30 Sept. 17. Upon further investigation, I saw that they recommend that I show up 45 minutes earlier so as to make it through screening in time. When I got there, the screening didn't take long. My water bottle lid was broken, and someone in line knocked it over as I was trying to get all my stuff off the belt. It spilled a bit on the floor. There were some paper towels nearby (maybe that happens a lot?) so I started to clean it up. I figured the rest could air dry, but apparently the security screener thought the floor should be totally dry, so he continued to mop it up. So I got some more towels and told him to keep doing his job, and that I would clean up the rest, and he was very grateful. I find it easy to start new things with the heart attitude of "How can I best serve others today?" The hard part for me is to have this attitude when I've been doing the same thing many times.
Then I had to go to the jury pool. Its a big room with movie theater type chairs and a judges bench in the front. It must seat over a thousand people, because there were jurors numbered up into the 1200's. Unfortunately, as is common in this kind of seating arrangement, people are quick to fill up the outside seats on the rows, making it difficult for people to get by them and into the open seats in the middle. For the most part, people just climbed over others. I found a seat in the back and recorded the instructions and orientation video for my kids. I had woken up early enough to do my quiet time/bible study, so during the down times I caught up on Grace Based Parenting. Most of the people I was around didn't seem to want to talk much. But seeing as how I was going to be exposed to a large number of new people that day, I made sure I was ready to do whatever God prompted me to do, and I was on the lookout for how to spread the Love his has for all his children. Shortly after the video, they got out a whiteboard and started assigning groups of people to courts. Of course, they start at 1 and go up from there, so the lower numbers get heavily polled. I was 422. The third group was 420-600ish, but she skipped it because of some last minute changes. She did the next group or two, and then came back and picked up 420-600 and another 50 numbers from the 1200 range. I think they said that only 40% of people actually show up for jury duty. So maybe the room only held 600 people. We went up the escalators to Auxiliary court #7. These are multi-purpose court rooms. We waited outside the courtroom for an hour. No real good place to sit. 4 bench and over 50 people. It was interesting to see the different kinds of people. There were the people wearing Juror Badges - they were upstanding members of society for the most part. Most were dressed conservatively and had very little, if any tattoos. Then there were the people who were they because they had to be. They were typically younger and very heavily tattooed. The seemed to know each other pretty well. For the most part, they exhibited the physical characteristics of people with mild genetic chromosomal abnormalities which have affected their neurology. I can tell by their ear positioning/size/shape, head size/shape, eye positioning, and other proportional differences of the head area. For the most part, they tried to cover their nervousness with an overtly congenial attitude with their friends and a multitude of hand gestures/greetings. A few really could care less, they were hardened that much. Some were truly worried and didn't bother to cover it up. I could tell they were sorry for whatever they had done and were worried about the outcome of their trials. The third group were the attorneys. All were dressed nice and most moved quickly through the sea of humanity. They were either happy or busy. They all seemed to have, as a coping mechanism, dissociated with the import of their surroundings and their role in it. I can't blame them. I for one, was not in the mood for that, and wanted to take it all in and do my best to represent God and bring what I could to the court. I had decided ahead of time that I would volunteer to be jury foreman should I get picked for a jury. I knew that no one else would volunteer, and I knew that I could handle the rest of the jury and get the job done well and quickly. Plus, I'm always concerned for the group as a whole, whatever group I'm a part of. So if I weren't the foreman, it would drive me sort of crazy. We were told to fill out 1 page surveys and then turn them in. On mine, I put that I was neutral to the different kinds of people they asked about - judges, policeman, attorneys. I indicated that there were good and bad of every kind of person. I also mentioned that my father was a Sheriff and DEA agent, retired. Around 11 AM we all went into the courtroom and were seated in the back for jury selection. The defense and prosecution were at tables facing us. Each had a half hour to ask questions in order to gain wisdom as to who to strike out. First we were sworn in and given general instructions. Then it was the prosecutions turn. Instead of asking us all individually, he put questions out there and then asked if we were have a problem being on a jury if such and such were the case. He was able to tell us about six things. He said that this case involved a man who has plead guilty to a charge of possession with the intent to distribute, less than 4 grams of cocaine, and we would be asked to determine punishment in the range of 2-99 years in prison, with a fine up to $10,000. Also that the trial would probably go on to tomorrow. So he went through each of those scenarios and asked each person, by row, if you have a problem with that. I was juror #2. I never spoke up to anything he brought up. Most people were saying how they couldn't consider giving someone 2 years for this particular offense, they defense came up, he didn't have much to do, so he asked me in particular if I would have any problem sentencing someone to 2 to 99 for this, and if I wouldn't rather also have him in rehab. I told him that the law is the law, and it needs to be followed, and then I asked him what the other question was, and he said to never mind. I don't know what he was bringing up rehab, since that wasn't really an option we were supposed to be considering. In retrospect, I think he was ecstatic to hear the general public being lenient on this kind of thing, and thinking maybe he could use that to his advantage. But he didn't want to tip his hand too much, so when I asked him to repeat it, he just pretended it was nothing. But he was looking for people who felt as though for such a small amount, rehab was the only option. He asked the next two women next to me the same question, and we all gave the same answer. The second lady had earlier told the judge that she would have problem doing this tomorrow because her grandson was sick, and she wanted to take care of him (maybe his mother had to work or something). Funny thing was, we were all picked for the jury. After jury questioning was over, about 12:45 we were all sufficiently hungry, and dismissed to lunch until 2. & I went to eat downstairs in the cafeteria. Interesting food, it reminded me of a state fair. The food and the prices. I spend $9.50 on a sandwich, desert, and drink. There were plenty of tables, so I sat alone. I wanted to reach out and talk to someone, but didn't feel God leading me to anyone in particular. Then a young woman came and asked if she could have some of the napkins on the table. I told her they were there when I got there, and she took some and sat down nearby. I should have been quicker to ask her to join me. She was not a very talkative person however, and more interested in listening to her music. We had a lot of time to kill, so we both took our time eating. I was interested to see that she liked ketchup as much as I did. I could tell she was into art by the way she was dressed. She had lots of artistic type jewelry and was dressed in an indie sort of way with mid-heavy makeup. I just wanted to encourage her that she had a lot going for her, but also tell her that God loved her and that was the most important thing.
After lunch was over, we all congregated back in front of the courtroom. A handful of people were called in and dismissed immediately. Some were sent into the court to speak further to the judge and attorneys and sent away, or back to wait. The rest of us waited. A young heavyset man was talking next to me, and he kept looking not only at the man he was speaking to, but me also. He looked like he attended a lot of comicon conventions and lived at home with his mom. He confirmed this with some things he said later about his house being broken into. Afterwards, his mother told him to go to the convention, and that she would be safe and fine. He didn't want to be there, and he was dismissed because he spoke up while we were in paneling. Finally, the bailiff came out to call the lucky winners. I was the second one called and went into the court. I did it! I was on the jury. The rest of the day we were introduced to the jury deliberation room, and told we could bring our lunches. We were not told much more by the attorney's, but the judge instructed us to go decide on his guilt or innocence. We were presented a three page document, and the last page had two options - one was to find him guilty, and the other was to find him not guilty. It was a pretty convoluted document he read us, and I had trouble keeping up with it. I'm sure everyone else did also. I think it was designed to be that way. I think the judge and the attorney's there worded it and explained it such that they felt we only had one choice. We went into the deliberation room and were given the document and told to make a decision. We sat there in silence for a minute, until the lady next to me said "Who wants to be the foreman?" Immediately two or three people spoke up and said "You spoke up first, so its you!" She backed out a little, so then I spoke up and said "I'll do it." Immediately everyone agreed. Since I wasn't seated at the table, I stood up and explained the situation. I told them that either option was equally valid. Someone spoke up and said - no, we have to sign the first one. I told them I disagreed, but I could tell that no one else there felt like investigating the Not Guilty option any further, and that all I'd do by pursuing it was piss everyone off. So I dropped the matter and asked if they wanted to do a blind vote or out loud. They said, lets just say it out loud. It was unanimous. They all agreed to find the defendant guilty. Again, I think the timing by the prosecution was such that they knew we'd all be strung out and ready to go home by this point. Frankly, I think the court appointed attorney didn't care too much one way or the other for what happened to his client. He didn't seem to be trying that hard, although I was impressed that he had held out for a jury. It wasn't until after the trial that the bailiff spilled the beans that the defendant had been driving a hard bargain, and the previous day he had pushed off a plea bargain until the prosecutors finally had enough and withdrew the offer and said they'd take it to a jury, and then he said OK, I'll do a deal. They said - sorry, its too late! That was his first mistake in the trial. Apparently the prosecution wanted 15 years, but the defendant wanted to settle for something less. Maybe 5 years? From the start, we were told that the defense and the prosecution couldn’t agree on a sentence. So basically what we have here is a criminal exercising his right to a jury trial. We made him wish he hadn't. Not what I had in mind, but I tried to make him glad he did. Let me explain how. But first, to finish the day, we were brought back into the courtroom and were asked if our decision was unanimous. I told the judge it was. He then read the verdict. I was told later that the defendant looked really surprised, but I was watching the judge. I kind of wished that we had taken more time to fully understand what we were doing. I suppose I should have started off by asking more probing questions to pique their interests. OH well, I went home and read up on how to be a good foreman.
The next day I got there early and met Dennis, who assembles Blackhawk's at the same site I work! We then went to the jury room and talked some more, and I saw two black ladies, one elderly and one in her 40's. They were good people too. I did my devotion for the day and I typed it out and prayed. I had decided that I was going to do this for the glory of God, and if possible, I would lead everyone in a prayer before we decided our verdict. I was amazed to see exactly how that got worked out.
For the first part of the day, we were wondering when they were going to call us in. The judge had said we would start promptly at 9 AM, but the minutes slipped by. Instead of speculating about the case, I'm glad that some people decided to make small talk. Interestingly enough, we had a lot of time to talk. And the talk always seemed to lead to how people make bad decisions, and to lament about how they could make better decisions - about how to dress, act, etc.
Around 10:30, we were called into the courtroom to hear the evidence of the case. I still wonder about the legality of having a jury decide guilt or innocence before hearing the evidence, based only on a man's confession. Confessions can be coerced, they are all the time. As we heard the evidence from a Federal Agent, we all quickly realized that wasn't the case in this instance. They had done a thorough job of taking pictures, copying a cell phone on a Cellebrite, bagging evidence, etc. that there was no one in that courtroom with any doubt about what had happened that fateful day in January of 2013 at Inntown Suites in Carrolton. One thing I found interesting is that the police in Carrolton use their vehicle cameras to constantly track the locations of vehicle by scanning license plates. The testimony went on for hours - mostly the prosecution, but the defense tried to make a few points. He was largely unsuccessful, but mostly pointed out that the 5 grams weighed about half as much as a nickel, so it wasn't a lot of dope. Of course, the witness got a little testy at that point, and assured us that the only reason they didn't find more that time was that the defendant was getting better at maintaining his on-hand drug weights in case he is caught. Its clear to me now that this was indeed the case, and that this is why the defendant didn't put up a fight and pointed out to the officers where the drugs were. That was another point for the defense, the fact that the defendant was non-violent. I did a good job of maintaining a neutral viewpoint, probably better than 9 other jurists. There were two who were pretty level headed in the deliberations - a young intelligent transplant from Louisiana, and an elderly retired white postal worker. One weak point for me was that I really liked the witness. He was a much higher level officer that one would expect for this case. He was a former member of the Armed Services, and he spoke very intelligently. I'm pretty sure everyone else there was keen to him too though. I couldn't help but thinking that he was doing my dads old job. One thing to note: If you ever want to text someone about a crime, use the MMS service instead of text messaging, it is less likely to be supported by the Cellebrite OS.
After the defense and prosecution rested, it was pretty late and we were dismissed to lunch. About six or seven of us had brought lunches, and we ate together in the deliberation room. For the most part, we did not discuss the case, other than the fact that people were commenting that "That was just the first witness!" and worrying that they could be there a while. I assured them that there probably were no more witnesses, but nobody seemed to put much stock in that. We talked about how one little old black lady had been robbed by a friend of her grandsons. Well, he was actually more of an acquaintance, and she saw it coming a mile away when this acquaintance came over to visit and was casing the place. she told stories of how she gets up into her families business if they come into her house or ask her opinion. She doesn't let her girls go around wearing immodest clothing. Next to her was a real doozy of a lady. White, rich, close to retirement, she didn't do much to win the love of the other jurors. She talked a bunch. She talked about how she liked to travel, how she was planning to sell her ad agency, how hard it was to work with the post office to mail advertisements, how she was missing a trip, etc. She also talked about we weren't supposed to judge people. So I was able to piece together a pretty detailed picture of her modus operandi. She was a princess. An old princess, who had many years of getting her way. There wasn't much she didn’t get that she wanted, and her main focus was what she wanted. She saw everyone around her as a means to her ends. For instance, later in the discussions, she wanted to make her vote everyone's vote, and she said whatever was necessary to get that done, even when it meant being quite catty. She shaped her theology by how it would advance her cause, and threw away the parts that did not. She had a very superficial faith, as anyone who spends any quantifiable amount of time listening to Christian radio or a pastor on the issue will tell you that we are indeed to judge people, and one day that will be our main job. We aren't, however, to prejudge people and judge unrighteously, but we are to be as wise as serpents, dividing the truth from lies and the will of God from the will of man.
As the younger girl to my left was eating, she put some large headphones on her shoulders and started listening to an eclectic arrangement at a volume setting that at times, seemed to fill the room like a quiet elevator music. I was slightly annoyed by this fact, but I guess that is just how the young people operate these days. I think by not putting them on her ears, she was trying to bridge the generation gap - not just tune us all out, but still get her music fix. When Jump In Line (Shake, Shake Senora) by Harry Belafonte came on the phones, I remarked that the song reminded me of Beetlejuice. She said she loved that movie and asked when I saw it. I told her I saw it in the theater when it came out, around 1987. She said she was two at the time. At least I tried to connect, she never said much though, so we all did our best to bring her out of her shell. Later when she was doodling, a lady remarked at how good she was, and I requested that she draw some people in the courtroom, and then some others said she could make some good money doing that.
After lunch we were all called back into the courtroom and told there were no more witnesses, and the defense rested. The judge then read us a three page sentencing plea, again with two choices on the back. One to acquit the defendant and basically state that he didn't need to spend any time in jail, and the other to state that he should spend X years in jail and pay X fine. Back in the deliberation room, I first again reiterated the fact that despite what the defense, prosecution, or anyone else said, your opinion counts more than anyone else's. Of course, again, someone spoke up and disagreed with me. I think it was the ad-agency lady this time. I guess I'm just not very authoritative and believable. Next I went after the fine, since the prosecution said that we shouldn't give him a fine. I asked if anyone wanted to give him a fine. They all said no. I said what about as a symbolic act, maybe even just something small? I was trying to get them to actually think about it. They said that since he never paid any fines, it would just mean that we loose money trying to collect on something that will never happen. That was a pretty good point, so I dropped the issue and filled in that blank. The next three and a half hours were pretty busy. I immediately had asked for the defendants records of his prior convictions. Some of the people, like the ad agency lady, didn't even want to read them. But then there were a good amount of level headed open-minded people who disseminated the records - all 9 of them, and reported the conclusions. It was not good for his case. He had been getting in trouble since 1993, when he was about 35. He was busted for marijuana, cocaine, and twice with DUI's. He never paid any of his fines, did any of his rehab or community service, and broke every one of his probations. As soon as I saw the DUI thing, I said - so much for him being nonviolent. He could kill someone with his car. Here is a man who apparently doesn't like being Brent Vossberg. He just wants to escape it all. We then went around the room and did a quick vote to see where we were - people threw out ranges of years. some 10-20, some 10-15, some 15-20, one lady said 10. Why? She liked 10. We all tried to get people to explain their reasoning. I said I was in the 7-10 year range. I asked if we should bring in the cell phone records. The ad agency lady spoke up and said that no one wanted to see them but me. I reacted quickly and pointed my finger at her and said That's not true, and you're talking too much. I immediately regretted the last part of my remark, but thankfully there was a pause between the two remarks, and a couple of other people started to talk over me, but she heard me. And she seemed to take it well, and shut up a bit. No one else seemed to have heard me. The art girl next to me actually had said earlier that she wanted to see the phone records, and I guess ad-agency lady missed it. So we called for those and went through them. This time only 4 people or so wanted to digest them. There wasn't much to read, mostly just his text messages. One thing that stood out was that he didn't talk to his family much, other than going to his nephew's game. And he took a girl to Trulucks Steak and Seafood, which is apparently pretty nice. I just looked it up - entrée's run in the $50's. So we knew he had money, and we were surprised that not even that lady came to his trial. Also, we noticed that he liked to stay away from bars with barfly's and attorney's, which is no easy feat. We read a few texts from the month leading up to his arrest that indicated he was supplying people with 8 balls and green(marijuana). After this, we took another poll. Most everyone was 15 years, except for the young Louisiana transplant, a black lady next to him, and the retired postal worker on the other side of him - and me. We were around 10 to 13 years. We discussed some more. Finally, we had pretty much discussed all their was to discuss. I wrote up on the board the range we were looking at. First we were at 10-15 years. Then when we had discussed some more, I moved it to 12-15 years. Then 13-15 years. We took another poll. The Katrina refugee changed his mind to 15 based on the cell records, and the black lady next to him said she didn't care and kept pecking away at her phone. this irked to the older Katrina refugee to my immediate right, who was a kind and honest man, but not the brightest. He said - "excuse me? I don't know your name, did you say you didn't care? This is a man's life in our hands, you seriously gonna be like that?" She said - I don't care, and kept typing away. He was like - "man, Oh, Ok." It was pretty tense then, the most tense it had been. But no one else said a word, so the subject was dropped. Retired Postal lady said she liked 10, but would do whatever we wanted. So that left me. I said I'd consider 13. I said I was surprised they didn't want more than 15. I said, the conviction needs to be appropriate for the offense, and this wasn't much dope. I also said, lets give him a measure of grace. The elderly black woman said - he's not gonna care about your grace. That ended that subject, I just said "I know, but that’s how grace works, you just have to put it out there and let them do what they will with it." I said, we'll vote, this time on the paper I brought. I said - but before we vote, I would like us to take some time to contemplate our decision. Ad agency lady spoke up and said that we don't need more time, we had plenty to think about it. I asked her if she had had time to pray about it yet, because I know I haven't. This was a surprise, I'm sure, to most of the people there, because up until that point I hadn't given any indication as to my religious convictions. Most everyone else had mentioned their prayers, or church, or volunteer work, or what (if there was any in their life), but it just hadn't come up in relation to me yet. I certainly wasn't going to boast about it. So there we were - me and my arch jurist nemesis, waiting for an answer. After a short pause, she responded - "I have". What else could she say? She put herself out on such a limb that to say no, we would all know she was a selfish hypocrite. I was surprised, but said OK. I wasn't quite sure if she was telling the truth, and I didn't mean to put her on the spot like that, but I needed to stop her from pushing her agenda on the group and that just slipped out. Later she explained that she had prayed the night before. Which is great, but we hadn't seen any evidence then. I needed to pray AFTER seeing the evidence, and so the group agreed that we could take 5 and pray or think to ourselves quietly. I said lets take a break, I'm going into this bathroom to pray, but you all do whatever you want. Just as I made it to the door, the older Katrina Refugee suggested we all pray as a group. I said - hey, if you're doing that, I'm in, and sat back down. Then he asked me if I would lead it, and I said sure. So there I was, in that room with 11 other people from all walks of life and beliefs, leading them in a prayer. It was late, we all wanted to go home, but there we sat, heads bowed, eyes closed, as I prayed. There was the art student, the intelligent 40 something lady who had a boyfriend and wanted to stay forever young, the young black mother, the black grandmotherly figure, the retired ad agency lady, off to the back was a smart 40o something lady who had almost become the foreperson. Next to her was Dennis, a Triumph Blackhawk mechanic, and then back at the table was the black lady who had said she didn't care anymore. Then the young black Katrina refugee who was doing well as a young professional. To his left was the retired postal worker and to her left was the older black man from Louisiana. My prayer went something like this. "Dear God, please send your Holy spirit now to dwell in each of us and help us be of one mind, one spirit, as we consider how to sentence another one of your children to jail."
It was about five minutes, and some silence in there too, as I contemplated this decision. While I was praying, I wasn't too sure what to do, so I asked God to show me. He told me to do whatever the black grandmother wanted to vote. So I started out another quick round of discussion by asking her how she felt at this point. She said that she still though he should get 15 years. There was a little more discussion, and then I decided we should go around with the pieces of paper and put them in my lunch pail with the number of years we wanted him to serve in jail. I then tallied the votes. There was 11 for 15 years and one for 13. I was surprised, but the postal employee was sticking to her guns. I was pleased for her. Of course, true to her word, she did change it to 15 years, and that was that. Before we left, I said I wanted to thank everyone for being diligent and going through all the evidence, and being kind to each other, etc. I said - after this is all over, and we go home, I know some of you might want to contact each other, so I'll put my email address up on the board. I got to up do that, and joked that we should take a group picture. No one seemed to be moving in either direction, so I said, should I put it up? And then I decided not to. I don't think many would have written it down. The black grandmotherly lady asked me, "Paul, are you a pastor?" That threw me for a loop, and I said "No, I'm just a normal man, but thanks for asking." Then I signed the conviction and filled it out for 15 years. We called for the Bailiff around 4:45 and we led into the courtroom. I made it a point this time to look at the defense and the prosecution. I have heard that if a jury doesn't look at the defendant, then its not a good sign for his future. I was surprised to see that they didn't stare at me. I think they were staring at the others though. I got a quick glance from the defense attorney. The judge then expressed to us how grateful he was for our service, etc. - standard jury thanks and such. He then asked me if the verdict was unanimous, and I replied it was. Then he read the entire paper we signed, substituting my writing for the blanks. When he got to the sentence years, Brent acted shocked. His attorney was dejected. Brent looked into the faces of the jury, search as if he could find the clown there saying "Just kidding!". He looked at me for a second, kind of mad. I just gave him a tight lipped smile as if to say - "Sorry, but you deserve it." The judge spoke some more, telling us that we were free to discuss this case with anyone we desired now. I thought that was kind of mean, and I'm surprised that we could do that. While the judge spoke, the defense attorney, an older black man who sort of looked Indian, whispered some reassurance in his ear. I'm not sure what he could say that would be reassuring at that point, as I think an appeal would be out of the question in this case. But maybe that’s what he said, we would appeal. It won't go anywhere though. And then it was all over. We were lead back to the deliberation room for a minute to gather up our stuff and say goodbye. The attorneys came into the room and shook our hands and asked us a question. The defense wanted to know what it was that made us decide that he should serve 15 years. The Louisiana man spoke up and said that it was the fact that he didn't do anything to show his remorse. He said "you gotta do the rehab, make every parole date, etc. if you want to get mercy from a jury, and he didn't do none of that". Which pretty much summed it up. I wanted to give him some tips on how to present his defendant better, such as if he has little beady eyes, get him some eyeliner or glasses, or something. And let him plead with the jury for mercy, instead of sitting there looking mean and confused with a furrowed brow the whole time. People began to file out, then the attorney's left, and finally, it was just me and the almost foreman. She thanked me for stepping up and said I did a good job. I said - "I saved your Butt, didn't I!" And she was kind of surprised at my language, I think. I tried to smile it off, and after she left, I wished I had chosen my words better. Outside on the front steps of the courthouse, I met up with the elder man from Louisiana. We spoke for a bit and he said what a good job I had done. He said "I know we'll meet again, cause good people always have a way of finding each other again." And you know what? He's right. I didn't think he was at first, but as a I look back, I know that what he said was just paraphrasing something he'd read in the Bible.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1. Thessalonians 4:16 -18
I know we reached the right decision, and I don't regret our verdicts. I still pray for Brent, whenever I think of him. One day it will be too late, and he'll have had his last second chance ever. I sure hope he takes God up on one of these second chances before then.