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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

After the verdict, a time to reflect

By Margaret Plevak/Contributor

When life hands you lemons, it's been said, lemonade is the best recourse.

When life hands you a jury summons that stretches into a two-month stint on a notorious murder trial at the Walworth County Judicial Center, the results may be just as bittersweet.

I was a juror on the recent trial of Mark Jensen, a Kenosha man accused of poisoning his wife nearly 10 years ago.

I didn't broadcast the fact. Rather than face a phalanx of cameras in the courthouse's temporary media center on the day the verdict was read, I opted for the parking lot and home, as did three other jurors.

I'd rather avoid discussing the case itself because I don't feel comfortable bringing up details that may fuel a future appeal. I will tell you, however, about the experience.

Ask any of the 10 women and nine men involved in this case what they've learned as jurors, and you'll probably hear a litany of responses. I won't speak for them, but these are a few of the lessons I've gleaned:

This isn't Hollywood.

No matter how many epi-sodes of "Law and Order" you've watched, the drama of a trial isn't quite the same.

True, there were moments during testimony in a case which touched upon pornography, death and marital affairs that made me squirm or tear up.

But the pithiest quotes from witnesses and attorneys usually came after hundreds of mundane and sometimes tedious questions and responses.

Tensions occasionally ran high in the courtroom, but I've since learned that most of the real fireworks erupted after the jury was called out of the room-which happened with astounding frequency as attorneys' arguments grew heated. Minutes-often hours-spent waiting outside the courtroom simply became part of the process.

Being a juror is intense.

Please understand I'm not complaining. This isn't surgically repairing a leaky aortic valve, being at home all day with a 2-year-old and a newborn, or slaving over a pickax.

But listening intently to testimony all day, taking note and trying to keep straight the details of dozens of witnesses and hundreds of facts on subjects ranging from chemistry to computers is mentally draining.

That dazed look you sometimes see on jurors' faces is no accident, and their need to sit quietly even for a few minutes at the end of the day is real.

A support system is essential.

Besides the long hours in court, a number of jurors had to put in time on their jobs as well during the trial. A few suffered from respiratory infections, migraines, even sciatica.

Still a network of people existed, like the wife of a juror who took time from her day to drive from Darien to Elkhorn to deliver pizza one lunch hour. (Many spouses, including mine, were anchors of support.)

Or the two Walworth County bailiffs assigned to the case who, with grace and good humor, spent seven weeks dispensing cough drops, brewing gallons of coffee, running errands, telephoning jurors' family members during long nights, herding jurors up and down two flights of stairs to courtrooms, jury rooms, bathrooms and lunchrooms.

Finally, there were the jurors themselves. Despite testimony that made for grim days, we joked, shared homemade cookies, provided shoulders to cry on, listened to and encouraged patience in each other.

Tempers flared once or twice, but no fights broke out. I'd venture a guess that the same support system continued for the seven alternate jurors, who spent three days during deliberations in a separate room, unable to talk about the case and unaware of the progress of the 12.

Don't believe everything you Google. Like other jurors since the trial ended, I've been perusing newspaper, television and Internet accounts of the case, which, not surprisingly, vary in their accuracy.

While reputable journalists regularly check facts and verify sources, other less respectable ones-particularly some bloggers-wrote reports with mistakes ranging from misspellings to factual errors.

Life goes on.

Our role as jurors ended with the final verdict. But some seem touched by the case enough to continue searching for justice in issues ranging from mental health to domestic violence.

Those are the lessons that, one hopes, never end.

The author is a freelance writer who lives in Elkhorn.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for a job well done. Liz in nc

March 6, 2008 3:17 PM  

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