Doing juries justice

FRED LYNCH * flynch@semissourian.com

Cape Girardeau Patrolman Gary Burchell assisted the driver of a 2000 Intrepid which was involved in an accident at Highway 74 and West End Boulevard Tuesday afternoon. The driver, a 65-year-old McClure woman, has not been identified pending charges of assault and driving while intoxicated. Two people in a 2000 Impala also involved in the accident, Ethel Moore, 81, and Marie Annette Davis, 57, both of Cape Girardeau were taken to a local hospital. Their condition is unknown. Police said the Intrepid ran a red light on Highway 74 into the path of the Impala which broadsided it.By Linda Redeffer ~ Southeast Missourian

A dozen people are drawn together at random. They are given the same information, process it 12 different ways and usually come to an agreement. Someone's future depends on the decision these 12 people make.

In courtrooms across the country, people called for jury duty act as a third-party to settle a dispute or decide whether or not someone is guilty of a crime.

Missouri is one of only a few states that designates a week each year to recognize the significance of jurors and thank them for their service.

"I always have put a lot of faith in our jury system," said Cape Girardeau County Prosecutor Morley Swingle. "It always, always works."

Jurors are chosen at random by computer from voter registration lists and driver's license records. Every three months a computer in Jefferson City picks out 750 names that serve as the jury pool for that quarter. Jurors during that three-month period are chosen to report for jury selection, again by a random computer drawing. Most jury trials are short and infrequent in Cape Girardeau County, Circuit Clerk Charles Hutson said. Most people, he said, serve willingly, although a few do regard jury service as an inconvenience.

"Ninety-five percent of our cases in this particular circuit get done in a single day," said Circuit Judge John Heisserer. "When a juror comes in and finds out he's going to be home for supper, he relaxes quite a bit about serving on a jury. Most of them come to enjoy it." Hutson has little sympathy for those who say they're too busy, they have to work, or who suggest that the court find someone retired or unemployed, the most common excuses for shirking jury duty. For Hutson, it's part of living in a free country -- akin to voting and paying taxes.

Presiding Circuit Judge William Syler agrees.

"We listen to any reasonable excuse why people cannot serve but with the feeling that everybody should do it," Syler said. "It's something everybody ought to gladly do."

Debra Bradshaw of Jackson has served on a jury twice. In January she heard a case involving a marijuana distribution charge. Eleven years ago she was on a jury in a civil case against a doctor being sued for malpractice. She described the experience as intense.

"One thing I find fascinating is you have 12 people in the jury box. You can all hear the same thing and when you go back in the jury room, it's funny how they draw different conclusions," she said.

Bradshaw admits to losing sleep over both cases. For her, jury service was physically and emotionally draining."You don't want to let a guilty man walk free," she said. "On the other hand, you don't want to find somebody guilty when maybe he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Bradshaw was paid $25 for the one day she sat on the criminal case. Hutson said most other counties pay $15 a day. When she was on the civil jury, the trial took four days.Assistant prosecuting attorney Gordon Glaus prosecuted the criminal case in January that Bradshaw heard as a juror. The jury found the defendant guilty of some misdemeanors but not guilty of felony possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute. Glaus was disappointed that the jury did not find the defendant guilty of that charge but not surprised.

"I believe the jury did not feel comfortable convicting him," Glaus said. "My gut feeling is they needed more evidence that he intended to distribute marijuana."

Bradshaw said the jury noticed holes in the defendant's testimony and wondered why Glaus didn't question those gaps on cross examination. She called his cross examination "structured."

Heisserer presided over that case. He said he was not surprised by the verdict, nor has he been surprised by any of the 12 jury trials he has presided over in the last year.

"I think the jury made a reasonable decision under the circumstances and given the evidence presented in the case," he said.

Glaus said he appreciates the diversity of backgrounds and experiences that go into the makeup of a jury, even if he doesn't always agree with the verdict.

"A mix of people should be able to debate and analyze and discuss issues presented to them and come out with what we call a just result," he said. "That's why there are juries."

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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