Most cite pride in call to serve

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 30, 2004

Circuit Clerk Shelley Ashley-Palmertree holds juror badges in the Warren County Courtroom.(Brian Loden The Vicksburg Post)

[8/29/04]Robert Andrews thought the trial couldn’t have been timed worse.

The trial was supposed to be short two days. But it started on a Friday. And since it was a murder trial, the jurors spent the weekend in a Holiday Inn before coming back Monday and finishing the case.

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“They put us two to a room, and we could not leave our rooms at all,” Andrews said. “They even brought us food.”

Nevertheless, Andrews said jury duty was a “civic duty.”

“If you get a chance to serve, you should,” Andrews said.

A July 2004 poll conducted by the American Bar Association found that nearly 60 percent of the public looks forward to jury service.

The poll also found that three in four people would prefer that their cases be tried by a jury rather than a panel of judges. It also found that half of those surveyed believe jurors are treated well by courts.

More than 60 percent of those polled had been called for jury service.

James Shoenberger was sequestered for even longer than Andrews when he served on the 9th Circuit Court jury that found Tyrone Jenkins guilty of murder and Kevin Jay Jenkins innocent in a June 2003 trial.

Although he had to spend the week in a hotel, Shoenberger found the process fascinating and he wondered why the lawyers made some of the arguments they did.

“Just watching how the case was put on was interesting,” Shoenberger said. “I had some questions that I thought (the lawyers) would get to, but they never did.”

Shoenberger said the jury worked well together until deliberations began.

“To me it seemed straightforward. A few people didn’t see it that way,” Shoenberger said.

Serving on the jury caused no problems with Shoenberger’s job as an engineer at Waterways Experiment Station, he said. Jury duty was much tougher on Jill Johnston, a nurse at River Region Medical Center.

One co-worker was already on vacation when Johnston was called to serve. Jury service “made it kind of rough” on the rest of her co-workers, Johnston said.

Distinguishing the larger issues of the case from the narrower issue of what the jurors were supposed to decide was the most surprising part of serving, Johnston said.

“We were focused on whether or not this nursing home was liable to the plaintiff. When we were handed our instructions, that decision had already been made. All we did was decide whether (the nursing home) should pay,” Johnston said. “I was prepared for one decision, then had to make another.”

Herb Caldwell has served twice as foreman for a Warren County grand jury. He said people often confuse the duties of a trial jury, which decides guilt or innocence, and a grand jury, which determines if the prosecution has enough evidence to charge a person with a crime.

“I had people that kept asking, When are we going to trial?'” Caldwell said.

Caldwell said it was not easy taking time off from his job as an automotive sales manager as well as running a family business to serve on the grand jury, which typically requires a week.

“There’s really no balance between (jury service) and your regular job. It’s just a proceeding you have to do,” Caldwell said.

Nevertheless, he enjoyed serving. “As a taxpaying, voting citizen of the community, I appreciated the opportunity to serve,” Caldwell said.

Daisy Sanchez said even serving on a jury for a case that ended in mistrial was educational.

“You see a lot of movies about jury duty, but you don’t know how the process actually works until you are there,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said the case she and fellow jurors heard dealt with a person who was suing a dog owner because a dog had bitten the person.

Like Shoenberger, Sanchez said making decisions according to narrow issues of law was the most challenging part of serving.

But, as Sanchez said, “If we don’t do it, who will do it?”