Behind closed doors: my service on the Grand Jury

Published 3:59 pm Sunday, June 9, 2024

Last month, I had the privilege of serving on a Grand Jury. Like most people, I hoped I wouldn’t be chosen. Just when I thought I had escaped the call to jury duty, they announced the last juror: me. Number 20 out of 20 jurors chosen.

I tried to stay positive as I thought about all of the other things I had to do that week that would now be put aside. After all, jury duty is important.

The Honorable M. James Chaney asked one of the jurors to serve as jury foreman, and he agreed. My fellow jurors and I shuffled to the third floor of the courthouse, to a room marked “Grand Jury Room.” It looked more like a library with a long table in the middle. We seated ourselves and listened as District Attorney Ricky Smith welcomed the jury.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Smith explained we would be reviewing evidence presented by himself or an assistant district attorney, along with witness testimony, and make decisions about whether or not charges would proceed. We had four options: a “true bill,” which meant we found enough evidence for charges to advance; a “no bill,” which meant we didn’t think there was enough evidence to continue to pursue charges; we could postpone for the next Grand Jury to consider; or we could reduce certain charges to a lesser offense.

After Smith’s welcome, Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace gave the jury a tour of the jail. The jail is, in its best parts, almost 50 years old and, in others, well over 100. The employees he introduced were smiling and professional, and Pace’s pride in his staff was evident. They seemed to take in stride the situation of leaking roofs, peeling paint and computers covered with plastic to prevent damage from water drips.

When we were shown the area where inmates are housed, the jurors all agreed the new jail could not be built fast enough.

We returned to the Grand Jury Room and were presented with several cases, voting on whether or not they should proceed. All of my fellow jurors were attentive and involved and more than a few cases brought about some lively debate. Twelve votes were needed to pass a true bill.

The next day, County and Youth Court Judge Marcie Southerland spoke with us. We discussed the situation with the youth in Warren County and what can be done to help keep young people from ending up in the courts as adults. Southerland’s concern and compassion for the young was genuine and moving.

What happens in the Grand Jury Room remains confidential, so I won’t go into details about the cases we heard. I will say that if drugs and alcohol were eliminated from society, we wouldn’t have much need for police or district attorneys. It seemed much of the crime somehow involved these elements.

The witnesses who were called, mostly employees of either the Vicksburg Police Department or the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, were inspiring with their integrity and skillful presentation of the facts. Many of them were longtime employees, and I wondered how they managed to cope with the barrage of undesirable human behavior day after day.

After three days of reviewing cases, we were finished. Smith collected the indictments to prepare for presentation to the court the following day. We were thanked for our service and invited to return the next day to observe the court proceedings, which I did.

The court proceedings moved rapidly, with lawyers on one side of the courtroom and shackled inmates against the other. Those charged but not incarcerated were seated in the main section of the courtroom. All the people charged with a crime pleaded “not guilty.” The time for making a plea deal had passed. I was shocked by the number of people who were simply “no shows,” and warrants were promptly issued for their arrests.

I’m glad I had the chance to serve on a Grand Jury. It was interesting to see how the legal system works and what type of crimes are affecting our community. My faith in local law enforcement was greatly renewed. Not that I didn’t appreciate law enforcement before; I just wasn’t aware of many of the things they deal with every day.

The judges, attorneys, court officials and law officers I encountered were tremendously competent and compelling. So much so, that I was glad to be a part of the process. It made me see that, despite the terrible things that go on in Warren County, we have some truly amazing people looking out for us.

Sally Green is a reporter for The Vicksburg Post. She can be reached at