Thursday, October 23, 2008

Waiting for the Jury, Volume the First

Live from the Ted Stevens Trial, Day 22

Washington, D.C.--

While your blogger keeps working to finish the posts on the closing arguments, let’s dip back into real time for a minute.

The judge yesterday sent four alternates away and left the case in the hands of 12 people to decide Ted Stevens’ fate. Those 12 include seven black women, three black men, a white woman, and a man who appears to most observers to be Hispanic. The foreman as selected by the jury is a black man who works as a drug rehabilitation counselor. In a more subjective sense, the jury appears to be mostly middle-class and--with some exceptions--tending towards middle age.

We're sitting here in the late morning of the first full day of deliberation, and nobody outside the jury room has any way to know what's going on.

The jury created a brief flurry yesterday afternoon—its first afternoon of deliberation—when it sent the judge a note that media reports have said read "Can we leave a little early today? It's kind of stressful right now. We need a minute of clarity."

Judge Emmet Sullivan—who has shown a humane sensitivity to the jurors throughout this trial—complied with the request.

Initial speculation about this note centered on the possibility of conflict among factions on the jury, and later speculation focused on the possibility that the split is between those who want to convict immediately and those who want to go through the evidence piece-by-piece and deliberate on each of the seven counts.

After talking with numerous people who have watched and not watched this trial, my own take is a little different. Consider the human factors at work. For a month, the jurors have been told what to do, where to go, and what not to talk about. Now—suddenly—they’re in charge, and they may be a little freaked out by the task.

Think of a hunting party of newbies deep in the woods when the guide keels over of a heart attack. The jurors have got to figure out who to trust, who should take the lead in various areas, and how to organize themselves to keep going.

This jury went through an an intense day of closing arguments on Tuesday before they walked in Wednesday morning and got hit with 81 pages of jury instructions and what’s got to look like a mountain of exhibits. It may be only natural that they want to rest and reflect a bit before proceeding.

Probably the best insight is that yesterday’s note means that deliberations maybe just got
extended for a day beyond what they otherwise would have gone.

Then again, this all comes from a guy who predicted that Ted Stevens would never testify.

Administrative note: Given your blogger’s mix-up on the date announced in the original deadline for the quiz contest, the deadline for responses is extended to Friday, October 24, 2008 at 8 p.m. Eastern time.

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