In retrospect, the worst part of serving on a jury this week was not, surprisingly, that time I missed a step coming out of the jury box and fell flat on my face in front of the judge and jury and attorneys and bailiff and clerk and security guards and social worker and various miscreants and then had to suffer all these strangers hovering solicitiously over me to ask whether I was okay when all I wanted to do was crawl under a pew and cry for about a week.
That was a bad moment. It hurt. Still does. But it was only one of several horrible moments.
The first happened during jury selection, when I was safely ensconced toward the back of the courtroom with 14 people in the jury box and 12 ahead of me in line to replace anyone who got dismissed. Surely the judge and attorneys would not find valid reasons to dismiss 12 jurors, right? I felt certain that I would be heading home before the trial even started, but then as one juror after another offered compelling reasons for dismissal, the line of potential jurors in front of me got ever shorter until just one man sat between me and the dreaded box.
I'd been hearing him muttering under his breath in response to the judge's questions, and while I can't share the substance of his thoughts (but I'll paraphrase: "Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Off with his head!"), I felt pretty certain that if he made it into the box, he'd be quickly dismissed. So when a juror was dismissed and my neighbor in the pew got called up, I knew I was in for it.
And I was.
In for what?
Straining to listen to a low-quality recording of a detective questioning a distraught and inarticulate 19-year-old explaining that yes, he did have sex with that 12-year-old girl, but he never forced her and he always used a condom and he really really loves her.
That was bad. But that was not the worst.
The worst moment was when the prosecuting attorney gently but pointedly questioned the now 13-year-old victim about what part of his body he put into what part of her body and where they were when it happened and how many times and what happened next, and then what happened after that?
What would it be like for a child to tell such a story with all these people watching? The judge, the attorneys, the jurors--we all could have been as friendly and supportive as Mr. Rogers, but we were strangers listening to details of a very private story she clearly did not want to tell.
That was the worst. Much worse than falling down. After all, I fall down all the time and I generally find a way to get back up again, even if it hurts. I only hope that girl can do the same.
In the end we never got a chance to deliberate over the case. After we'd been sitting in the jury room for more than an hour this morning wondering what was up, the judge came in to tell us that the defendant had changed his mind overnight and had just pleaded guilty to all charges, including some unrelated to the case we'd been hearing. "Your time hasn't been wasted," he said, "because we would not have gotten to this point if you had not been sitting in that box."
The best part of jury duty? Not the $20 I earned to compensate me for my time, and not even the kind words from the wise judge. The best part was seeing justice served--and finally going home. That didn't hurt one bit.