Controversial verdicts handed up by juries in the murder trials of O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman have caused many to question the effectiveness of the jury process in today’s complicated judicial system.
Closer to home this week, the nearly 45-hour deliberation marathon of the jury hearing the triple murder trial in Bangor prompted similar questions.
Across the country, legal scholars argue whether criminal cases have become so complex they exceed the average person’s ability to adequately understand the evidence and the sometimes obscure laws that apply to it.
Ideally, of course, the Penobscot County jury that heard the triple murder case against 33-year-old Nicholas Sexton of Warwick, Rhode Island and 36-year-old Randall Daluz of Brockton, Massachusetts, would have reached verdicts on all eight counts levied — three counts of murder and one count of arson — against each defendant.
Guilty or not guilty, most people involved with any trial hope that a verdict is reached.
In the end, this jury was unable to agree on two of the murder charges against Sexton, though they did find him guilty of one count of murder and arson. Daluz was found guilty on all counts.
But the effort, determination and final verdict of the jury should certainly be noted and perhaps may illustrate why, even with all of its flaws, the American legal system works.
I have no idea how many jury trials I covered during a couple of decades working as a newspaper reporter, but nearly every time, I marveled at the ability of 12 people of various intellect, beliefs and temperament to reach a conclusive decision and present a cohesive and, in many cases, life-changing verdict.
The truth is, however, every single day thousands of juries across the country do it and do it well.
We don’t hear of 99 percent of those cases, of course.
We hear only of the most notorious and controversial cases and we listen to legal “experts” pontificate about the outcome and we confer with one another about whether justice was served.
Do juries go astray? They do.
Are they unpredictable? They are.
Are they flawed? They are as flawed as the human beings who sit on them.
They are all of those things, but generally speaking what juries are not is corrupt. Keeping corruption out of the courtroom remains a cornerstone of the American judicial system, which sets us apart from other countries.
Having cases heard and decided by only judges or panels of professional jurors would open the door to that corruption.
The jurors who heard the case against Sexton and Daluz were instructed to apply the evidence to each defendant separately.
For a month, they were subjected to gruesome autopsy testimony, complicated cellphone tracking evidence and conflicting testimony about who was where and when.
Since then we have learned that at least a few of them were afraid for their safety, one telling a reporter that she watched carefully when she drove home at night to ensure she was not followed.
They clearly worked hard to try to reach a consensus. Surely they did not want the judge to have to declare a mistrial and most certainly took their responsibility as jurors seriously.
If my faith in the jury system has wavered in the past, and it has (did I mention O.J. Simpson?), then the work of this jury restored it.
You can reach Renee Ordway at firstname.lastname@example.org.