JURY BOX – CARNATION MURDER TRIAL
BANQUET OF CONSEQUENCES:
A Juror’s Plight
THE CARNATION MURDER TRIAL of MICHELE ANDERSON
January 11, 2015
Three days before Christmas, 1500 jurors checked the court’s website to determine if they were expected to return on January 11, 2016. 1352 potential jurors learned, after seeing their number listed, that they had completed their civic duty to the State of Washington and would not be on the jury panel to determine the fate of Michele Anderson. However, one hundred and forty-eight souls were not on the elimination list and arrived at 8:30 AM, seated in the gallery of Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell’s court. There was a sense of unease as well as anticipation in the air as we waited twenty or thirty minutes for the proceedings to start.
Again, I was afforded the opportunity to sit in the hallowed ground of the jury box and observe.
“Good morning, everyone,” Judge Ramsdell said to the gallery as he was sitting down. “I want to thank you again for your time today and the time you spent with us last December when you filled out your questionnaires. We thank you for your willingness to serve.” He paused and looked over the courtroom, reiterating his thanks as if to look at each juror after they had sat.
“Today, we are going to be asking you questions. Those questions are not meant to embarrass you, but rather they are there to reveal any bias you may have. We call this process ‘voir dire’. The attorneys and myself are trying to determine your frame of mind in the presumption of innocence. Remember, before we continue, that you’re still under oath from last December.“ The judge looked over the jurors as if ensuring they were listening. Satisfied, he continued.
“Obviously, we are not going to need all of you for this jury. In that, we will be dismissing jurors for either a challenge for cause or for a peremptory challenge. I know a lot of you have no idea what this means so let me explain briefly. Let’s say the litigant in this case was Boeing International. Now, let’s say you work for Boeing. You would be dismissed because you work for them and there may be an inherent bias. We call that dismissed for cause. In the second case, that of pre-emptory challenges, the attorneys on each side have a limited number of jurors they can excuse for their own reasons. And, mind you, just because you are dismissed from this trial, it does not prevent you from being a juror in another trial,” he explained, educational in his tone.
Judge Ramsdell asked the attorneys to re-introduce themselves with Scott O’Toole and Michelle Morales standing up first for the prosecution. Detective Scott Tompkins was not present. David Sorenson for the defense stood up and briefly introduced himself while the defendant, wearing a black, loose fitting outfit, sat quietly.
“My name is Colleen O’Connor and it is our pleasure to represent Miss Anderson in this matter,” the defense attorney said when it was her turn.
Again, it struck me as a bit ingratiating, speaking as a former juror.
The judge proceeded to read the charges filed against the defendant as he had done on the first day. The names of the victims were read aloud one at a time: Wayne, Judy, Scott, Erica, Olivia and Nathan. Although he did not speak to the ages of the victims, I am sure it did not get past anyone that two of the victims were aged three and five at the time of their deaths.
“So, we will be asking questions today. We want you to be honest and candid. Please do not answer any questions the way you think we might want them answered. There will be questions that we ask that are innocuous to us but may make you uncomfortable personally. In the event that it’s an issue, that you are uncomfortable speaking about it in front of the people around you, we can consult you in private. Just let us know. Is everyone comfortable with that?” he asked as he looked over the room full of jurors. Seeing the affirmation nods, he resumed. “Since we last saw you, have any of you had hardships that could prevent you from being a juror in that time? If so, please raise your juror number so that we can review each situation. When we call on you, please state your hardship in two or three sentences.”
Thirty-one jurors raised their 8 ½ x 11 placards in the air. The judge and court reporter noted the numbers. One by one, each juror spoke into the microphone as Judge Ramsdell queried them.
Occasionally, the court reporter would ask a juror to speak up or speak closer to the microphone.
“I just found out we are having an eightieth birthday party for my mother. It would conflict with the trial,” one juror said.
“I live alone and have no one to take care of my dog. He’s at the end of his life and he’s stopped eating. I couldn’t concentrate on being a juror,” a lady said.
“Thank you for listening, Your Honor,” a juror offered. “I have been diagnosed with cancer and I am taking a new medication. “
“Let me ask you this,” Judge Ramsdell said. “What does the medication do? Does it make you tired?”
“It’s really unpredictable,” the juror answered.
It was not uncommon to hear jurors say that many had employers who would pay for jury duty for either a short time or not all. Mortgages and bills still had to be paid and six weeks was too long to go without a paycheck. Other jurors were self-employed or worked for small companies who could not afford their absence. Ten dollars a day would do nothing to help pay their rent. The judge, court reporter and attorneys took notes studiously as each juror spoke their case.
“I’m a mother of two kids and I have no one to take care of them for that length of time and I surely can’t afford a babysitter. It would be too much of a burden,” one lady said, voicing what a number of other mothers had already expressed.
It crossed my mind that these jurors had a month to think about their situation. I do not think any of the potential jurors wanted to tell the court that the sacrifice would be too great for them. I am sure they spent the prior thirty days agonizing over the situation that a long-term trial would do to their personal lives. There is no denying that the expectation to set aside one’s personal life for six weeks is sometimes too high an expectation.
Judge Ramsdell closed the matter telling the jurors he would get back to them with a decision once the attorneys submitted their lists for him. “Mr. O’Toole, why don’t you go ahead and take over,” he directed the prosecutor.
Scott O’Toole stood up and smiled at the room. He was wearing a navy blue suit, white and red tie. He moved a podium toward the front of the jury, tapped the microphone to make sure it was working and settled into his role quickly. “As the judge said, we will be asking questions. When you do answer or comment, please raise your card so we know who you are. Most of what we ask you will refer to some of the questions asked on the questionnaire you completed the last time we were here. You had sixty-six questions to answer so there are some answers we may want clarification on. I hope it doesn’t make you too uncomfortable.”
The jurors looked forward and most looked at ease with the prosecutor.
“Years ago, the way we used to do this was to ask questions of each of you one at a time. It was hard on everyone. Instead, we are going to do this the “Donahue” way,” he said. He leaned forward and pulled the cordless microphone from its perch and began walking the aisle in amongst the jurors. If one did not know any better, he assumed the floor as if he were, in fact, hosting a talk show. “Like Phil Donahue or Oprah might do, we want to elicit candid conversation. We want to get you talking. This isn’t a Jerry Springer show, though.”
The ice was broken when most of the jurors chuckled.
He let the laughter die down. “What we want as the State is to get the best jury possible that is fair to us as well as Miss Anderson. Give me a show of hands, who has negative feelings about lawyers?”
Ten or twelve jurors raised their numbers while the prosecutor began calling on each asking why they did not have a favorable opinion of attorneys.
Juror #124 volunteered. “My ex was an attorney.”
A lot of jurors laughed.
“Really,” Scott responded. “What kind of lawyer?”
“A city attorney,” the juror answered.
The prosecutor shook his head. “I hope it wasn’t me,” he retorted.
The room laughed again.
“I grew up in Texas and people get railroaded there all the time,” another juror said after he was called. “I think it’s the attorneys.”
Scott nodded. “A lot of people think that. You know, twenty years ago, it was the O.J. trial that affected everyone’s negative opinion of defense attorneys. Years later, Kenneth Starr went after President Clinton. It made a lot of people hate prosecutors. Now, you have TV, a new show about the making of a murderer. Does it give a negative image to attorneys and law enforcement? “
A couple jurors responded that it did.
Scott O’Toole kept walking the aisles between the jurors, sometimes he sauntered and other times, he would pause to look at the juror he was conversing with.
“How about the media? Do they always get it right?” he asked the room.
A few jurors raised their cards.
“How about wrong?”
The room, barring only a few, raised their hands.
“And why do they get it wrong? Is it because they don’t get all sides of the story? How many of these TV shows that you see, like the ‘Making of a Murderer’, actually interview jurors?” Scott asked no one in particular.
“I saw them interview one juror,” one person said.
“It doesn’t happen often, does it?” the prosecutor asked pointedly. “You see, as a juror, if you are selected, you do have control in the system. You are a finder of facts. You will be able to make decisions, very important ones. You will have a perspective that will be different than everyone else, including the attorneys. You will have a say in right and wrong. We trust in the members of our community. You hold us, the State, to a standard that the Magna Carta established eight hundred years ago. It is a great responsibility to be a juror and you keep us in check,” he said, pointing his finger around the room.
“This is an extraordinarily serious case,” he continued. “Anyone notice that there were six victims?”
Everyone raised his or her hands.
“Any comments?” he asked the room. He started calling on the jurors volunteering answers.
“I would be very emotional,” a female juror commented.
“That’s a good point. There were six victims and two of them were children. And, in feeling emotion, should that preclude you from being on a jury? Or, do we acknowledge the emotion and then set is aside to hear the evidence presented. Can you still keep an open mind despite the strong emotions that will arise?”
“I think I could separate the emotion,” a juror said. “I am shocked that something like this could happen but I think it’s vital that jurors take notes and not waiver on emotions. Aside from the defendant, there’re a lot of lives that we could impact.”
“Absolutely,” Scott responded. “Any other comments?”
Another juror raised her hand. “I’m nervous about it. I’m not sure what we’re going to get exposed to. Could we get PTSD over this? Does the Court provide counseling? I am willing to do my duty but it’s a lot.”
The prosecutor assured her counseling was available after jury service was completed.
An older juror raised his hand. “I have a lot of mistrust in the system. Last night, there was an episode on 60-Minutes that told the story of an innocent guy who got put away for thirty years. I don’t trust the system.”
“If you are selected, can you still be fair?” the prosecutor inquired.
“Seems to me that the little guy always gets trampled,” he answered.
“But, as a juror,” Scott offered him, “you do have a say in the system. You’re in the front row making sure we do things right. Are you still skeptical?”
The juror shook his head. “Yeah, yeah, I am…”
“It’s the two children that really bother me,” a juror responded after she was called upon. “The person who did this has no conscience. Children are defenseless and I think it’s inexcusable! How could so someone do that?”
“Do you think it would affect your impartiality knowing children were involved when it came to making a decision?”
“I don’t know,” she answered slowly.
The prosecutor acknowledged the next raised hand.
“Jesus loves everyone. The Bible says we all have sin. I believe in the Bible and I don’t believe in capital punishment. If the jury voted for death, and I was on the jury, I would vote against it because I don’t believe in the death penalty,” the juror stated firmly.
Until the juror had said that, Scott O’Toole had been progressing along flawlessly, moving from one comment to the next. He stopped and looked at the jurors and then turned around toward the judge. It appeared he was about to ask for help and then thought better of it. He looked at the juror and appeared to formulate the words in his mind before he spoke. The room waited.
“Let me ask you this,” he started. “Would knowing what the punishment could be, whether it be life or death, would that make a difference?”
The juror shrugged his shoulders. “Are we going to give the death penalty or are we going to decide that?”
The prosecutor turned around and looked at the judge again.
It was obvious that the juror had touched upon a delicate area. Judge Ramsdell took a breath and looked toward the jurors. “I can tell you that the Governor in this state has placed a moratorium on the death penalty while he is in office. It means no one will be executed during his term. The Supreme Court has put limitations on what I can say. We cannot advise you whether the death penalty is involved.”
“I thought something like that would be on our questionnaire,” the juror remarked.
“I cannot tell you the potential punishment,” the Judge said.
The prosecutor stepped back in. “If you do not know the punishment, will if affect your ability to be fair and impartial?”
The juror shrugged again. “I don’t know.”
“Can I see a show of hands?” Scott asked the room. “Who thinks not knowing the punishment would affect their ability to be fair and impartial?”
Twenty-five jurors raised their placards in the air.
Both sides of attorneys seated at each table furiously took notes.
The judge told the prosecutor his time was up and directed Colleen O’Connor from the defense team to begin her segment of questioning. She stepped to the podium wearing a maroon colored dress, gray patterned coat and white blouse. Instead of fielding answers from random respondents in the jury pool, she instead went after each juror sequentially. Her two-part question posed to each was the same.
“Are there any distractions in your being on the jury and do you think you could start with a presumption of innocence for the defendant?”
I do not know how successful she was at eliminating jurors. Maybe the question was a little too open ended. Maybe it was the fact that each selected juror got the same question so it did not seem to fuel a lot of candidness. For the most part, jurors recognized the financial hardship involved. Most also said they could be unbiased as well.
Juror #47 spoke up when it was his turn. “I have followed this story since it happened in 2007. It was a horrendous murder. I do not think I can be unbiased at all. It was horrible.”
The attorneys took notes while Colleen O’Connor moved to the next juror comments.
“I have no distractions because I am retired,” a juror answered. “I really think this is an awful crime. I’ve been thinking about why it took over eight years for the prosecutors to bring this case to trial. I was emotional when I thought about it. The more I think about it now is what if she really is innocent? I am trying to be rational about this but part of me wonders if I should not be on the jury. I am capable either way but, if you asked me today, I would rather not be on the jury.”
“I appreciate your honesty,” the defense attorney commented.
Many jurors recognized the hardship in their lives should they be selected to be on the jury and even more commented that six lives were involved plus the life of one that was in their hands. It was clear throughout the rest of the morning that each juror took the position they were in seriously. It was also clear that most had heard about the Christmas Eve Carnation murders long before they answered their jury notice.
The attorney managed to get through half the room before Judge Ramsdell signified that her time was up. As she sat down, he pulled out a sheet of paper and read a series of juror numbers as he looked at the jury pool. In one fell swoop, he summarily dismissed the thirty-one jurors who had claimed hardship at the beginning of the day.
The ax of the peremptory challenge had fallen and the departing jurors were mostly likely relieved.
“Thank you for your service and please check out with Kenya, the Court Assistant, before you depart,” he said.
I could see that relief on a lot of juror’s faces as they left. The sacrifice in being selected as a juror goes far beyond the financial impact. The road to justice is often paid with the souls of jurors; people who have done their civic duty yet carry the deaths of the victims with them for the rest of their lives. Maybe, to some of those jurors, it was a blessing that their sacrifice did not going beyond their wallet.
Voir dire was not done, yet. The remaining jurors, numbering about one hundred were told to return the next day at 8:30 AM. The Court still had a lot of work to do by Thursday, the self-imposed deadline for seating a jury of sixteen to twenty.
The judge closed the day reminding the jury of the admonishment not to speak about or discuss the case with anyone. They were told not to research the case or to be on the Internet about the case. It was an order not unfamiliar to those who attended the first day of jury selection.
I put my notepad in my briefcase, preparing to depart for the day, while the jurors filed out.
And that is precisely when the unthinkable happened…
Paul Sanders is the author of “Brain Damage: A Juror’s Tale – The Hammer Killing Trial” and “Why Not Kill Her: A Juror’s Perspective – The Jodi Arias Death Penalty Retrial”, both of which are available on Amazon. The author began his True Crime writing career after being deliberating death penalty juror #13 in the State of Arizona vs. Marissa DeVault in 2014. Paul reported daily on the Carnation Murder Trial daily with Trial Talk Live’s Jarrett Seltzer. The interviews may be found in the archive section of Trial Talk Live. This work is a draft of the upcoming book: “BANQUET OF CONSEQUENCES: A Juror’s Plight – THE CARNATION MURDER TRIAL of MICHELE ANDERSON”.
The sentencing of Michele Anderson is scheduled for April 21, 2016.
This work is copyrighted by Paul Sanders.
Pictures courtesy of Paul Sanders, KOMO-TV, KIRO-TV, State of Washington Prosecutor’s Office.
Facebook: Paul Sanders