BANQUET OF CONSEQUENCES:
A Juror’s Plight
THE CARNATION MURDER TRIAL of MICHELE ANDERSON
January 12, 2016
A white Carnation for each member of the Anderson Family
“QUERY OF THE LAMBS”
The judge, attorneys and the defendant had left the courtroom. Kenya, the bailiff of the court, always held the jurors back for five minutes after the principals had left. It minimized the situation of jurors crossing paths with the defendant.
I was packing my briefcase with my legal pad, readying myself to leave the jury box, when I heard a voice behind me asking if I was a reporter from a magazine. I froze for a moment. I did not know what to say. The voice was unexpected because the only people left in the room with me were jurors. I finally answered that I was not and I’m sure he saw the look of bewilderment and consternation on my face. I remember looking at him, but only briefly as I hurried myself out of the danger zone.
As a former juror, trained in a courtroom under the tutelage of Judge Roland Steinle III, the idea that a juror would attempt to speak to a media person, in any context, surprised me beyond what I expected. I visualized the day during the Jodi Arias retrial that Beth Karas was approached by a juror, and asked if she were Nancy Grace. I remember thinking how difficult it must have been getting on the stand, and explaining the situation that occurred between a juror and her.
It seemed that I found myself in a similar situation.
So, prior to the court proceedings of the third day, I reported my incident to the court. I could not control what had happened. To the juror, it may have seemed a harmless question. But, as another reporter reminded me, one never knows when something like this could come back and haunt me, or the court. Any negative situation could impact the course of justice for the family of the six victims. What if that person was selected as a juror and later, the same juror was caught for a bigger infraction? A simple contact like he had with me could have unforeseen consequences; and I was relieved to have put it in the Court’s hands.
I did not see that juror today, at the start of the third day of jury selection. A few may have been dismissed when they checked the website the night prior. But, it still left about one hundred who returned for the morning session.
As I settled in the jury box, I noticed a lot were casually talking among each other. Some of these folks have known each other for a month now. Most were now familiar with their neighbors as they sat on the hard, oak benches assigned by jury number. It was still a long way to go in order to bring the room down to sixteen or twenty jurors for the defense and prosecution teams.
Judge Ramsdell opened the proceedings in the same manner as the day prior and then called out to Juror #395.
“Sir, did you have a chance to speak with your employer. I know an issue was raised that this might be a hardship for you.”
The juror cleared his throat. “Uh, yes, Sir. I did. My employer will only cover the first two weeks of the trial. There’s no way I can pay the rent without it.”
“Very good,” the Judge responded. “Thank you for the follow up. I thank you for your service and you are excused. So, Mr. O’Toole, I think you’re up,” he said to the prosecutor. I liked Judge Ramsdell’s expeditiousness.
Scott O’Toole smiled, stood up and carried his notepad to the podium. He looked at the jurors in front of him and greeted them warmly. “I used to say ‘welcome back’ until a juror hollered back, ‘it’s not like we had a choice’!
The room laughed and Mr. O’Toole had everyone’s attention from the start. “I would like to spend a half hour or so talking about some elements of this case. We had talked about emotions but I would like to elevate that a little so you have an understanding of what we are about to go into. So, this case is about multiple victims. It is also about aggravating factors in the counts for numbers four, five and six. We allege that there was intentional concealment of the crime or to conceal the identities of those who committed the crime. For anyone, does this raise additional concerns?”
Juror #217 raised his hand. The Court Reporter noted his number. “A friend of mine was murdered in the Philippines over a pack of cigarettes. Personally, I don’t think I could be impartial.”
“Thank you for sharing that with us,” Mr. O’Toole said. “I am assuming, but is it that the person who committed the crime was never found?”
“A little,” the juror answered. “I’m still pretty angry about it.”
“Yes, Juror #126,” the prosecutor said to the next raised placard.
“I don’t understand what you mean by aggravating. Can you explain what that means?” she asked.
“An aggravating factor changes the nature of the crime, in this case, the nature of the murders,” the prosecutor explained. “Was that precise enough to be vague?”
The room laughed but it looked like she understood.
“If I am one of the final twelve,” Juror #110 offered, “I could not help but search for the motivation in this crime. I would want to know why somebody could do something so horrific. I would have to hear an explanation.”
“That’s a good point,” Scott O’Toole said. “The law does not see it quite that way. We have the burden of strictly proving that it happened. We do not have to prove why. You may never know the answer to that. You just need to know that a person or persons did the crime. This must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Make sense?”
Juror #37 raised his hand. “Is there a numeric percentage to that? Like, say, we’re ninety-nine percent sure it happened that way?”
The prosecutor shook his head. “No, there is not. You as a jury decide in the truth of the charge. That is not a quantifiable thing. In a civil case, a jury decides on a preponderance of evidence which can be attributed to a percentage, i.e. 51% is the majority. This does not apply in a criminal case. You will decide individually and collectively. Does that seem unfair to anyone?” he asked the room.
“If the State is going to take the liberty of someone, then all of the burden of proof is on Miss Morales and I. You decide what’s reasonable and that is case specific. Remember, it is what the defendant did, not whether she is a good or bad person. Anyone else have a comment?” the attorney asked the room.
“What if I am on a jury and I am the only one who votes for innocence, exactly for the reasons you just gave. Will everyone know that I’m the one who didn’t vote like everyone else,” Juror #147 asked.
The room full of jurors seemed to have had their interest piqued.
“Good point,” the prosecutor responded with a raised finger. “That is up to you. If you choose to keep it private, that is your right. Remember that a guilty verdict must be unanimous and it must be beyond a reasonable doubt. Which leads me to my next thought. Raise your hand if it concerns you that we are accusing the defendant of six counts of murder and that she is a woman. Does it make a difference to you if it’s a woman on trial?”
I thought this was a good juror elimination question but no one bit.
Scott O’Toole looked around, paced down the center of the aisle and then stopped. “What if we told you someone else was involved and that it was her boyfriend? Would a girlfriend/boyfriend dynamic affect your decision-making process?”
Again, his questioned was answered in silence.
“Time,” Mr. O’Toole,” the Judge stated.
The prosecutor thanked the jurors and sat down. The defense attorney, David Sorenson, stood up and went to the podium. He had short salt and pepper hair, glasses and was wearing a gray suit with a light gray shirt complimented with a gold and black diamond patterned tie. He straightened his notepad on the podium and looked across the room before he began.
“Some things I would like to follow up on, things we touched upon in the last couple days are regarding the words ‘fair and impartial’. I want to explore whether this is the right jury for you to sit on. Everyone in this room comes from different backgrounds, both good and bad, as evidenced on your questionnaires. Is this the right jury for you?” he asked rhetorically. “These allegations are shocking but we must get past that to determine fair and impartial. So, I am going to call on many individually. There are almost fifty jurors we have not heard from and I want to hear from you. Juror #111?” Sorenson queried.
She raised her card, seated in the second row.
“What is shocking about this case to you?”
“That children were involved,” she answered quickly.
“Do you think that fact would make it difficult for you to follow your legal instructions?”
“No,” she answered. “It’s just shocking with the age of the children.”
“Juror #208, we haven’t heard from you. What are your feelings?” Mr. Sorenson asked.
“I’ve thought about this a lot. It doesn’t leave your mind,” she said pensively. “I have friends in law enforcement. It’s hard to put the idea of six people being murdered aside. I would try to be impartial.”
The defense attorney then called on Juror #242. “What if we have zero experience in matters like this? What can I offer? I have never been a juror before. I wish I was better prepared,” she responded candidly.
“I thought this was going to be easy when we first started this process,” Juror #140 volunteered. “Now I don’t know how I feel. It’s a lot more than I anticipated.”
“Thank you,” Sorenson acknowledged. “What about graphic evidence? Who might have an issue with that?”
A good number of jurors raised their hand. Their sentiments were in unison when Juror #67 asked, “What are we talking about here? How bad are the pictures? Is this something we are going to see every second of the trial? Can we look and then look away? What if I cry? Are we allowed to show emotion?”
The attorney did his best to explain that it was okay to show emotion but the question was whether they would remain impartial until after seeing the pictures.
“How about body language?” the attorney queried. “How many in here were off put by Michele?”
Twenty jurors raised their hands. One juror said he saw her wave at them on the first day when she sat down. He did not feel it acknowledged the situation she was in and the charges against her. It was inappropriate in his mind. Another juror commented that it was hard to determine anything just on the short time they had seen her. Still another juror empathized with the defendant; saying she would not know how she herself would react had the same charges been placed against her.
Most of the jurors agreed that despite bad body language, they could be fair and impartial.
After the morning break, Scott O’Toole took over the podium again. “So, if I may, let’s review some of the things we have covered. We talked about emotion and being able to separate it from out interpretation of evidence. We discussed graphic evidence, and I promise you that any that is shown will only be shown when necessary and immediately removed from your sight. We will not leave it to linger on the screens for you. We also spoke of a boyfriend, Joseph McEnroe,” he pointed out, “and that we would wait to see what the evidence tells us about their relationship. We also covered the body language of Michele Anderson; and as some of you noticed, she waved at you. You will see her for four to six weeks. But, you won’t see the body language of Wayne, Judy, Scott…”
“Objection!” David Sorenson said as he quickly stood. “We have already covered the victim’s names.”
I remembered the rest of the victims as Erica and the youngest victims, Olivia and Nathan.
Judge Ramsdell sustained the objection.
The rest of the morning was spent discussing witnesses and how to judge the validity of their character and truths. It was gradually becoming clearer to everyone in the room that the job ahead for a select twelve was going to be a lot more difficult than anyone anticipated. Some were uncomfortable with their lack of experience in the law while others said they could tell in mere seconds if someone was lying. Even former ex-jurors came out of the woodwork, two of them having served on a murder trial in the past.
At the end of the trial, for which I was a juror for, the judge told us that we would never be jurors again; not only because it had been a high-profile case, like this was, but simply because we knew too much at the end of our term. Attorneys preferred jurors with little to no experience. I expected that the former murder trial jurors would not make the final cut and it was clear in their answers to both David Sorenson and Scott O’Toole that, in fact, they probably did know too much.
“We start with a presumption of innocence and that cannot change until you go into deliberations.” Scott advised the jurors. “We talked about probabilities and percentages and we know it cannot boil down to a shadow of a doubt but instead, making a decision based on evidence that is beyond a reasonable doubt. We want reasonable men and women who can stick to the standard that the law has set for you. We must prove she is guilty but you must presume her innocence all the way throughout and that will be difficult. The elements of the crime have to be proved by us and we are obligated to meet that standard. This is not about probabilities. Big case or small, the burden of proof is the same. It is only after you completely review the evidence, all of it, that you make a determination. You are the ones that will tell us if we have proved our case. If we have not, you will tell us that, too,” he finished.
The jurors were dismissed for the day, except for twelve jurors who chose to have a private conference with the judge and attorneys regarding matters on their voir dire questionnaire. It was each of their rights to voice whatever concerns they had without having the watchful eyes of others jurors upon them. The voir dire questionnaire, as I can attest, sometimes revealed bombshells in people’s personal lives.
“Also,” Judge Ramsdell had said before the jurors were dismissed, “I have good news for you. I want you to check the website tonight after 5:00 PM to see if you have been dismissed. If not, please return here tomorrow at 8:30 AM. After discussing it with both sides of the attorneys, we may be able to have our jury selected by the day’s end tomorrow. Although I cannot promise it, I am pretty sure that we are ahead of schedule…”
I was sure that any of the jurors who saw they were not dismissed would not sleep a moment tonight.
A month of waiting would finally reveal a jury of sixteen to twenty who were about to embark on a road they would never forget. Tomorrow, I would be releasing my seat in the jury box to the jurors that mattered in this case.
It would seem an impossible task to select such few from the many who were qualified. The gleaning of the flock was in full swing while the search for the lambs to the law would continue behind the closed doors of the lawyers’ offices. It had been the query of the lambs that would yield those who would, one day, be the purveyors of justice.
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.
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