BANQUET OF CONSEQUENCES:
A Juror’s Plight
THE CARNATION MURDER TRIAL of MICHELE ANDERSON
January 13, 2016
Graveyard in Carnation, WA
“GRAVEYARD FOR JURORS”
The final day of jury selection for the upcoming Carnation murder trial saw seventy-five jurors return to the gallery of the Superior Court of King County in Seattle, Washington. It had been over a month since each had learned that they were being considered as a juror for the murder case. They would have been nervous in anticipation. The subject had seemed to occupy their minds every moment of the day. Most had resolutely accepted the upcoming responsibility, committed to doing their civic duty and honored to have made it this far through jury selection. The process had already dismissed over fourteen hundred other potentials jurors
Kenya, the Court Bailiff, took me aside before I entered the courtroom, informing me that I would have to give up my seat in the jury box at the end of the morning for the jury. I thanked her and made my way toward my seat, one I had held for four days. I had been humbled to sit in those seats and the first thing I noticed once I settled in to the office style chair was that some chairs had been removed. The jury box originally held twenty seats, and now I counted only sixteen. Butterflies jumped in my stomach as I thought of the task that the new occupants were soon to take on.
Judge Ramsdell opened the day by thanking the jurors for their patience and commitment throughout the process. He promised to be respectful of their time throughout the day and throughout the trial. He formally dismissed two jurors at the outset, one for a medical note and the other for financial hardship.
“With that,” Judge Ramsdell stated, “let’s give the attorneys a chance to speak one more time.”
Scott O’Toole, attired in brown slacks, blue suit coat, white shirt and a brown tie, stood up and confidently walked to the podium. He smiled at the jurors, reiterating his thanks and promised he would only talk to them a few minutes.
“Juror #200? I have seen your questionnaire but I do not think we have heard from you. Did you get a chance to talk?”
“No,” the juror answered. “I didn’t speak at all.”
“Do you think there will be any work hardship for the next six weeks?”
“Not at all,” he answered.
“Do you have any impressions on this case that you might want to share?” O’Toole prodded.
“Not really,” Juror #200 responded. “I would be okay with it. I think it would be a good experience.”
The prosecutor nodded and made a mark on his legal pad. “How about Juror #210? Is there any hardship for you?”
“Yes,” she answered. “I made a note on my questionnaire, as well. There are only three people in my department and this would overload the other two. It would be a hardship.”
“Thank you,” Scott O’Toole said. “No more questions.”
David Sorenson, the defense attorney for Michele Anderson, quickly walked to the podium. He was wearing a light gray suit, blue shirt and a mauve tie. He adjusted his glasses and set his notepad down, glanced at it and then put his hands on either side of the podium. “I have a few more questions than Mr. O’Toole and I’m sorry about that. As you know, today is the last day and now is the time to speak or forever hold your peace. This is your opportunity for you to tell us that this is something you really don’t want to do. Anyone?”
A number of jurors raised their placards in the back of the room. The attorney called on juror #250 first.
“I would be impartial. I have no doubt about that,” she said. “This would be a work hardship for me, though. I was just transferred to a new store and, to be honest, I thought I would have been dismissed by now.”
David Sorenson thanked her, made a note and recognized the next juror.
“Personally, it is not a big hardship on me. However, I am a special education preschool teacher and this would be hard on my students and on the other teachers. I am not against doing my duty but you asked,” Juror #256 said.
The attorney made a notation and moved quickly to the next juror. “Juror #241?”
“Yeah, glad you asked,” the male juror, responded. “Look, I don’t really want to do this. Six weeks is way too long and I don’t look forward to six weeks of boredom. I don’t have money problems but I can’t sit that long.”
“We appreciate your honesty,” Sorenson said. He wrote a note on his pad and stepped away from the podium. He put his hands in front of him, clasping them. “Now, who wants to tell me that they’re so excited to be on this jury that they can’t stand it? It would be just awesomeness to be a juror. Raise your number if you feel that way,” he encouraged them.
Four jurors raised their numbers while the attorney jotted their numbers down. Each of them said it would be an interesting process and each could begin with the presumption of innocence. He spent the next hour randomly calling on juror numbers after looking at his notes. Some had not been heard from, others had spoken a number of times over the three day period.
“I think we are almost done,” the attorney said as he walked away from the podium again. “Like we said, there will be media coverage on this trial. Does that concern anyone?”
The room returned blank stares. No one raised their hands.
“No one? This is the final call. Does anyone feel uncomfortable being on this jury?”
Juror #368, from the back row of the room, stood up, his card raised.
“Yes?” the attorney asked.
“I thought your term, awesomeness, in regards to being on the jury was offensive. There is nothing awesome about any of this. Six people are dead and someone killed them…”
I saw the attorney’s face flush. It was clear the comment caught him off guard. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it to come across that way. I was only asking if anyone thought this would be a good experience.”
Despite the potential juror’s stand for the victim, I suspected he would end of in the graveyard for jurors, those jurors who would be dismissed without explanation. I knew by the end of the day that the cemetery of jurors would be full of those jurors who almost made it to the final sixteen.
The uncomfortable silence that ensued was broken as Judge Ramsdell moved to the matters of dismissing juror #250 and #256 with the approval of both teams of attorneys. “Are there any other challenges for cause?”
Scott O’Toole and David Sorenson had no other jurors to name.
“Very good,” Judge Ramsdell said perfunctorily. “We will go ahead and take the morning recess. Upon our return, we will seat sixteen jurors for challenge. We will have our final sixteen sat today.”
I am sure it was the longest break these jurors had taken thus far even though it had only been fifteen minutes. Not one of them had any confidence that they would be seated in the jury box. Each one thought of all the reasons that they probably would not be picked for the jury. On the other hand, thoughts of being a good juror prevailed, while instinct told them that this trial would not be fun. It would cross each of their minds that it would be a great responsibility to find justice for six strangers.
For the first time since the start of the trial, I took my seat on a hard, oak bench in the gallery of the courtroom, behind the jurors that I had glanced upon for days. Although I was nervous for them, I knew it was nothing compared to the nervousness each one of them felt. They were going down a blind alley and did not know where their future was headed.
“All right, Ladies and Gentlemen,” Judge Ramsdell began after lunch. “We are going to call each of you by number. I want you to take a seat in the jury box. Two jurors at a time will be dismissed.”
In his hands, he held a sheet of paper and began reading off juror names numerically until the jury box was filled with sixteen.
Each juror looked on, their faces stoic. They watched as the judge took his sheet of paper and handed it to Kenya, the bailiff. She took the sheet to Scott O’Toole’s desk. He and his partnering attorney, Michelle Morales, scrutinized the document while Kenya stood behind them. Scott, pen in hand, made a notation on the document after a brief and whispered discussion with Miss Morales. He handed the sheet over his shoulder to Kenya, who then walked it to the defense table.
David Sorenson centered the sheet in front of the defendant, Michele Anderson while Colleen O’Connor, the other defense attorney whispered quietly back. The defendant was wearing all black and only stared straight ahead. She did not volunteer any help and seemed to trust what was going on. After a few moments, David made a notation and handed the sheet to Kenya who took it back to the Judge’s bench.
The Judge looked toward the jury and smiled. “In the land of Microsoft, this is how we do it here,” he said as he waved the sheet of paper.
The jurors in the gallery and the jury box laughed nervously.
Judge Ramsdell inspected the sheet and then looked to the jury box. “Juror #32 and Juror #61, you are dismissed. The court thanks you for your service. Please turn in your juror information at the back of the room.”
Each of the jurors left the jury box quietly and neither showed any reaction on their face. I suspect there was disappointment in their hearts as they walked their way down the tile floor aisle and left the courtroom.
We had heard very little about #32 during voir dire except that he felt there were no distractions for him to be a juror and that he would always look at facts.
Juror #61, however, had been called upon a couple of times. In one instance, David Sorenson had asked him what the juror would feel if he had to rule someone was innocent because there was reasonable doubt. “Murder is murder, right is right and wrong is wrong,” the juror had responded. “The law can’t fluctuate.”
“Juror #88, please take seat seven and Juror #99, please take seat eleven”, the Judge ordered the next two juror replacements. Two jurors stood and went to the vacant seats in the jury box. The courtroom was tense and extremely quiet.
Again, the court waited silently as Kenya took the sheet to the prosecutors, who discussed it quietly and made a notation. She walked the sheet to the defense table and the attorneys scrutinized the sheet and followed with another notation. The sheet was handed to Kenya who walked it back up the Judge’s bench.
“Juror #13 and Juror #88 are excused,” the Judge ordered the jury after looking at the list.
Two female jurors picked up their belongings and walked out of the jury box while the courtroom watched. Juror #88 had revealed very little in the prior few days except when Colleen O’Connor had called upon her, after asking, “Is there anyone here who does not want to be on the jury?” Juror #88 had said that it did not matter whether she wanted to be on a jury or not. She expressed that she wanted to be fair to the defendant because she was a person. I suspect the prosecution would not have been a fan of having her on the jury.
On the other hand, the defense had someone they did not want. I watched Juror #13 as she walked down the aisle between the waiting jurors in the gallery. Her head was held high but I could feel that she was disappointed and understandably so. She had been called upon repeatedly over the prior few days. On one occasion, Scott O’Toole had called upon her when he had asked if anyone felt any animosity toward attorneys. She revealed that she had been a juror on a murder trial in Texas, a trial she felt could have been handled better. The jury had failed to reach a decision in the end. She still believed in the system despite a negative experience. In later questions, she had shown herself to be confident and levelheaded. I thought she had a good chance of being on the jury despite being a juror on a murder trial.
The next round of peremptory challenges became a fight for seat three as the attorneys began dismissing and replacing the candidate one at a time. It was a fight for the final seat and took nine jurors, accepted and dismissed to seat it. Each time, Kenya would take the list from the Judge and walk it to the defense table, then take it to the prosecution table and finally walk it back to the Judge.
Juror #103 was dismissed from seat three. A couple days prior, David Sorenson had been discussing reasonable doubt and the difference in its value in a petty case versus a murder case. “Even if I suspected she did it,” Juror #103 responded when asked, “the decision can only be determined by the evidence.”
A lady with an extremely soft voice, Juror #109, replaced Juror #103 and was subsequently relieved of her duties after Kenya made the triangular journey between the attorneys and the Judge. “We must trust in the system,” she had commented during questioning a day prior. “If someone were to be let go even though we suspected she might be guilty, there would be consequences that go beyond the law.”
Juror #118 came and went in seat three as quickly the prior juror. When he had been asked about significant reasonable doubt and the responsibility to let someone go, he had responded, “We must follow the law. Probability is irrelevant. We either have reasonable doubt or not.”
The Judge knew the jurors in the jury box were tense. It must have been difficult to be so close to being a juror only to have the attorneys dismissing them one by one. “Go to the hot seat, Juror #126. If you’re the one we keep, then maybe you should go play the billion dollar Powerball tonight.”
Juror #126 was probably going to play the lottery anyway despite not being selected. In the same question that Sorenson had asked Juror #118 regarding letting someone go who was innocent, he had firmly responded, “The prosecution must prove its case. If they haven’t, I have no problem letting someone go.”
The next juror made the circle of being called, being seated in the jury box and then being dismissed. Juror #127 had revealed during questioning two days before that his father had been a juror and had to release a defendant because the prosecution had not proved their case. He and his father had discussed it over the years and he concluded that it was the juror’s job to do as they were told.
Juror #128 did not react when he was dismissed. He had experience as a juror in a theft case and a marriage fraud case. His feeling was that, “It’s a high standard we have to adhere to. It’s the law and you have to read it.”
I remembered Juror #130 when he left the courtroom. Only a day prior, David Sorenson was pursuing the responsibility of letting someone go if there was reasonable doubt. “I think it would be mentally demanding to stay on track. I also think the juror’s duty is quite clear. There is an expectation for the prosecution to prove their case. The system is designed to work.”
The final juror to take seat number three was dismissed in the same manner as all the prior jurors. He had been called upon only once in the prior three days saying only, “It is our system and it is our job to determine whether someone is innocent or guilty.”
“Are you nervous juror #140?” Judge Ramsdell asked when his number was called. “Go ahead and take seat three.”
The juror took his seat while Kenya walked the sheet of paper from the judge to the prosecutors’ table and then to the defense table. No one made a mark on it. She walked it to the Judge. The court was silent as sixteen expectant jurors looked on. The Judge studied the sheet.
I could almost feel the tension drain from the sixteen in the jury box when Judge Ramsdell announced, “Congratulations! It looks like we have a jury and Juror #140 finally broke the mold.”
He looked at the sixty jurors in the gallery and thanked them for doing their service. They were excused while the jurors sat in the jury box, alone in their thoughts. They departed to the graveyard for jurors, some exhilarated and some dejected, at not having been selected. However, they were each important in the process and deserved to be commended for their service. Remarkably, they had served more days on jury duty than 98.5% of all trials. Average jury duty is three days or less.
For the remaining jurors, the moments after one learns that he or she was selected from an incredibly large pool of potential jurors was surreal. It took the mind a few days to wrap their head around what they have just found themselves involved in. The logistical part of the mind starts making plans on their mental calendar. Work plans and family plans would have to be arranged. Until that moment, no commitments could have been made. Many would hope they would not be on a jury because there would be sacrifice that extended beyond the juror’s personal life.
In those seconds, another part of the juror’s mind would in disbelief that he or she was selected. Were they the right person for the task? Could they do a good job even though they knew very little about the law? Why were they selected when so many more in the room were probably more qualified?
There was great relief; relief that the process was finally over, and relief in at least knowing what their next six weeks entailed. Underneath that relief was a sense of being humbled while also being proud. Underneath that layer, there was a great sense of responsibility. Each would know that this would be one of the most unique tasks they have ever been asked to do. At this point, the juror, more than anything, wanted to do the right thing.
The jurors listened to the Judge as he read their jury instructions. They would receive a written copy of the instructions, as well. They would do their best to hear the Judge but the words would be muffled by thoughts racing in their heads, seeming to go in a thousand different directions, as if one just learned they were to depart on a world-wide trip with an hour’s notice. The process of wrapping their minds around it would not complete until the weekend and would not be solidified until the first time that each walked into the jury box.
The Judge completed the reading of the jury instructions. He instructed the jury of sixteen to return at 8:45 AM, on Tuesday, the day after Martin Luther King Day.
I could not help but think of Juror #368, never having made it to the jury box. The moment that he had called out the defense attorney for referring to being on the jury as ‘awesome’, he had spoken a great truth. It was not awesome being a juror although, to most, it would be fascinating. Instead, it was humbling because this was no longer about each of them in a jury box.
Underneath and, sometimes, at the forefront of each juror’s conscience, there would be chagrin. The voices of Wayne, Judy, Scott, Erica, Olivia and Nathan were the voices that once walked the earth and it was now the juror’s task to hear their words.
Who were the sixteen jurors obligated to find justice in the Carnation murders and the trial of Michele Anderson? Who were these people designated to find answers for a family who laid in a graveyard?
For four days, I sat in a jury box and took notes. It is from those notes that the following jury profile emerged…
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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