By #PaulSanders

#TravisAlexander & the Jodi Arias Retrial: A Juror’s Perspective

DAY 42

I should think that the verdict watch must be the most difficult segment in the Jodi Arias death penalty retrial for the family of the victim. They have sat in the front row of the courtroom for almost five months showing strength and fortitude in the most difficult of circumstances. The presentation of the prosecution case of 152 exhibits of the cruel and heinous death of Travis Alexander may be the only days that rival the intensity of the verdict watch.

This was the second time the family of Travis Alexander has had to wait for justice. I expect the sense of having no control until the verdict is decided is much like driving through a ferocious blizzard. One blindly drives forward, as one waits in the victim’s room, much like the limited visibility in front of your car. One was afraid to have faith because one had felt the jolt of faith denied. Every jury question that would arise was like driving into a snowbank. Some questions are harmless like hitting a soft snowbank; while others jolt one into a world of speculation filled with damaging shards of ice. One only hopes to survive this blizzard and pray that the strength of each other and the hand of God will yield a result that might feel like closure.

It is in that vein that I thought of serendipity and the parallel trial of Marissa DeVault in the cruel and heinous death of Dale Harrell. Since I cannot be in the jury room for Arias, instead viewing from the gallery, I hope the coincidence of my being a juror on the DeVault trial can provide some understanding of what this jury might feel.

There are some strange coincidences as I compare Arias and DeVault. Both trials feature a defendant who had been convicted of first-degree murder with the aggravating factor of being cruel and heinous. Both trials featured young men, each thirty-something, innocent and undeserved of being brutally ripped from this world. Travis Alexander and Dale Harrell, each killed by someone who professed to love them. The defendants are women, both thirty-something who periodically changed their hair color from the original color of brunette. One could be seen in blonde hair while the other in red hair. The two trials were accentuated by extreme sex as well as defendants who changed their story multiple times.

Each trial took a week of break during which a South Seas airlines disappeared, 370 and 8301.

Flores was the last name of a major player in the two trials: Allan and Detective. Each trial had a major witness named Travis: Alexander and Tatro. The judge’s name in each trial began with the same three letters. Dr. Janeen DeMarte was in both trials while Dr. Karp was a behind the scenes player in one and named in the other. Both juries were reduced to fourteen jurors the day before deliberation leaving each with two alternates.

A gun was a major piece of evidence, coincidentally in both trials with one being used and the other being unfired.

Juan Martinez was in attendance for both trials and few know that the DeVault trial was on his docket at one time. Eric Basta, the prosecutor for DeVault, is a true champion for justice. Juan Martinez orates for justice in eloquence, speed and an exacting avenger for the victim and his family.

The twin trials place the mitigating factors as utmost of importance in the deliberation room. They counter each other in that one has those factors present while the other falsely claims its existence.

Both trials accentuated accusations of domestic violence. The existence of domestic violence was not found to be valid by our jury in DeVault. I expect this jury to rule in a similar fashion.

Each jury has been faced with the decision of whether the defendant lives or dies. The average age of the jurors in both trials is in the mid-thirties. Both juries were selected and dispatched to the jury room in the late afternoon of their first stab at deliberation. The DeVault trial jury made their final decision at forty-one days. The Arias death penalty retrial was forty-one days in length when the jury was given their task.

The first time a jury goes into the deliberation room from the jury box as a collective group of twelve, there is a great sense of excitement. The excitement arises from the realization that each selected juror had survived the ‘alternate selection’ lottery. The investment in time and the commitment of one’s heart and soul are freed. That feeling is not with dishonor to either family but rather an honor to have a part in the process of justice. It is why I feel great empathy for those who are dismissed but feel greater empathy for those who are left to be ‘on-call’.

The jury room door closes and the first thing that everyone wants to do is talk about it. This is in spite of having two tasks to complete relatively quickly. In our case, we chose the jury foreperson astoundingly fast. I call her, Cherie, in the book, “Brain Damage: A Juror’s Tale”. Our first vote yielded eighty percent of the jurors wanting her as a foreman. She was a leader by example. She dressed impeccably; she got along with her fellow jurors and was experienced in organization. She did not lead because she wanted to but rather because she had a sincere desire to follow the process to get down a road called justice.

We still wanted to talk but Cherie’s first assignment was to complete the jury schedule for the court.

“Listen up,” Cherie said as we were excitedly talking amongst ourselves. She was a tall African American lady, the only on our jury, wearing a blue business skirt suit with a white button down blouse. She was an IT manager in her “real” life.

Everyone listened as she had earned our respect the prior ten weeks of sitting in a jury box, lambs to the law with leaders showing us the way.

“Let’s get this out of the way because I am excited as you are to get going. Is everyone good with the regular schedule of Monday through Thursday?” she asked us as a group.

That was an easy question to answer for all of us. Each of us was used to the rhythm we had. In that, we agreed.

“Very good,” she answered. She marked the court calendar in her hand. “I don’t know about any of you but I think we could accelerate our schedule. I think the family of Dale Harrell would appreciate it. How does everybody feel about our coming in on Fridays?”

This is the logistical situation with a juror that few talk about and one does not realize until they become a juror. Early in the DeVault trial, two of us lost our jobs. Certainly, after a phone call to our employers directly from the judge, we were rehired and given a work schedule that complimented the court schedule. In that, when it came to the question of working Fridays, it was not that we did not have a fervent desire to get through the process of justice, it was the thought of going back to our employers after a schedule had been settled with them. As much as we did not like to admit, the employer makes a sacrifice by losing a juror to a long-term trial. Few consider that jurors in a long-term trial are only available to their employer one fifth of their normal time. Consequently, jurors lose eighty percent of their regular income substituted by a fraction of financial compensation from the court.

Ironically, on January 23, 2015, I lost my same job again only this time I did not have a judge to rescue me. My employer decided that the court schedule of Arias was not conducive to my employment terms. Since I was no longer a juror, my employer had no reason to recognize the Arias trial. My availability had been no longer acceptable and I was forced to decide between my job and my commitment to the Arias trial. That decision was made, coincidentally, exactly one year after the date of my jury notice for DeVault.

“Alright,” Cherie said, “it looks like Fridays won’t work.”

Some jurors said they were happy to work Fridays but there were too many who relied on Friday and Saturday for what meager income they got from their employer. It is an extremely difficult financial balancing act that few of us predict at the outset of being selected. A good number of us used our savings and retirement monies to keep afloat. All of us did this with an understanding that it was part of our civic duty and with an honest desire to do the right thing. Its difficulty is reminded to each juror when attorneys expose witnesses for being paid three to four hundred dollars an hour.

“We could save a lot of time if we cut our lunch breaks in half,” Cherie offered.

All of us agreed that an hour and a half lunch was not necessary even though it was the normal court schedule. The jury room had a microwave, coffee pot, a small Refrigerator and electrical outlets. It also had a single bathroom for each of the sexes. We were self-contained. Some jurors offered to bring in sandwiches for the group and others offered to bring in Crockpots of slow cooked food that had simmered the length of the night before.

The first duty our foreperson handled was the signing of the jury deliberation schedule. We rang the buzzer twice for the court assistant, Sydney, and she quickly tapped on the door.

Cherie opened the door.

“Excuse me,” Jarod said. He was the youngest juror of all of us.

“Yes?” Sydney answered.

“So, I’m not saying I don’t want to be on the jury. But, it would really help if I could get back to work. Can I switch with an alternate?” he asked.

“No,” Sydney answered. “The alternate is used at the court’s discretion. There’s no changing of jurors.”

“I was just curious,” he said before she shut the door.

As the door shut, Cherie walked over and sat down.

Somebody said that we should do a poll and see where everyone stood in relationship to a verdict.

Cherie thought for a second. “I think that’s a good idea however, let’s go around the table, and have everyone say what they think one by one. After we do that, then we will do a poll, which should finish out the day at four-thirty. Is everyone comfortable with that?”

It was a good idea because each of us wanted to explode after keeping everything secret for over three months. Being able to individually express our thoughts was a release of steam. It was not anything that affected our first polling but it was psychologically medicinal. Each of us learned a little about the other as it related to the trial, and found many similarities in emotion and detail. This round table featured the destruction of witnesses such as Stan, who claimed to have a memory that only lasted five minutes. It also led to the rising of the important witnesses such as Dr. Janeen DeMarte, whom all of us agreed laid an objective foundation based on evidence we felt we could see, touch and feel.

We were blessed with twelve individual jurors that were strikingly similar to the jurors in Arias. Their commonality can be seen in the race make-up, age and an even division of sexes. The process of discovery in each was going to be strikingly similar.

The first two phases of our deliberation as a jury featured jury polls taken regularly. We usually did one at the beginning of the day, after lunch and one before we left for the day. It gave us a constant feeling of progress, as jurors would fall to one side or the other. Each of our original polls was coincidentally remembered as being split evenly the first time we were dispatched to deliberate in each phase. We would submit our votes by writing it on a scrap of a page out of a legal pad. These were thrown into a pile.

Cherie would go to the dry erase board and uncap a Dry Erase marker. She would draw a horizontal line along the top and a vertical line down the center. The third phase, the penalty phase for the defendant, simply said ‘life’ on one side and ‘death’ on the other.
Once a juror saw those two words and submitted their vote, the weight of the decision was intimidating as well as frightful. It was something a juror has thought about over and over since the jury selection process. Yet, the first time you are in a position to vote on it, it feels as if all that thinking was for naught. There was always the penalty for the defendant but there is an equal, if not greater, responsibility to the victim and those who survived the victim’s death.

One of our jurors, Wings, poignantly noted that we would have to live with whatever decision we made for the rest of our lives, and be able to sleep at night after making that decision. She suggested that it had better be the right decision. We had three things on our mind in spite of a killer sitting in the defendant’s chair. The first was to make the right decision, one with no regrets. The second reason, equal in importance, was that we had a victim and a family that we were responsible to in the process. Finally, that we were unified in whatever decision we made.

The first Arias trial did impact our jury from the voir dire process through the final phase of choosing between life and death. Most of us knew the results of the first Arias trial and it would have been nearly impossible to find a juror who did not. All of us had been asked about it in the original questionnaire at jury selection. The majority of us answered that we were familiar or very familiar with the trial yet none of us had seen the Arias Lifetime movie.

None of us wanted to hang and I believe this jury will be of the same sentiment. It is badge of honor that no juror wants to be scarred with. No juror wants to leave a trial with a job unresolved.

The newly delegated Arias jury will find it incumbent upon them to make a decision. They will do this because it is the right thing to do but also because no one else can be tasked with the decision.

The first day we were collectively considered a jury of twelve, one of the jurors asked Sydney, the Bailiff, if he could take his notes home and rewrite them. Many of us thought it a good question. She politely explained that while she appreciated the enthusiasm of us, the removing of notes from the jury room was a violation and strictly not allowed, even if it were to be done at lunchtime, while in the building.

The main issue that we learned the first day was not only about the strength and accuracy of our notes but the weakness of our evidence list. The first day that a juror was seated in a jury box, they were each issued a three ring binder with a pocket for the jury instructions, a legal pad and, a blank evidence list. This was quickly a concern for all of us because the evidence presented is usually not in chronological order except in small strings of evidence numbers banded together. Most trials do not feature over four hundred pieces of evidence as with the trials of DeVault and Arias.

The jurors in Arias had a mighty task in front of them with 962 pieces of evidence at their disposal and request.

The court issued an evidence record but the information on it is vague. Each page features a list of one hundred pieces and each exhibit and property number is described as simply, “photograph”, “document” or name of item.

This jury would spend the day learning about the process. It was a matter of getting ducks in a row and being organized at the outset. Before the discovery of truth can begin, the logistics of that process must be learned.

I was not surprised when the Arias jury submitted questions that included one asking if the lunch period could be shortened. Another question to the court asked if notes could be rewritten during breaks or lunch outside the deliberation room. The exhibit list was of concern to this jury and our jury experienced the same look of surprise. The generality of it would make the process tedious, especially if the note-takers had accuracy issues. When a juror inquired to switch with another juror, I thought it coincidental and innocuous in the same breath.

The rules of deliberation are fairly simple and open ended. They are conditional in that all jurors must be in attendance in any discussion of the case and it may only happen in a fifteen by fifteen foot windowless room. It can only be discussed during the times that the jury has submitted to the court. Any change or alteration to that schedule must be in writing and signed by the jury foreman.
Restroom breaks in the jury room require everyone to stop talking when a juror had left the table. We designed a fifteen-minute break in the morning prior to lunch and one fifteen-minute break in the afternoon. We would stop talking about the case during any break and all of us would stay in the same quarters without leaving the room. The heated discussions were always tempered by these periods. Within four walls we created our “work away from work” schedule. The regiment was sealed and our progress was as efficient as possible with rarely a day left without accomplishment.

I consider the serendipity and coincidence of my viewing the jury from the gallery where I once viewed it from the confines of the deliberation room. The coincidences and similarities to both trials give me confidence in this jury. I have observed them from afar and see the little things that make them tick, and within those minute observations, I equate the similarities.

Our search for justice for Dale Harrell changed my life in the most unexpected of ways as it will forever change some of the individuals on the Arias jury. I have faith in a system that has survived over two hundred years. Millions of jurors have sat in these jury boxes and each has searched their souls from the smallest of trials to the behemoths such as Arias and DeVault.

It took our jury fifteen days, within a period of five weeks, to find a decision of life or death in DeVault including all three phases of deliberation. Ultimately, in our responsibility for the life of the defendant as well as to the memory of the victim, we put our hands on every single piece of evidence that had been admitted for our observation. Although it took time, we did not want to risk second-guessing our decision the rest of our lives. The third phase took our jury approximately forty hours of deliberation spread over two weeks.

It is certainly possible that the Arias verdict could be reached by the end of next week. It is just as possible that it will take the amount of time it took our jury to reach on life or death. I watched from the gallery and I experienced a view with a comprehension enhanced by my juror acumen and experience. I know it best not to speculate as it raises red herrings and dead ends. We cannot see what this jury is doing and we do not know who they are. We do know that they are doing their service with a commitment few will understand until they have been inside those four walls.

Our jury voted that the defendant, who brutally killed Dale Harrell, be relegated to spend the rest of her life in jail. The decision was set by the parameters of the law, the revealing of each of our darkest secrets to eleven other comrades and the path of evidence lain in front of us.

Both trials feature a victim who died senselessly at the hands of an unrepentant killer. One trial resulted in life in prison due the existence of true mitigating factors.

The second trial searched for justice for Travis Alexander just as we searched for justice for Dale Harrell in the first.
The only difference in the search for justice for Travis Alexander is that it does not feature factors of mitigation. The only factor of similarity in both cases is the lack of the defendant’s criminal history. Our jury considered it a mitigating factor that had little to no weight by the conclusion of deliberations.

In a trial that the jury has convicted the defendant of first-degree murder enhanced by the death qualifier of it being cruel and heinous, I am confident that this jury will be left with only one option, especially in the absence of true mitigating factors.

Culpability finds no reduction and leaves the jury with no alternative but to call for death…it may take longer than the family might wish but, in the end, the jury will get to where they need to go by the path of evidence presented by Juan Martinez and the prosecution team.

My faith is in my juror experience while the rest is now in the hands of a jury of twelve.

This jury will remember Travis Alexander and what was done to him.

The verdict watch continued…
“Every good relationship that has developed as a result of this trial is the manifestation of the Spirit of Travis Alexander.”

Justice 4 Travis Alexander…
Justice for Dale Harrell…

Paul A. Sanders, Jr.
The 13th Juror @The13thJurorMD (Twitter)



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *