Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Sometimes Jurors Bring The Drama to a Courtroom

One thing I have learned after covering courts for more than two decades, jurors are unpredictable and many times they bring their own drama to a courtroom or present unusual requests.

During the trial of a Norristown pastor who was accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl, there were moments of tension as the defendant’s supporters and the victim’s family lined the hallways waiting for a verdict. 

When word of a verdict came, everyone piled into Judge Gary Silow’s courtroom, anxious for the announcement.

There’s no more intense time in a courtroom than those moments when everyone is assembling to learn of a verdict, moments filled with an eerie silence. It’s the most nerve-wracking time of a trial.

However, on this particular occasion the drama was suddenly heightened when one of the jurors fainted on his way into the courtroom to announce the verdict. His fellow jurors, those who had already entered the courtroom and had taken their seats, had worried looks on their faces as sheriff’s deputies jumped into action to attend to the ill juror.

Spectators appeared stunned and there were several tense moments during which everyone was wondering if that verdict would ever be announced. 

A few moments later, the juror, recovered from the fainting spell, appeared from a closed door at the rear of the courtroom, ready to take his place with his fellow jurors. The guilty verdict was then announced.

It was the first time that I could recall a juror fainting just before a verdict was about to be recorded. Talk about high anxiety.

Something unusual also occurred during the trial in May of a Pottstown man accused of sexually assaulting a woman on three occasions during a period of time when they dated.

Supporters of both the victim and the defendant and other spectators gathered one morning to hear closing arguments of the lawyers, Assistant District Attorney James Price and defense lawyer Benjamin Cooper.

Suddenly, it became apparent that something was amiss. Word soon leaked that one female juror had lost an article of diamond jewelry during the course of the day and some speculated she wouldn’t be able to concentrate on trial testimony if she was worried about finding her diamond. The proceedings before Judge Thomas P. Rogers suddenly came to standstill.

The jurors were kept secluded in a room behind the courtroom while sheriff’s deputies and others scoured the courtroom looking for the diamond. Some deputies, I was told, even went outside the courthouse to search in areas that the juror had communicated that she had frequented while on a court break.

About 45 minutes later the proceedings got back on track even though the diamond was never found.

During the trial of an accused Abington burglar, jurors apparently had a difficult time reading some of the exhibits that went back with them to the jury room. 

They sent a note to the judge asking if they could have a magnifying glass to read one of the exhibits, specifically phone records that prosecutors claimed linked the defendant to the area of the burglary.

Judge Steven T. O’Neill flat out told the jury “No,” that a magnifying glass wasn’t utilized during the trial and was not part of any exhibit. The jurors shook their heads in agreement, apparently understanding and accepting the judge’s decision. They promptly returned to the jury deliberation room without a magnifying glass and having to rely on their own eyeballs.

It was the first time I could recall jurors asking for a magnifying glass to review an exhibit.

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