Juror: What it's like to decide a person's fate

NEED TO KNOW
  • Jodi Arias is accused of killing Travis Alexander, but she claims self-defense
  • Debbie Franklin was Juror No. 5 in the Conrad Murray murder trial
  • She gives a detailed look into what it's really like to be part of a jury for a high-profile criminal trial
Juror: What it's like to decide a person's fate

Editor’s note: Debbie Franklin was a juror in the Conrad Murray trial, during which the doctor was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Michael Jackson’s death.

The jurors in the Conrad Murray trial were together every day from approximately 7:30 a.m., when we arrived at the parking lot, until approximately 5:00 p.m., when we were dropped off. 

Since it was a high-profile case, all the jurors had to meet at a specific location each morning where we parked our cars. We were then driven to and from the courthouse in sheriff’s vans. We could not leave the courthouse at lunch time, so lunch was brought in each day and all the jurors and alternates would eat together.

Other than these formalities, I never really thought about this trial in terms of being a high-profile case. I knew that it was being televised every day, but there were no visible cameras in the courtroom, so you quickly forgot about that aspect and focused only on the testimony and court proceedings each day.

I think that people watching a high-profile trial, like Conrad Murray or Jodi Arias, forget that the jurors have lives outside of being on that jury. I am a paralegal and work full time. While I was on this jury, I still had to complete my work, so three days a week, after the trial was done for the day, I would go into work and be there until midnight just trying to keep up. I would then have to get up and be ready for trial the next morning.

Read more: Exclusive photos: Smiling, playful Jodi Arias

The rest of my responsibilities at home got put on hold during the trial. Luckily, my kids are older and live outside my home, but we had many jurors who had small kids and had to make daily arrangements for school drop-off and pick-up, as well as their after-school activities. This started to wear on the jurors after a while.

All the jurors took lots of notes during the trial. I had almost 300 pages of notes. We had a lot of medical evidence to deal with, so taking notes was a way for me to reinforce the information I was learning. As the trial went along, I also started writing down questions I wanted answered. I wish we could have asked questions like the jurors in the Arias trial get to do.

Every time a new witness took the stand, I was very excited to hear what he or she had to say. Non-expert witnesses were very easy to listen to, and they were usually on and off the stand quickly. (When an expert witness was on the stand for more than a couple of days, sometimes the testimony got very repetitive or their answers were too long.)

As the trial progresses, you start leaning toward guilty or not guilty and you listen for evidence that would convince you otherwise. By the time we got to closing arguments, my mind was made up: I was voting guilty. I listened carefully to closing arguments to see if they could sway me the other way, but they did not. To me, the closing arguments were just a way for each side to wrap up and put into story form what they believe the evidence showed.

Read more: Arias lets out final tears before jury gets case

Our trial lasted six weeks. We had 12 jurors and five alternates. Luckily, all the jurors and alternates got along: I can’t imagine being on a jury that is together all day long for weeks at a time and having any type of animosity within the group. I believe the way the jurors get along during the trial is a key aspect of how the deliberations will go. Since we all got along so well, there was a lot of respect for each other during the deliberations and nobody was afraid to speak their mind or express their point of view. The deliberations are stressful enough, and I believe that if there is any friction between jurors, this is the time it could all explode because emotions run very high during this time.

That is not to say the deliberations were easy, because they were not. It was a very difficult process and one of the most stressful situations I have ever been a part of.

We started our deliberations on a Friday morning. We reviewed and studied the jury instructions until we were sure we all understood them, and then we started to review the evidence. Since we hadn't been able to talk to anybody about this trial, everybody was very anxious to speak and everybody started talking at once. It was very chaotic at first, but we settled into a routine of raising hands to speak so everybody could be heard.  

By the end of the day on Friday, we finally took our first vote and it was 11-1 for guilty. We tried for about two more hours to get to a unanimous vote, but that one juror was not budging. By the time we left on Friday evening, the juror voting not guilty said he didn’t care what the rest of the jurors said -- we were not going to change his mind. And with that, we all left for the weekend.

Read more: Kim Goldman's message for Travis Alexander's family

That was a very long weekend. I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t stop thinking about the trial. I was so anxious to get back to continue our deliberations.

When we finally came back on Monday, there was a lot of anxiety and stress in the deliberation room. We talked, sometimes very loudly and forcefully, but we finally convinced the juror to change his vote to guilty. We had a unanimous decision by noon on Monday. Guilty.

I think the jurors in the Arias case are tired. I think they know the end is near, and they’ve been looking forward to deliberations. I think they may have also gotten irritated with all the sidebars, delays and the overall slow pace of this trial. At one point in our trial -- which lasted less than half as long as the Arias trial -- we asked if we could go longer each day or start earlier in the morning just to get the trial over with, but because of court staffing, we were told we couldn't. This long, drawn-out trial has to be wearing the Arias jurors down.

Being on a jury is like being at a job all day. So much of your own life is put on hold and any time off from the trial is used to get caught up. You start to miss going out with your friends and family because you have no time for that. I think most of the Arias jurors just want their lives back and want to get back to their normal routine.

Read more: Is Jodi Arias a sociopath?

One thing I was definitely not prepared for was the media attention after the trial ended. During the trial, we saw the same people every day in the court room, forgetting about the outside people watching it and the outside interest in the case. After we gave our verdict and were preparing to go home, the judge warned us that the media may try to contact us, but nothing prepared me for what was to come.

You are exhausted from deliberations and from the emotions of reaching a verdict; you just want to go home, relax, and be with family and friends. Even though we were told all our names, addresses and personal information would be kept confidential, by the time I got home that day, I had more than 50 messages on my answering machine. I had reporters following me home. I had news crews parked in front of my house for days. I had reporters knocking on my door. I had cameras and news crews coming to my work. There were news crews parked in front of my office building. My phone started ringing the next morning at 5:00 a.m. and didn't stop ringing all day. More and more messages piled up each day. I had messages from news outlets from all over the world.

It was all very overwhelming. I know the jurors in the Arias trial are not prepared for the media attention that will come their way when the trial is over.  

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