October 5, 1996

Column 12

I wanted to talk about the courts some more, but before I do, I want to mention that this web site, Kauai Net is where these columns originated and were conceived. I had allowed another web site to post them also, but that didn't work out. So, I will only be on this site from now on. If you sent me e-mail at the other site, I won't get it. I asked that the columns be removed from that site. It is unfortunate things didn't work out on that site, but it created too many problems for me. If you sent e-mail to me at the other site, you can send it again at the e-mail address on this site and it will be sent to me. But my direct mailing address (snail mail) is on this site and it is much faster getting to me. I'm sorry if I didn't get your letters from the other site, but that is one of the reasons why I am not on there anymore. I had allowed the other site to post these columns in order to reach more people, but it turned out to be a big headache and not worth the trouble.

The last time I wrote, I talked about the layout of the courtroom and briefly talked about the jury process in a death penalty trial. I mentioned that all of the potential jurors fill out a questionnaire asking a wide range of questions. This questionnaire is composed of questions that the Judge, Prosecutor and Defense counsel contribute. The purpose is to get as clear a picture of the person as possible, so when that potential juror is brought into the courtroom for the jury selection interview, everyone will already have a sense of what sorts of questions they want to follow up on with this person. Obviously, there are certain things that the Judge and Prosecutor look for, and there are specific things that the Defense looks for from their questionnaires.

Sitting and listening to the questions and answers from the potential jurors is very interesting. The old adage of "don't judge a book by its cover", really is appropriate in a process like this. You hear some of the most incredible things from people you would least expect o hear them from. There are certain exchanges that really stick out in my mind. One of them went something like this:

Prosecutor: I see from your questionnaire, you say you do not believe in the death penalty. Is this correct?

Juror: Yes, that is correct.

Prosecutor: Does this mean you could never sentence a person to death, regardless of the circumstances?

Juror: Yes, that's correct. I don't believe in the death penalty for any reason. I'm sorry, but I just can't support it.

Judge: There is no reason to apologize because of how you feel. We are glad that you were honest about it.

Juror: (looking at the judge as if explaining to a child) I'm not apologizing for how I feel. I think it is wrong for the state to kill anyone. I am proud that I do not support the death penalty. I would never apologize for how I feel.

Judge: (exchanging an embarrassed look with the prosecutor) Thank you for your time, you are excused from any further service in this trial.

Juror: Thank you.

My attorney leans over and mutters to me,"Damn! Why do the good ones have to be so forceful in what they feel?". But most jurors are at the other end of the spectrum. The typical exchange might go something like this:

Defense: Your answer on the questionnaire regarding how you feel about the death penalty says you would never consider giving someone life in prison. And you think that anyone found guilty should get the death penalty. So, we can assume that you would never be able to do anything except sentence the defendant to death. Is this how you feel?

Juror: Yes, that's how I feel.

Defense: So, you would always sentence a person to death and never consider life in prison without the possibility of getting parole?

Juror: Yes, that's how I feel.

Defense: Thank you. I have no more questions.

Prosecutor: You say you would never consider a life without parole sentence. But what if there was something the defense told you that is very compelling, couldn't you be open minded enough to consider sentencing the defendant to prison for the rest of his life, rather than sentence him to death?

Juror: (reluctantly) Well, I don't know what it could be, but I am open minded and would consider it.

Prosecutor: So you are saying that you COULD consider a life in prison without parole sentence and wouldn't automatically give the defendant the death penalty?

Juror: Yeah, I suppose, but I don't know what it could be that would make me consider it.

Judge: So, you would be able to be open minded and consider the sentence of life in prison without parole, as much as you would the death sentence?

Juror: Yeah, I guess so.

Judge: Okay, you are excused for now, but you are to report back on this date for the picking of the jury in this case.

Defense: But your honor ....

I think that one of the most interesting things that I learned during the process of picking the jury was that people who were adamantly against the right for a woman to choose in the abortion issue, were also the same ones who were the strongest supporters of the death penalty. It struck me as rather hypocritical. They argue so passionately that killing is wrong, and by having an abortion, you are killing a human being. Yet, when questioned about the death penalty, they argue just as passionately it is perfectly okay to execute a person. Ironically, a large number of people who are anti-abortion are most adamantly for the death penalty.

Before I go, I'd like to answer a couple of questions I've been asked. One was why I don't talk about my case. Another is why I don't talk about personal things regarding myself. Well, as I stated before, I only mention my innocence so you would understand where I was coming from in what I write. If I used these columns as a vehicle to promote that sort of thing, I feel it would be wrong. And the reason I don't talk about myself is it's not relevant to what I write about. My case will be decided in the courts, not on the Internet. Some people accused me of using this site to proclaim my innocence, etc. Well, believe me, if I wanted to use this page as a forum to proclaim my innocence, I have numerous issues I could use to do so. So, to those of you who had sent me letters saying that I was only trying to proclaim my innocence, I think it would be very clear if I did that . . . and I wouldn't be subtle about it.