Putting aside our displeasure with the judge over the denied smoke break, we continued our assessment of the veracity of Mr. Rogers’ testimony.
‘Crew Cut’ said, “I believe the boy. He comes across as honest. And actually, I don’t think he’s smart enough to be deceiving.”
This brought a few groans from around the table.
Crew Cut quickly added, “I don’t mean any disrespect Y’all; I’m just sayin’ he doesn’t seem to have any reason to lie.”
“He do seem kinda ‘simple’ that boy”, Gimmie Cap said. (The irony of his statement did not escape me)
“But what about the girl? Obviously if you believe him, she must be lying about being asleep on the couch,” the mild-mannered elderly gentleman from the far end of the table said.
“I do think she’s lying about that,” I agreed. “But I really don’t think we should invest too much concern on it. I mean, we can speculate as to whether or not she was stepping out on her fiancé, but I still contend that is irrelevant. Look, she is young and probably terrified about her fiancé finding out about that aspect of this mess. I’m of a mind to believe the bulk of her story.”
Kathy (the wife of my old Honey Grove friend from the Seventies) said, “Lance, do you honestly believe she wouldn’t lie about everything to keep from getting caught cheating on her boyfriend? I mean, I’m a woman and you’re not. (Some giggles from the rest). Oh! I didn’t mean it like that. (Kathy was always extremely polite as I did recall). What I mean to say is that yes, she is probably in a panic and probably didn’t want this to go to court and that Rogers may have pushed her into this because he wants his gun back and he has issues with Johnson. That’s all I’m saying.”
Blue Haired Lady (seated next to Kathy) spoke up, “I agree. Not sure I trust Miss Shelton. She tries to come across as a completely innocent victim, but when I look at the young boy, I’m just not sure he is that bad.”
Crew Cut said, “Well, he ain’t THAT young, and his attorney cleaned him up for this trial. Do you suppose he had short hair and wore a suit in his ‘real’ life? What about those tattoos?”
“We’re supposed to forget we saw the tattoos Sir,” I reminded.
“Well, we saw ‘em. And I ain’t forgetting ‘em, and what about his drug abuse?” he shot back.
Blue Haired Lady said, “I just don’t know about that. He may have made some mistakes. He is young. I don’t think drugs have anything to do with this.”
Gimme-Cap says rather agitated, “I think drugs got ever’thang to do with this. Why he needin’ a shotgun in the mid’el of th’ night, huh? Maybe he gonna go rob som’un else? Ever think ah that?”
Another Juror, let’s call him ‘Business Man’, since he was the only one wearing a suit said, “I think we should discuss Johnson’s testimony and get off Mr. Rogers and Miss Shelton for a while.”
“Thank you Sir,” I said. “I agree. Any objections Y’all?” None were forthcoming. “Ok then. Johnson claims he had permission to take the gun, but I’m still bothered by the fact that he did not wait until Rogers was home to come for it. This really bothers me.”
Business Man said, “Yes. That makes no sense. Why would he show up late at night to borrow a gun? Doubtful he was going bird hunting at ten o’clock at night.”
“Maybe he was goin’ coon huntin’,” a forty-something man to my right said.
(Some laughter over that)
“We need to stick to the testimony here folks,” I replied, slightly exasperated. “We will be here for weeks if we start speculating on what his motives were other than what he said they were. So please, let’s just review what we know we heard.”
There was continuing, often heated discussion on Johnson’s testimony when there was a knock on the door. I got up, opened it, and in strode the bailiff carrying an armload of Domino’s Pizza boxes. This was a pleasant surprise.
“Y’all ready for some lunch?” He more announced than asked.
“Hell yeah!” Gimmie Cap exclaimed.
So we dove into the pizza (There was way too much for twelve people—later I found out that the bailiff lived for long jury sessions that required lunch for the jurors, as he loved pizza, and always ordered too much for the jury, and then took what was left home with him.)
As we were eating our pizza and drinking the sodas which were also provided, the talk stayed away from the trial. Folks were just making small talk with some occasional laughter, thus lightening the mood somewhat. I was grateful for this, as there had been a building tension in the air until the pizza showed up.
Pizza dispatched now.
“I really could use a smoke,” Gimme Cap said.
“Me too,” several others agreed in unison.
“Lance,” Kathy said, “Could you send out another message-in-a-bottle to ‘His Honor’?” Her sarcasm made me laugh.
“Yes. I certainly can.”
So I wrote up another note: ‘Smoke Break Respectfully REQUESTED’.
“We’ll see how this flies,” I said after summoning the Bailiff and handing our request to him.
Five minutes later, he appeared at our door directing us to follow him outside, “But don’t talk to nobody ‘long the way,” he instructed with what I can only describe as a ‘Barney Fife Authority-Voice’.
After our return, and with everyone pretty much sated with pizza, coke a cola, and nicotine, we were back to work and pretty certain we all wanted to wrap this up and not spend yet another day. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon.
“Let’s take another poll,” I suggested.
Everyone scratched their votes on little post-it notes and passed them up to me. I read them off as Crew Cut marked down the tally.
The vote had slid toward ‘Guilty’: Ten Guilty, Two Not Guilty.
I suppose that was some progress, but if we were going to wrap this up, obviously there was more work to do.
“I say we take another poll, this time verbal, so we can direct our discussion on the points of disagreement,” Crew Cut announced.
This seemed reasonable to me, so I said to the group, “Does anyone have a problem with this?” I noticed that Blue Haired Lady and Elderly Mild-Mannered Gentleman looked down at their notes, hiding their eyes, but said nothing. “Okay then, since there are not objections, we will go around the table and Y’all can state your vote.”
As I already knew, Blue Haired Lady and Elderly Gentleman had voted ‘Not Guilty’.
Blue Haired Lady’s voice cracked when she verbalized her not guilty vote, so I began with Elderly Gent:
“Sir, please tell us your concerns,” I said.
“Well,” he began. “I had a son. He got involved with drugs while in high school. I tried to help him. Did everything I could. He wasn’t a bad boy, ya know? He was a good kid, but those damn drugs… those damn drugs. Well-Sir, they got into him, into his mind, into his soul. We got him into rehab. He was fine for a spell, then, few weeks after he done with that, he got into some trouble. Not big trouble… he was a good boy, but those drugs… you see…” (At this point he had started to cry). We all listened in respectful silence as he struggled to regain his voice. “You see,” he continued. “Drugs killed my son. I look at that kid out there and I ask myself, if we send him to prison, how will he get any help?”
He broke down after that. Kathy put her arm around him. I just looked over at Crew Cut; our eyes met, and we both shrugged our eyes at each other.
“Let’s take five,” I said. “Have some coffee; stretch our legs.”
So, some got some coffee; a few suggested we request another smoke break (which I vetoed) some just got up and looked out the window.
After we settled back into our seats, I directed my attention to Blue Haired Lady. “Ma’am, would you kindly share your concerns with us?”
“I have a grandson. That boy out there reminds me of him. He is also a good boy. Young, headstrong, but a good boy. I look at Johnson, and wonder if I can take away his prime years. You know prisons in Texas will ruin an otherwise good boy. I think, even if he did this, he deserves a second chance. I mean… he did not harm the girl, did he?”
Gimme Cap, in a sudden burst of philosophy said, “He tortured her in her mental.”
“He has a point,” I said. “That girl is guiltless in this. She has suffered too. She deserves to feel safe. Who is to say, that if we do not punish this young man… Who is to say, how that will affect her? She doesn’t strike me of leaving this area. If we let him slide, she is going to be tormented by the memory of this and trust me: she will suffer anxiety. Does she deserve that? This Johnson, yes he is young, but he has done evil before. We all know this. Do you want to read about him going further at some future date, possible killing someone?”
There were similar sentiments expressed by the other jurors for the next thirty minutes or so. Once everyone had said their piece, I called for another vote. This time all were in agreement except Blue Haired Lady.
We took another short break. I watched as Kathy took her aside in the corner. The others backed away to allow them some privacy. Kathy put her arm around her and was speaking into her eyes. The woman said something and then fell into Kathy’s arms, weeping.
We all looked away respectfully and pretended to be fascinated by something outside the window.
Presently Kathy spoke to the room, “Let’s take another vote Y’all. This time secret ballot.”
Quietly we all sat down and without a word, we wrote our votes on the sticky notes. Once collected, I read them off as Crew Cut recorded the tally: Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty….times twelve. As I read the last vote I looked up at Blue Haired Lady: she had put her head down on the table and was weeping. Kathy was stoking her hair and speaking softly into her ear.
“I am going to summon the Bailiff,” I announced.
The Bailiff came in and handed me a form. I filled it out and returned it to him. Ten minutes later we were summoned into the court room. Taking our seats the Judge asked,
“Mister Foreman, have you reached a verdict?”
“Yes we have, your Honor.”
“Please hand it to the bailiff.”
The bailiff delivered our verdict to the judge. “Will the Defendant please stand.” And he read it off after listing the charges: “Guilty.”
Johnson’s shoulders slumped briefly, then he stood erect and glared coldly and directly at me. I looked directly back into his eyes. He did not blink, and I knew we had reached the right verdict.
(Yes: There was some contentious debate)