Like so many, I am gripped by Making a Murderer.
I am only halfway through, and this may all change (may? the twists come every 8 to 10 seconds), but it brings to mind the time I did Jury Service in the mid 80s.(Does it, does it really?)
I was a young fresh keen TV PA at a multi national advertising agency. There was no reason to refuse. It was only a couple of weeks.
So up I pitch at Wood Green Magistrates Court. We are herded into a room and wait for the call up. I have been advised to show some form of individuality, as it makes you less likely to be picked for serious cases. I carry a pink rubber briefcase.
There is much hanging around.
The court I go into has a selection of many barristers all getting to reject two jurors each. It goes on a long time and there is squabbling.
I stand before them and I am approved for service. The lurid neoprene bag was not frivolous enough. I represented youth.
The case is the Crown against 10 young chaps. They had allegedly caused an Affray at a party. Tricky as we don’t actually understand what affray is and why it is an offence. It is one down from Riot apparently. A bundle. Two of them are up for ABH as well, which feels nastier.
And it begins. Ten barristers for defence (one each) . And one for the prosecution. Which means this case goes on forever. Every witness is cross-examined eleven times.
I decide early on, in my wet liberal middle-class way , that the police are in the wrong here. It becomes evident that this was a botched raid. No WPO, no search warrants, a lot of fuss.
Whenever there was a dispute, and there were many, the jury was asked to adjourn to an airless windowless room. Twelve disgruntled disparates around a table with no distractions. A chap called Alan brought in his Sun, so he had a certain following in the group as they ogled the Page 3’s.
I had one friend, a chain smoking social worker. And another guy in PR who I met on the bus. We did not approve.
Once, after a baked potato and chilli at lunchtime, I had to urgently go to the loo while in the horrid waiting room. My bottom exploded. Everyone heard. No one said anything.
On and on the case went. We even had a day trip to the scene of the crime, where the party was held. A tiny flat in Friern Barnet. Proof again that the events could not have happened as described by the officers on site.
Because I was very conscientious, I would often go to my day job really early in the morning and at the end of the day. Just to keep my hand in. There is nothing like an ambitious 20- something.
Sometimes for whatever reason the jury let off for the day. One afternoon we were told we may not be sitting the next day because one of the barristers was sick, but to turn up first thing anyway to find out.
I rock up to the courthouse just before 10am and three of the defendants are walking towards me.
We nod, and they start talking to me. I turn off my Walkman, and they are telling me to go home, the session is cancelled. So I thank them and turn tail and head into town.
Only on the tube does it strike me I have been hobnobbing with the criminals.
I call Wood Green as soon as I get to my desk and get told that yes, I should never have spoken to them let alone taken their word for it, and it could jeopardise the whole case. Three weeks in and I could be the victim of jury tampering.
Luckily I have been witnessed by someone worthy and the case continues.
Perhaps at this point I need to describe the accused. All male, late teens early twenties, one really good looking, one well dressed (known to us as nice shirt), a few non descripts and a couple of meaner types (the two ABH’s)
They mostly looked liked guys we would possibly hang out with. And the party sounded like one we could have been to.
The case continues.More commute, lots of Wood Green Shopping Centre, hours and hours tolerating the laddy chat.
The case is drawing to a close. We start chatting to some of the others girls on the jury in the canteen. I am funny. “Just like that Dawn French”. We are suddenly a bit of a gang.
We are instructed after the closing statements to go back to the Room and pick a foreman.
Alan- TheSun -Man gets nominated. Obvs. But to my surprise PR pal nominates me. It is put to the vote. My comedy fans vote for me.
I am the Foreman. Blimey.
I have to then admit that I have irresponsibly left my notes at home that day and borrow someone else’s.
I find out a lot about people. Unlike me and my sweeping opinions and pre conceptions, most of my fellow jurors were meticulous in their study of the evidence. We debated for hours and hours. It was interesting and fulfilling.
The general conclusion was that there was no Affray.
But if that was dismissed then there was no case for ABH, and those two boys were nasty.
We were a hung jury. 10 to 2 for innocence. I stood in the dock in my green fluffy jumper and told the judge. He said we had to have the full set.
More debate. A bit of manipulation – “ if we don’t reach a conclusion soon we will be put up in a horrid hotel overnight”
And finally, NOT GUILTY. I said that!
It has taken six weeks.
The crew and I retired to the pub and patted ourselves on the back.
We were mostly disappointed that the newly freed chaps didn’t come to join us and buy us copious vodka.
See you Manitowoc County.