After going through a couple of sets of double doors, the group of prospective jurors that I was among was herded in front of the six elevators that rose up through the 27 floors of the courthouse. Our guide told us to go to the sixth floor and wait for him since we would have to spread ourselves out among several different elevators to make the trip up there.

Once we reached the 6th floor, we were led to a waiting area near courtroom 6a. The first of what would be an ongoing process of waiting around for you to be called into the courtroom began. IMG_0466

We all would mill around, staring out windows, playing with our smart phones, lap tops and so forth until the large doors to the courtroom would open and an Orange County court Deputy would come out, conduct a roll call and one by one, we would enter the courtroom and sit down in what is usually the public and press viewing areas.

 

I felt like I was in church. A majority of the seating in this area consists of long pew like benches that are as hard as a rock and become miserable to sit in after a short period of time.

One of the first remarkable experiences that both a prospective juror and those chosen as a juror goes through is that of seeing everyone in the courtroom standing up as you enter and sit down. Only after the judge says “you may sit down” does everyone else in the room sit down.

courtroom

Unlike the courtroom used in the Casey Anthony trial, 6a is a small older style courtroom. The layout, however is almost the same. There is a long wooden barrier that separates the audience from the rest of the courtroom. This barrier is known as the bar which is where the term comes from that is used to describe the process one goes through to become an attorney.

About 20 feet directly in front of us are two desks. The desk on the left would be where the Prosecuting atty would sit, spending most of his time staring at a monitor as he did whatever he was doing on the pc that was hidden underneath the top of the desk.

The desk on the right is where the two defense attorneys sat, a black male atty on my left, the defendant in the middle and a female atty that bore a striking resemblance to Kim Pikazio, a well known attorney from South Florida on the right.

My first impression of the defendant, a black male around 25 years old was that he looked ready to go to school. He was well dressed and well groomed. It was abundantly clear that he did not want to be there.

Off in the distance at the left rear part of the courtroom was the judge presiding over the case. He reminded me a bit of the conductor Mitch Miller.

Next to him along the left wall were two black women. One of these women would swear in the witness as well as those who were finally sworn in as jurors. I cannot remember the duties of the other woman.

Directly in front of the bar on the left and right walls of the courtroom were two deputies. They acted as bailiffs. Off  in the distance on the right hand side of the courtroom were the jury panel area. Beyond that area was another court employee with whom some of us would interact with over the next two days. louden

The process began when the judge introduced himself as well as everyone in the room. He also explained why each and everyone was here. The judge then proceeded to give us a bit of a civics lesson as he explained the judicial process and how a trial works.

It was at this point where the judge announced something that had me completely stunned.

The judge informed all of us that the defendant was charged with sexual battery by vaginal penetration of a woman aged 12 and over.

Then the weeding out process began. Anyone who has followed gavel to gavel coverage of a trial understand what happens next. First the judge asks a series of questions to see if there is anything that would disqualify a juror from serving. Soon various reasons came out as a number of jurors responded according to each question that affected them individually. Some knew people in law enforcement. Some knew people that worked in the courthouse. One person even knew one of the deputies in the courtroom and one other person was closely associated with one of the judges at the Orange County Courthouse.

There were two areas, however, that first the judge, and then each of the attorneys would concentrate on. The first area had to do with the 5th amendment where the defendant was not compelled to testify in his own defense. A surprising number of people stated that they would have a problem being unbiased if the defendant did not take the stand in his own defense.

The second area was the nature of the crime. Both the woman sitting to my left and to the right stated that they would not be able to render an unbiased verdict based on individual circumstances. The woman on my left would not go into details in a public forum. The same was true of a woman in another section as well as a number of others.

The woman to my right was a nurse who worked with children. She stated clearly that she would not be able to set aside any bias and render a verdict having to do with the sexual battery of a child.

After the judge was done with his questions, it was then, first the prosecuting attorney and then the female defense attorney who would question the prospective jurors.

This part of the process took well over an hour to go through. Once everyone was through, the judge decided to call recess and sent all of us to lunch.

The familiar admonition not to talk to the defendant, members of the defense or prosecution and certainly not to the press, that we would hear over and over again was given to us for the first time by the judge. It was then off to a restroom break and then to lunch.

I chose to remain in the courthouse, going back down to the first floor to the Jury cafeteria and then into the internet cafe where I managed to find one of the machines that would allow me to connect to the internet.

Then, it was back upstairs to courtroom 6A where everyone in my group gathered to wait to be called back into the courtroom.

The one thing I found amazing was that right in the middle of all of the jurors was the defendant, sitting on one of the plastic benches next to the entrance to the courtroom.

He appeared to be in shock as he stared with a blank expression at everyone milling around in a large open area between the entrances to the two courtrooms. There are 4 courtrooms on the sixth floor and depending on when the various breaks occurred, there would be a large number of jurors, witnesses and various other individuals milling around waiting to go back into each one of them.

Finally, the deputy came out from inside the courtroom, called each one of us by number and we all filed back into the courtroom with the instruction to sit exactly where we did when we first entered.

The process of elimination continued. The judge explained that the rape victim was not a child, as some of the group had first thought but a woman who was, at the time of the incident, a senior at The University of Central Florida. The statute was written in such a way that people generally had the mistaken impression that it was a child that was the survivor of a rape.

The judge and then each of the attorneys asked those individuals who had first expressed they could not overcome the nature of the offense and render a fair verdict if this revelation that it was not a child, would cause them to change their mind.

A number of them said yes but a large number said no. One woman, who was a college student, was visibly upset and responded that she would have to speak in private, not wanting to cite her reason in front of a group of strangers.

Another question was asked, “has anyone in this panel ever been arrested.” One man raised his hand and said yes.

“Why were you arrested?” the judge asked, “Speeding in the state of Georgia.” was the answer.

“When were you arrested?”

His answer “three weeks ago.” sparked a bit of laughter in the room as well as his follow up answer “I have also been arrested before.” He also said that he would prefer to discuss the circumstances in private.

It took about another hour and a half until there was another break and we were all told to stay on the 6th floor.

Shortly after we left the courtroom, the deputy came out and called for one of the jurors by number. That juror, a women who had stated that she had scheduling conflicts was led into the courtroom. After she came out the gentleman who was arrested a number of times was called into the courtroom. This process was repeated three more times  as people were called into the courtroom one at a time and then came back out again.

After what seemed like an eternity, the deputy came out and had all of us enter the courtroom and be seated.

The judge then stated “as each of your numbers are called, go over to the bailiff standing next to the jury seating area and follow his instructions, one by one the numbers were called until the words “number 136” was called out. My number was up, I had been drafted. I was then told to go to the seat that had a tablet marked number 3 on it and take a seat. Seat number 3 would be my parking space for the rest of June 10th until late in the evening of June 11,th 2013.

After a few words from the judge, we were instructed to raise our right hand and face the court clerk closest to the judge for the swearing in.

We were then told to sit down. It was official. Our role as jurors had begun.

To be continued:

Stay tuned

MURT

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