Being summoned for jury duty isn’t as common as one thinks. Serving as one of the twelve is even more uncommon. For the past forty years, I had somehow only been called a few times and for each, I was excused for the common reason of being ‘the solo breadwinner on a commission job’. This week of May 16th I could not use that excuse. And what are the chances the dates included our anniversary on the day I entered the jury box for selection vetting. This is a four-part series with oddities that go way deeper for this Juror #97, What Are The Odds?
Canceled were our plans on a Tuesday that my wife had off (she takes off every Tuesday ironically) for a day of leisure together. Instead, I sat thru the mundane routine of day 2 of jury selection. But this was by far anything but a mundane routine jury selection. About 90 (the 1st of 300) of us were assembled in a waiting room when an off-duty judge came in to tell us the scoop. He said this is a ‘very unique trial.’ He told us that out of 240,000 people in the county we were randomly drawn to participate in a trial where the odds of being selected, period, were extremely slim. He suggested jokingly that we all buy lottery tickets as the odds of being selected are rare, let alone to be involved in a case with national attention.
He noted that many consider serving on a jury as a duty, but should instead see it as an honor as a U.S. citizen to provide jury SERVICE for the best judicial system in the world. He stated that granted there are faults in the system but everything is designed to bring fairness and justice for all whether as a victim or the accused who are innocent until proven guilty. He said the vetting process started with you being a citizen of the United States and are chosen from voting and driver’s license records. ‘We are lucky to be offered an opportunity to serve.’
We all wondered what could be so important in little Monroe, NC. I figured it was some real estate or political deal or maybe a crime of some sort. After two hours of waiting, they finally rolled us like cattle to the superior court. Upon entering my guesses were met with a shock and a shiver as the judge solemnly described that we were about to embark on a capital murder case with the death penalty as a possibility. He said, you need to be aware this case WILL take as long as 5 weeks and under no circumstances during this selection process and trial were any of us to talk to anyone about the case. Do not watch the news, read the paper, do not search the internet for any information, he said. I felt like if they read my mind I would be arrested.
I reviewed the courtroom and saw the defendant and my heart rushed with shock and I felt like throwing up. Of all the events in our area, I foggily recognized the ZZ-Top-like beard of the man seated next to his lawyers. I was thinking NO WAY! The excitement of being a part of something interesting went from a general this might be cool to the sickening reality of this cannot be happening. No Way!, again I shouted internally to myself. I wanted to stand up and say hey Judge I gotta go, I’m reclused. My mind then tried to spell out the word and realized it is recused not reclused you fool. I decided it was best to shut the heck up and just listen and learn as this was uncharted territory for me.
If your mind can run a whole life of experiences in a fast motion video in 6 seconds flat, mine did just that as the judge and prosecutor described what we were about to discuss to me and the 90 other potential jurors. None of us dreamed for one second that we would be sitting in a courtroom with such a case at our hands. The accused, innocent until proven guilty, supposedly had sexually assaulted a minor, (later revealed as his own 15-year-old daughter) and murdered her. He said I must warn you this trial will be filled with evidence including pictures that will be very disturbing. Please seriously consider being able to fight through the difficulties of the evidence as we need jurors to decide the case. The Prosecutor said the case has only two punishments should he be found guilty by us the jurors – life in prison without parole or the death sentence as is the law in the state of North Carolina.
He added a sobering statement: we the jury must unanimously find the defendant guilty or not guilty. Likewise, if found guilty, we must also decide unanimously whether to sentence him to death or life in prison without parole. Whatever decision we as the chosen twelve made would be the exact sentence, by law, that the judge would find as the verdict. In essence, our job was to decide if a man should be convicted of death or let him live until he dies by natural means in a jail cell. Something only God should have the power to determine.
As I write this I give a little pre-release info on where I ended and provide you the gory details as written at the time of the crime in 2019. Click to read the graphic details of what happened. Heed the warning on the cover page, it is sickening, if unable to stomach it, do not click.
The vetting process started with the judge telling us 90 potential jurors that if we had extenuating circumstances where 5 weeks of time loss would create a hardship or anyone had a non-refundable vacation deposit coming up, to stand and tell their story. I calculated about a third were released to future jury duty. Some had hardship stories like mine of the past like solely supporting a family on a 100% commission job or as a sole proprietor. The judge said unless this will cause bankruptcy or missing payments on a mortgage, too bad, sit down. Otherwise many were excused.
Oddsbreaker #1 for me was my memory was refreshed that I had a counseling session with a close relative of the defendant. There was a slight doubt in my mind, but I was thinking of all the cases for me to be called to, what are the odds that I was not only aware of the horrific case you may have just read about but also spoke a little bit about it with a family member of his. At this stage, the judge didn’t say stand up jurors and tell us if you know anything about this case already so you can go home.
For those unaware, I spent 18 months counseling men/couples at a Help Pregnancy Center. Topics often dealt with PTSD and anxiety-related issues from some clients who had trauma in their life perhaps from abuse. Out of some 200 male clients, quite a few talked of their mistakes including some who had been imprisoned for felonies and even capital offenses.
12 jurors’ names were randomly called and brought to the 12-seated jury box. It began a long-drawn-out process of vetting with the same questions repeated to every juror first by the Prosecutor. The first question was stated with a preface that this is a nationally covered case where the press will be present. Q – We know most of you have probably read or heard about this case, is there anyone that has already made up their mind? Some stated they knew the mother or daughter in the case or lived nearby. None were excused for that reason.
Next was do any of you personally know the judge, prosecuting team, defense team, the victim’s family, or the accused. Things got interesting here but no one was eliminated again. Next were questions regarding whether a juror had been a victim of a crime or been convicted of a crime. A couple of people raised their hands and questions ensued. Others included did any juror know any police officers or had involvement in law enforcement. All were prefaces to discover if anyone had pre-determined prejudices of any sorts that would cause them without hearing any evidence to pre-judge the accused or be swayed by their life experiences to have already made a decision.
The hard decision is not only determining guilt but the ultimate choice between life without parole or death. In essence, our job was to decide if a man should be convicted of death or let him live until he dies by natural means in a jail cell. Something only God should have the power to determine. Yet, it was ours to decide.
I looked around and saw how many jurors were still outside the stand with me and the 12 in the box, it sure seemed like we started with more than 90. I don’t know for sure but at first, I thought I might be in there sooner rather than later. But No! The first excused for vacation reasons was a big chunk but only a handful were released for obvious prejudices such as the ones who said ‘for religious reasons, I cannot choose life without parole,’ or from others saying the same reason that they had to insist on the death penalty with no other alternative. Each time only one person was excused at a time. Another random name was drawn to replace the excused. By lunch break, our large group had been reduced by half.
As I left for lunch I followed the judge’s rules who said if you have any questions, do not interrupt the court proceedings but ask one of the bailiffs (the officers in police uniforms guarding the courtroom) if you have concerns. I said I am pretty sure I know a relative of the accused, can I bring that up now so I can be excused (and get out of here and not waste any more time). He said no, the jury process will give you a chance to do so. Ouch, off to lunch.
But name after name was drawn the rest of the afternoon and not mine. Out of the 12 seats, we watched a large number of folks excused for various reasons. Some were extremely heartbreaking. One was with a young 18-year-old woman who I had chatted with a little while in our two-hour waiting room. She was fresh out of high school and stated she had a little bit of anxiety and was nervous about this. Initially, she responded like most of the jurors saying yes to what became an oft-repeated question -‘Are you 100% sure that you will review all evidence presented in this case and fairly weigh out the sentencing option and consider life without parole and carefully consider the death penalty with equal weight?’ The question was repeated so many times I started to feel brainwashed. As each juror was questioned over various items their words, facial expressions, and body movements, everything was scrutinized. After 4 hours of watching others spill their personal views and stories she completely broke down and said, ‘as a Christian, I cannot possibly sentence a person to death.’ She needed help being escorted out of the court in tears.
Once again, another name was drawn. Apparently, this guy had seen enough and immediately said, ‘I must let you know I have already made my choice for the death penalty.’ The Prosecutor and Judge repeated like robots the same line and questions and commands to release him. A new name drawn, repeat. A new name drawn, repeat. Finally, the Prosecutor had 12 jurors picked and turned it over to the Defense lawyer. Then began his questions to eliminate anyone that showed bias in their death sentence view. More dropped out with the Judge and Prosecutor agreeing to excuse or actually remove people. One man who was there from the beginning finally revealed after 5 pm his real feelings when questioned about his demeanor, he broke down in anger stating, ‘I can be unbiased but if it is true he did this to a child, there is a special place in hell for this kind.’ Uh, sir that’s not unbiased – dismissed. Down to 11 again. But, the time had arrived for all of us to go home and come back tomorrow, to pick another.
The Judge told us do not read anything about any of this, until you are excused. You are forbidden to talk, watch, or read anything. Ugh, 9 hours and more to go. He instructed us in the pool the same thing and told one to remain behind to discuss her job concerns. I walked up to the bailiff again and asked if knowing a relative disqualified me and can I discuss it now. He gave an emphatic no and said go home!
On day two the last man excused was replaced and the defense lawyer began asking his routine questions. He began with the biggie of the death penalty point-blank and repeated the same questions the Prosecutor did to see if the answers given to him would vary. After a few hours, we were down to 9 and only 15 left in our pool. Then my lack of court procedures was jolted as he said I am finished. Judge, please excuse Jurors 2, 7, 10, 11, and 12. We were now at only five. The Judge said you other five selectees can go home and we’ll call you when we’re ready. I was stunned, thinking I could have been outta there. Seven names were randomly drawn again, NOT me. Ugh. The routine started over with the Prosecutors’ same questions on seven new people. This time people’s impatience was showing and some avoided the wishy-washy views and admitted their decisions were made. Jurors were dropping like flies, but I still sat in the pool. After a couple of hours right before lunch, my name was finally called to go take one of the 7 seats. But we were at a point with not enough people left over to cover the 3 alternates. Proceedings were halted while I was in seat #10 and they called in, the next group of 90 ugh!
Everything was explained as it was to us. It was interesting to watch the looks on the faces of the new pool of jurors as they heard what the case was about. Eyes widened and fidgeting ensued. The same routine as before to eliminate the vacation excuses etc.., then lunch. They pay us $16 a day I heard. On this day I ate at one of the few restaurants within walking distance and promptly spent $11 of my sixteen on a sandwich, drink, and chips. I was with a few other potential jurors getting to know them a little bit. We all lamented on the price of gas and how money-wise this lunch just put us in the hole due to this jury DUTY.
We returned to court. Then the drill on my privacy began. I answered the standard questions and was the first and only one of all interviewed to raise my hand on knowing someone in the judicial group and defense team. When I went home I looked at a spreadsheet and validated that indeed I had counseled the step-brother of the accused. It was confusing since their last names were not the same. The defense verified I was not making it up. They all to my surprise were fine with it as merely a coincidence, although later I would be questioned again, which I told you all about the Counselor role I had. Technically I and the people I had discussions with have a Counselor-Client confidentiality agreement in place. Had I still had access to the file, I could review it, but all I had on my computer was an old spreadsheet of names I had not viewed in months. Other than me previously looking up (2 1/2 years ago) the same online news doc from that meeting (virtually the same link I shared with you all), I knew little else about the whole thing. Case closed. To them it was nothing more than what I am calling Oddsbreaker #1.
Oddsbreakers #2 & 3 -But then the ‘Has anyone been a victim of a crime or known anyone?’ question hit. Two people in this new group raised their hands and me. Previously out of the 50 people polled only a few had said anything and all were minor. My turn again to explain. Yessir, two times worth mentioning one is when I was robbed at a Speedway gas station in Ohio with two guns pointed at me, they never caught the robbers. The other was the murder of my sister. Audience gasppp. Prosecutor takes off his glasses and says, did you just say your sister was murdered? Yessir. Well, can you honestly say you would not bring this experience into the trial and judge things based on your experience?
I replied, with all ears listening – Well actually sir ‘I am probably aside from you lawyers and the judge the least bias of anyone you will ever call into a murder case. We were told a judge was once on the jury and here I sit with 20 years of experience analyzing every angle of what happened to my sister. So much so I started a blog and wrote about her story (read it here if you have not already.) I sat in the shoes of the Prosecutor as we worked together on the case which required in Ohio two capital offenses to justify the death penalty. I had to go to the crime scene as the police officers do. I obviously lived and saw the side of the victim’s family, the lawyers, and the tv reporters, and spoke regularly with the accused family. Half my family wanted prison half death.’
He interrupted and said I assume you were one wanting the death penalty? I said, ‘Yes at the beginning. However, my mother had a different view, somehow rather quickly she was able to forgive the man who killed her daughter. She bought his story that he just wanted to teach her a lesson and accidentally pulled the trigger. I learned how to overcome anxiety and anger these past twenty years. I can now look at both angles and let the facts make a majority of the decision on guilt versus innocence. I also got to see justice and see how that feels, sort of.’ He asked so what happened in the trial, will that not reflect in your opinion on this case?
I answered, ‘Actually sir, it never went to trial. We never heard the full facts or story because the accused died in his jail cell a couple of months after he killed her.’ GASP from the audience and legal teams. ‘I believe the Good Lord spared us of the misery of waiting for trial, the long days in a court, and provided the death penalty for us. Justice served.’
Prosecutor – Ok then, next person. I don’t think he believed I was unbiased, but I believe this saying fits perfectly to these circumstances
Oddsbreakers #4 The next set of questions was regarding police experience, and specifically, if any of us 7 jurors (not counting a few that had since been eliminated) knew any police officers, judges, or lawyers locally that might sway our bias. Although I know the faces and a few names of several officers in the area I would not say any are on my friends’ list and most probably would not know my name. We delivered goodies to the local sheriff’s office and local Monroe Police department a few times and with my counseling role, we occasionally had some interaction because of the records of our clients. The question of the military was not asked this time around, I guess the Prosecutor forgot. Had he asked, I once again would have hit the low odd of being a police officer myself (no one previously had any prior legal experience). A few military folks were excused earlier by the defense. Had they asked and I told them I was not only in the military but also an MP, something tells me the bell would have rung.
Eventually, it did. The Prosecutor came back to me a few more times but never hit the point of anything that would get a vote from himself, the Judge, and the Defense for a person to be excused, as had happened up to that point of I am guessing 100 people already.
It looked like wrap-up time when the Prosecutor team huddled up, were reviewing computer screens and files (they obviously had data on us), and asked another person about donations they made to a democratic lawyer running for office. He asked me a few more questions about just what exactly I did as a counselor at the HPC. I said, “it was a full gamut depending on the need, some people needed job and housing help, some just needed someone to talk about their worries, my specialty was helping people with trauma, anxiety, and finances. Although I was a salesman for life I earned a Real-Life Degree and spend my time now in retirement sharing those experiences to help others.’ He thanked me and then turned to the Judge and said. Goodbye to Mr. Average Joe and the other lady.
I learned later each side gets a certain amount of getting rid of that person with no questions asked credits. They try to get rid of those they don’t think are a good fit for their side by getting them to reveal information that knocks them off the jury. If not able, they either keep them or use the credits to send them home. I honestly wanted to serve as a service but also dreaded sitting through more of the mundane for 5 weeks. Plus my dog would have hated it. All came to an anticlimactic end and the case goes on without me.
Oddsbreakers #5 After returning home at 4:30 pm literally exhausted and now being free I checked out the news. I was struck by the statements of the police officers who were at the scene back in 2019. “This is a case where it’s pure evil. ” “The details of this murder are indescribable. Every officer and detective involved in this case is feeling the effects of what happened to this child,” Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said. “There is no logical answer to explain why this man did what he is accused of doing. Our hearts and prayers are with Zaria’s mom and her family.”
Then post mortem of my exit from the jury I recalled that the previous day the defense lawyer had blandly and quickly read off a long list of witnesses to the other jury group. Because I never made it to that point the list was not read to us. There were many names but no titles. Then it dawned on me that I had also counseled some policeman who had received news he was becoming a father. I recall it was a less than an hour visit and nothing further.
The visit with this strong police officer was a bit bizarre. I looked on my spreadsheet again and read all the names and found one that my memory recall repeated from the bland defense lawyer reading. The name was normal but as I repeated the name in my mind it became clear to me I met with one of the officers that had to be at the crime scene. He had visited to talk about a baby that was on the way. I believe he was disturbed because the mother was only slightly considering an abortion. Out of nowhere, he burst into tears.
This was not abnormal in my role, but surprising coming from this very strong, young, but seasoned tough-looking man. We talked through his feelings and his overly strong desire to make sure he would be a great father. He asked for prayers, and we stopped for a few minutes and had an impromptu time praying together. To say it was deep and one of those moments where God was in that little 14′ x 10′ room would be an understatement.
On this day after I was excused from jury duty, I looked at the date of our visit on the spreadsheet. It was not very far away from the date of this horrific scene that he was forced to witness on the job. No wonder, perhaps, he had such an overreaction to parenthood. What are the odds that once again there is another personal tie to this case?
What are the odds of rolling five sixes in Yahtzee? Pretty slim but according to mathematicians 6 x 1/7776 = 1/1296 or 0.08 percent it is possible.
Oddsbreakers #6 Later I shared my week of jury duty story with my kids. It turned out, that my daughter went to the same High School as the accused. She recognized the face of the accused from the posted articles picture, despite the aged and evil-looking picture of the man. We asked what he was like. Her reply is I know he was in a few of my classes but I did not know him well, he was quiet and reserved. No surprise. What are the odds, again?
I often toy with the word lucky. I tell people I am neither lucky nor unlucky but have odd luck instead. The odds of what happened a week ago seem outlandish. But are they worth paying attention to? You can be the jury to decide on your own. All I know is when oddity’s occur there has to be an underlying reason behind them. Not superstition, voodoo, chance, or anything else I see them as attention getters to take a hint to take action. What are the odds of all these coincidences happening? Good enough for me to write about them and dig deeper!
Don’t go away, and do come back later for Part II as I add more experiential insight on this topic of a horrific individual evil act. Better yet, stick around for the unturned stone which I believe has a deep spiritual tie to all of this and that yet to be mentioned #97. This is the one time where the Portico side is way shorter than side 1. Hit the red button and see the odds.
Please don’t go away yet! Hit that red button for more. If this is your first time visiting Average Joe’s Portico, every post is written in two parts. You have just read the portion challenging the mind, body, and soul. In The Portico, I seek to tap into your spiritual side, but only IF YOU DARE. Tap the Red Line Below to read the Part 2 Spiritual side of the story. (For an explanation of my madness – read the ‘Do You Dare’ Tab)
If You Dare, Click to Enter Into Joe's Portico (To See Part II of This Story)
The Jury summons I received needed some of my son’s magical Photoshop work to get out the wrinkles. Note the name change while not putting my whole official name out on a public page, Average Joseph. Gotta have a little loosening up in the middle of chaos. On my way out the door post being excused from jury duty, I crumpled up the summons and began throwing it in the trash. It was as if a hand grabbed mine and said keep that piece of paper, it has an important message on it. So I uncrumpled it and folded it to fit in my back pocket.
I came home from jury duty overwhelmed with thoughts and frankly memories and thoughts I would have preferred had not been conjured up in my mind. While some call it a coincidence I call it a message, perhaps prophetic, that needs to be penned. It did not take me long to find the hidden message right at the top of the summons, Juror #97.
With an online BibleYou search for the number 97 there are only two references.
Psalm 119:97 which in the Amplified version simply says “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” A short and simple verse near the middle of the very longest single chapter in the entire Bible. Coincidence that it mentions God’s Law? What are the odds?
The other reference is the whole of Psalm 97. It is unknown who the author of Psalm 97 was, I say simply it is written by the God who controls all. It mentions the two seemingly differing God’s of the Bible. The One on Mount Sinai who spoke to Moses that caused his face and hair to be bleached out all white. When He spoke to the people in Exodus 20:19 they were so petrified they said to Moses “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” This contrasted with the God of Mount Zion whose presence was so glorious during a worship service the people had to stop because it was so overwhelming. (see 2 Chronicles 5)
Yes, indeed Psalm 97 is both an awesome chapter that describes the amazing incomprehensible mighty God in all His splendor. It also depicts Him as a Judge. It is prophetic as Jesus Himself will someday return as THE eternal Judge of mankind. He will institute justice for the evils such as have been done by individuals like the man who will be sentenced for what he did to his daughter. As well, He will be the final Judge in matters such as we have seen of the heartless souls that have gone into a shopping center and elementary school shooting innocent men, women, and children. Like it or not, it is a must that justice is carried out for the victims of crimes and evil acts.
Here is Psalm 97 in whole for your interpretation. As 119:97 says, meditate on it all day.
The Lord’s Power and Dominion.
The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;
Let the many islands and coastlands be glad.
2 Clouds and thick darkness surround Him [as at Mt. Sinai];
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
3 Fire goes before Him
And burns up His adversaries on all sides.
4 His lightnings have illuminated the world;
The earth has seen and trembled.
5 The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord,
At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
6 The heavens declare His righteousness,
And all the peoples see His glory and brilliance.
7 Let all those be [deeply] ashamed who serve carved images,
Who boast in idols.
Worship Him, all you gods!
8 Mt. Zion heard this and was glad,
And the daughters (cities) of Judah rejoiced [in relief]
Because of Your judgments, O Lord.
9 For You are the Lord Most High over all the earth;
You are exalted far above all gods.
10 You who love the Lord, hate evil;
He protects the souls of His godly ones (believers),
He rescues them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light is sown [like seed] for the righteous and illuminates their path,
And [irrepressible] joy [is spread] for the upright in heart [who delight in His favor and protection].
12 Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous ones [those whose moral and spiritual integrity places them in right standing with God],
And praise and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.
Perhaps you walk away with the verse that sticks out the most from the pure evil the sheriff and his officers saw in 2019. Or from thoughts regarding those in the latest mass shootings. Invite verse 10 into your daily living to help others be rescued from the hands of those who do evil… You Who love the Lord, hate evil. It does not say hate people, it says to hate evil. I pray the rest of verse 10 protects all those who have been touched by this writing as this promise states “He protects the souls of His godly ones (believers), He rescues them from the hand of the wicked.” Cling to it in these difficult times!
Do you think the #97 was just a coincidence. I don’t, therefore I write – What are the odds?
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