Friday, January 26, 2007

Jury Duty

“too stupid to avoid jury duty.”

Ever hear that? Or something like that? I did. I got a jury summons. I’d been summoned before but never made it past the questionnaire stage. Most times I was excused simply for being in the service and not available.

Me and about 180 of my friends and neighbors showed up and turned in our summons to a bailiff who led us to assigned seats. After a couple of hours most of us were assigned to one of two large pools. A deputy took my group to the courthouse. We were again placed in assigned seats.

The prosecutor explained that we were to undergo the voir dire process in order to determine who the final twelve would be.

It took two hours of generic questions such as, “Can you honestly be fair and impartial if the defendant doesn’t take the stand”? Another question asked if we could consider the possibility of a child lying or a police officer lying. As the reality set in that this was a case of aggravated sexual assault on a small child the jury pool began to talk. A lot of folks suddenly decided that they could not be impartial. Many claimed that they had knowledge of molestation and simply couldn’t possibly give the defendant a fair trial.

To make the long story short we were allowed to take a break while at least half of the seventy folks spoke privately with the judge.

After the break, they called twelve names. I was the sixth name. I have no idea how they decided on me. We sat in the infamous jury box and those left in the benches were dismissed. We were immediately sworn in, and the trial began.

It kind of hit hard. Five minutes before I was just someone who was getting irritated at the slow grind of the system. Then bam, we are the ones trying to judge if a man had raped and sodomized his eight year old daughter.

Suddenly I was one of those people, you know, the ones too stupid to avoid jury duty.

Folks, let me tell you, it aint like the TV shows. The trial is butt numbingly boring. It is slow grinding, methodical, and very comprehensive. On TV, the cop is simply asked “are you a cop”. Here, there were no less than ten questions to the officer. Everything from is he a cop, to how long he’s been a cop, to include summaries of his training. Trust me, the jury was convinced that this guy was a true blue man in blue. We went thru this for every expert. Experts included the nurses and child protective services folks as well as the guy who did the DNA analysis.

We heard about how the dad beat the mom. We heard about how the mom did cocaine with the dads mom. And we heard about “the incident”. I’ve seen and heard some pretty ugly stuff. But the photos of the eight year old girls private parts (magnified to show the lacerations, tearing, and abrasions) are something I won’t forget. The child's testimony was wooden. She was very calm. Way too calm for a child of ten discussing a rape at age eight. When told to point out the rapist, some of that calm faded and a little girl of ten quietly asked if she had to look at him.

The defense tried to minimize her injuries by saying that they were minute. They tried to further minimize them by saying that the girl had played at a party the next day. She had played. But as soon as she slid down a slide, she stopped due to the pain. Finally the defense tried to convince us that the mom had caused the injuries by performing her own examination of the child before the ER exam. The defense further implied that she (the Mom) had managed an elaborate deception that stood up to two years of investigation and counseling. Trust me, Mom wasn't a winner. There wasn't any way she could maintain the deception.

After the prosecution and defense had rested the judge read the charges (jury instructions) to us. We were removed to the jury room to deliberate. Our first order of business was to select a foreman. As I mentioned it, a young lady looked at me and said, “why don’t you do it”? Since no one objected, I agreed to it.

Bottom line was that we deliberated for about an hour or two. We went thru all the direct evidence that demonstrated graphically that the child had been penetrated. We looked for holes in the time-line and the child's testimony. We looked at the defense assertion of a possible conspiracy. In short we tried to find anything that would allow for a reasonable doubt. There simply wasn’t anything. One person was undecided and he openly said he wanted to do it (discussion) again. We had to be sure that we didn’t get it wrong. So each juror explained the process they used to determine guilt. In my case it was based on a military JAG manual investigation. My decision had to be based on opinions. My opinion had to point directly to a fact or facts proven in court and admitted to evidence. It worked for me.

In the end after three days of trial we found him guilty of two counts of aggravated sexual assault on a minor under fourteen.

Under Texas law the accused must elect who will impose punishment (the Judge or the Jury) if he or she is found guilty. We had already known that he’d selected the jury to impose any possible punishment. We were again given written instructions by the Judge.

In short, the incarceration could be 15-99 years or life per offense. Additionally we could impose a $10,000 fine per offense. We were advised that by law he would serve half of the sentence or 30 years whichever was less before parole could be considered.

During the penalty phase we learned of his prior convictions (one felony assault, and five misdemeanors) that didn’t come out in the trial phase. We also learned that he had been in and out of varying degrees of incarceration since 1997. His family came forth and offered that he was a good, kind, loving father. The prosecutor made each member of the family look at the photos and asked each if they would trust their children to him now. All of them said “No”. The penalty phase lasted about an hour.

It took almost twenty minutes to assign him to two life sentences and a $20,000 fine.

It felt really strange to actually sign the original court documents on behalf of the jury to place the two guilty verdicts and then the sentences in the official record. Unlike TV I didn’t get to stand and intone that “We the jury” etc etc. I simply stated for the record (when asked) that yes, the jury had completed deliberations and the result was unanimous. Then I handed the forms to the bailiff to in turn hand to the judge. As the judge read each document, the accused was immobile and didn’t meet anyone's eyes. It was strange to hear the judge pronounce my name at the end of each statement "Jury Foreman".

I can honestly say that the trial was educational and it both supported and refuted some opinions I hold/held on the criminal justice system. No one on the jury wanted to be there, and we all tried very hard to make sure that the defendant wasn’t unfairly tried.

After we were released from service, the prosecutor came over to thank us. Then we learned that this guy was a suspect in two other sexual assault cases. But there was a lack of enough evidence to go to trial.

I think we got it right. If you ever go to trial I hope you get people who were “too stupid to get out of jury duty”.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ice Ice Baby

We get one free weekend to move, and what happens? A mild winter storm shows up...

and we are driving in it. Four people, one truck, and twenty miles of slick highway. Already an adventure. We saw eighteen wheelers straddling the road and four wheelers in the ditch. By me and my budget rent a truck are cruising at 20 mph. Then Sears calls and says that they won't be delivering my new refrigerator thanks to the weather.

Well, we got it done after about nine hours of freezing our ass off. Home sweet home. But, it'll be another week before we can really live there. No phone, no Internet, no TV, all thanks to the weather.

And to top it off, I gotta send out change of address cards.

Moving sucks, unless you are pretty sure it's the last time.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Ambulance Chasing...

I sent a nasty letter to the Mayor/City Counsel and to a local radio personality. Ever since I can remember, the rule has been to pull over and get the hell out of the way when you see the EMS or Cops flashing lights...

Well day before yesterday I am on my way down the road at 4pm with the usual end of the day traffic. An ambulance was sitting in the outbound side of McDonalds trying to make a left. No luck. So he turns on his lights. Traffic comes to a halt and he pulls out. Once he's in a lane, off go the lights. We passed him up as he is destroying a hamburger and his partner some fries. We put the EMS folks and Cops on a pedestal along with the military. Whenever one of them steps out of line or does something wrong like this guy, it makes em all look bad. Enough people witness enough of these, and there won't be any more folks giving up the right away.

Man what a week. Busy at work, busy at home, too busy to just sit and browse the news. We bought the house and are now packing so we can begin moving saturday with the big ol truck at the ready it's "here we go again". In the service we moved every three or four years. So we got good at it. But it doesn't get any more fun. Of course they can't get all the amenities hooked up in a day or so. There will be an internet outage for starters. So by the time we are up and going again I will be jonesing real hard.

And to top it off..... It's tax season. Stay tuned, I'll rant on that really soon.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Football and the 100 Hours

How many Mondays will the new Congress take off? This time it's a football game. Next time it could be something important, like March Madness.
But I digress. How does the fabled first hundred hours pan out to the McUSA family?

So far, Democrats are consolidating a position about supporting a surge effort in Iraq. This may save lives in the short term. But how about two years from now when the Iraqi's are still fighting criminal gangs and homegrown militias as they say "My Allah can whip your Allah"? The reality dose is that unless and until a withdrawal order is given, Congress doesn't dare not fund the troops. Bad PR and doom for 08.

The Honorable Mrs. Pelosi can waffle all she wants about the first one-hundred hours of Congress. But the reality is that only on bill has been voted on. That would be the adoption of rules. However, that doesn't mean that some things haven't happened.

My Rep, Randy Neugebauer, wrote in Randy's Roundup dated 1/8/07 that "Yet, we are only one week into 2007, and an important defense against tax hikes has already been removed by the new majority. Since 1995, a super-majority (60 percent) has been required to approve any measure that increases taxes. However, last week the Democrats instituted a rule essentially requiring a mere simple majority to pass tax increases. Through income and other taxes, the government already gets its hand into taxpayers' wallets too much. By pushing this rule to the side, it is now even easier for the federal government to increase the tax burden on many Americans, which I oppose." I personally think that the thing to do is to scrap the tax code and the political maneuvering involved. Go for the FairTax. In fact, write your elected officials and push for HR 25 to be put to a vote. When you click on his site you will note that today's roundup may not be posted yet. The reason I am giving his site is to encourage all readers to be in close contact with thier elected officials.

Why do I talk taxes so much on this blog? First of all is there anyone who can claim to know everything about every rule? Nope. Next, if you have the power to literally pick and choose who gets taxed and how: Will it corrupt the process? Yep. Finally, the reality is that you deserve to keep the money you earn instead of giving an interest free loan to Uncle Sugar.

So far not much that has been talked about will get down to the McUSA family. But, with the wide range of promises made.... watch your backs and your (pocket) books.

Democrats May Tighten Pursestrings on Iraq
The first 100 hours pledge
Adopting the Rules of the House of Representatives for the One Hundreth Tenth Congress
Randy's Roundup
Learn about the Fair Tax Here (please)

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Funny Side of the News

Hey guys, how do you pee? I heard on the radio today that if you stand up to pee

then you are macho, triumphant, and by extension.... disrespectfull to women. No joke. I am serious as a heart attack. I haven't laughed so hard in days and days.

Even funnier is a wealthy congressman named Barney Frank who wants to cap the compensation of CEO's. It is so ludicrous and obviously unamerican that you have to laugh, or cry.

Now Sit Ingvar
Rush Limbaugh airs the Barney Frank interview with Neil Cavuto

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Y2K+7 Politics

Here it is, the third day of the new year and we are about to get political. But, does it matter and should the McUSA's even care? Let's see....

Democrats intend to raise the minimum wage and are talking ethics reform. In fact, today they (the ethics reformers) were upstaged by war protesters. Neither of these issues will impact the McUSA's. Why? Because a higher minimum wage will simply be passed on to consumers. So the cost of a happy meal will go up, and the guy who says "you want to supersize that?" has no further incentive to improve himself. And as to ethics reform in congress..... a contradiction in terms worthy of Jumbo Shrimp or Efficient Bureaucracy.

If you really want to get the inbound Dems to make a difference and be worthy of the national temper tantrum that happened in November do this: Ask them if they are going to support the Presidents vision of a balanced budget within five years with Iraq factored in. Ask em if they are going to untangle the tax code. Those two things can be realistically be done without emasculating themselves and could help them on the road to 08.

Instead I think the reality is business as usual. The new majority will shove bill after bill down the throat of the new minority in an orgy of self congratulation. Just like the Republicans did in the Newt Era. Nothing (yawn) new here

On the lead in page I show a link to Pratt on Texas. On today's show he discussed a truism of politics that has a very real basis if you prefer to deal in reality. If you want Local Control, you must use Local Money. So if you wish to shrink the Federal influence in your lives, you will need to remove the federal moneys. You cannot scream about wanting to be in charge at the State/City Level then hold your hand out for Uncle Sams money.

I found out folks were clicking out before reading the whole story. But reality requires honesty. So the sources for most (if not all) the info above are listed here. Democrats Tackle Ethics First Bush tells Congress what he'd like House Dem: Defense obligations will impede balanced budget Pelosi Pledges to Give Americans a Raise Don’t just assume Democrats’ takeover means higher taxes Pratt on Texas

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Years News

I took the New Year weekend and visited my folks. They are up in years and not as healthy as I'd wish. During that time lots of things happened. For example, Saddam Hussein is now having a tete a tete with Timmy McVeigh. Hung by the neck until dead

is so good. We could take a pointer from the Iraqi justice system.

This time of year is all about football. I don't like college ball because it is a popularity contest and true champions are rarely created. Take the Boise State vs. Oklahoma game last night. Man, what a game. But, don't you think that undefeated BState should have had a shot at a national title? Of course the debate over bowls vs playoffs will continue.

I don't remember if I mentioned this before. But President Gerald R. Ford passed on. That isn't even current news. What's current is that he is well on his way to becoming lionized and receiving some due respect. I was honestly too young to remember him well. I remember his loss to Carter, and I remember that he never seemed to bow to mudslinging or partisanship in his later years. I hope his family can find a measure of peace in his passing and the pain fades reasonably quick.

Any minute now the new Congress will convene and we shall see if the Democrats can get anything done. President Bush has already told them what they must do, or face stalemate. Essentially he let them know that simply because they have a majority, it doesn't mean they get to steam roller anyone.

The next few weeks could be interesting. But, realistically speaking, I don't think it will matter much to Mr. and Mrs. McUSA.