Rushing To A Verdict

Why is the Hayes jury deliberating over the weekend? Because the case is one heart-beat away from disaster. It has nothing to do with not wanting the jury to feel hurried, as Judge Jon C. Blue told jurors. That is transparent nonsense. Capital and non-capital cases routinely shut down, as does the entire court system, on the weekends. Only in this case has there been special rules.

Here's the disaster the court hopes to avoid: There is but one alternate left. I do not know her name, but I will forever think of her as Ms. Me So Horny. She's the potential juror who sat through the gruesome evidence of slaughter and the compelling evidence of how a man can come to be a killer and had her eyes glaze over. All she could think about was that hunk in uniform sauntering the halls. While her colleagues contemplated life and death: she tried to smuggle a note to a marshal asking for date during trial.

The defense tried to get her tossed from the panel. The judge said no.

She is the last alternate in this case. If anything happens to one of the twelve jurors actually deliberating, she gets pressed into service. I suspect the judge wants to avoid having to put Mr. Hayes' life in her hands: Imagine the confusion if she were to ask this convicted killer out for a date. Men on death row frequently attract the love of romantic desperadoes.

Under our law, should one of the regular jurors fall ill or otherwise be unable to serve, the alternate would be called back to service. She would be placed on the jury, and the jurors as a group would be told to recommence their deliberations. In theory that sounds fine. But suppose after three days deliberation, a panelist fell ill. At this point, blocs of votes would be formed in the jury room. Allegiances to persons and points of view would have taken shape. Sure, the judge would tell the panel to start all over again. The only person who would start afresh, however, would be Ms. Me So Horny. Arguably, the least fit juror of all would have the greatest influence as she would have the freshest voice. That would be a disaster.

In no other case in Connecticut in the past few decades have jurors sat on the weekend. I have waited on several occasions through several weeks of deliberations. Jurors worked throughout the week, and then had weekends to decompress before returning to court. These jurors felt no sense of urgency, and were not compelled to sit non-stop until they had reached a decision. In the Hayes case, however, jurors know no relief is in sight. They will not be given a day off until they decide, one way or another, whether to take a man's life. The judge told the panel this morning that they could work deep into the night if they liked. Call it shotgun justice. Has the judge told them they can ask for a day or so off to, er, um, think about whether to kill a man?

So long as this infirm alternate is kept on the sidelines, the trial court's decision not to toss her from the panel is not an appellate issue. But imagine the appellate record if she were required to sit. The jury, charged by law with making a reasoned moral response about whether a man shall live or die would be tainted by a juror who views the penalty phase as little more than a version of the Dating Game. The defense would have a field day.

So forget the mock solicitude about the jury's feelings here. Judge Blue's decision is unprecedented. This is not how capital cases are treated in Connecticut. They have not been treated this way in decades. This is yet another example of treating this high-profile case as some sort of premium version of justice. Other defendants, other victims, in cases carrying consequences both profound and not, get far less that the justice the court is trying to mete out here. 

As I watched press reports of the judge's sense of urgency as the case was ending, I could not help but wonder whether someone in the case, or close to it, had a vacation planned, or had some other pressing obligation. It is normally the case that once a case goes to the jury, the judge eases off and lets the jury take its time doing the hard work of justice. But in this case, there is a mad rush toward finality. At a time of budget shortfalls and furloughs, the court pressed staff into overtime. Why?

Equal justice under law means all men are treated alike. We're bending the rules for this prime-time showdown, and it looks fishy. 

Also listed under: Cheshire Homicide

Comments: (3)

  • Jackson
    You have your answer. The Judge wants to avoid calling the remaining (love sick) juror. This not rich v poor. This good v evil. It is a morality play for our time.
    Posted on November 6, 2010 at 7:06 am by Caroline
  • More of the Same
    Could it also be, or maybe alternatively, that the "rush to judgment" syndrome is trickling up to the bench level? It's been around for quite some time at the police and state's attorney level...
    Posted on November 6, 2010 at 12:35 pm by PJ
  • Overworked Jury
    I agree with More Of The Same. Way too much pressure to get things done Here. Now. Kudos to the jury for (so far) not flipping a coin and rushing to instant death verdict I'm vs. death penalty, always have been, always will be.
    Posted on November 7, 2010 at 8:51 am by MsMoneypenny

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