I’m writing to you from the comfort of my warm home. I’ve got my precious three year old daughter asleep in her bed taking a nap. It is cold outside and the sky is grey with cloud cover. The autumn trees are lighting my view with their sharp orange and yellow leaves. I catch myself staring out the windows looking for something that won’t be found out there – I’m looking for a way back to last Sunday, when I didn’t know what I now know and hadn’t seen what I’ve now seen or done what I’ve now done.
It’s been a long week
It started out annoyingly enough. I was summoned for Jury Duty, and I was to report on Monday, October 19th at 8:30. This was my second summons in three years. I wasn’t dreading it necessarily, but I wasn’t exactly excited about it either. The first time I served, I found out that I was pregnant with our daughter during that trial. This time I was introduced to Lane Smiley.
When they called our group of 52 people late in the afternoon on that Monday, I remember feeling a bit anxious. I looked around at the large group and wondered to myself, “why so many”? I know the answer to that question now. I remember the walk from the jury room to the courthouse and enjoying the feel of the downtown atmosphere. I like the noise. I like the sounds. I’m a city girl in my heart. Having made it through the juror security check in the Criminal Courthouse, we reached the elevator. Once we were all on the right floor, we lined up in the hall with both sides filled by people in single file position. I remember feeling slightly faint for some reason and taking deep breaths to keep myself from passing out. Finally, we were instructed to come forward by last name in groups of seven, and I entered this chapter of my life unremarkably as the fifth of seven.
I saw only two people at first: a grey haired, tall, and slender man and a petit woman with thick, long blonde hair and an otherwise beautiful face blemished by grief. They sat in the back row of the courtroom. I then looked into the room and saw five people watching us as we entered: a female judge, a 30 something blond haired man, a 30 something dark haired woman with smoky eyes, an extremely well dressed, middle-aged, African American man, and finally, a very young African American man with little expression on his face – he just looked tired. I immediately felt heavy inside. As a result of my name, I sat in the front row of the jury box from the very beginning. On the first day of juror selection I said only six things out loud: my name, where I lived, where I worked, what position at my job, my husband’s name and his occupation. The rest of the time I listened very carefully, sat very still, and watched everything. The next day I only answered one more question…turns out it was the right answer to the wrong question... that I knew absolutely nothing about guns, nothing. Time inched forward as we waited to be returned to the jury pool. Eventually the lawyers struck jurors off their lists in numeric codes and I watched their juror diagrams to see if I could determine if my location was crossed out. I couldn’t tell. When they were announcing the rules for those of us about to leave, I grabbed my purse expectantly and I waited for them to ask me to hand in my juror button. The judge gave orders for the people currently seated in the jury box to stand as she called the names. She did not call my name. I was not going home or back to the jury room. I was there to stay.
Fear gripped me and tears welled up in my eyes. I remember how cold I was at that moment - shaking. I willed myself not to be there. I knew immediately that I was not prepared for this, but there I was and there they were, and there we all were in this giant, tragic mess together, a turn of events set in motion almost two years prior to our meeting. Of course, by this time I knew it was a capital murder trial; I knew that the woman with the grief stained face was the mother of a boy who was dead; I knew that the young African American man was being charged with his death. The realities of all of my hypothetical discussions about violence, race and poverty were about to unfold right in front of my tear filled eyes. I cursed my luck, picked up my pad of paper and pencil, and prayed for Solomon’s wisdom. It was on Tuesday, October 20th, that I first heard Lane Smiley’s name and was introduced to him by race, height, weight, and finally date and manner of death. He was 21 years old on the day he died and the boy who had confessed to shooting him was only 18 when he did it.