Big trials can often hold the attention of whole countries while they unravel. When the accused is a celebrity, a serial killer, or someone who did something very unusual, we like to pay attention. As the various recent retellings of the OJ Simpson case prove, people can still be interested in what went on even decades after the case was closed.
In order to ensure that justice is always served, most trials involve a jury. This selection of people is carefully picked to check that they have no prior ideas about the defendant, or about what happened to the victim. They are supposed to be impartial: a blank slate waiting to be filled in by the prosecution and defence teams. They must retain that view all the way through the trial, no matter how long it takes, and thus are kept in isolation from the rest of the world. At the end of the trial, they must deliberate amongst themselves until they reach a decision as to whether the defendant is guilty or not.
Most juries remain anonymous, but when the case is a big one, they can stand to gain a lot by coming forward and speaking out. Everyone wants to hear their stories about what they saw and heard in the courtroom, and what it was really like to deliberate on another person’s fate. These 15 stories from members of the jury are chilling, and give a great insight into what was going on during these high-profile cases.
15. Joseph Duncan III And The Horrific Videos Shown In Court
Joseph Edward Duncan III was accused of torture, abuse, and murder when he came to trial. He had kidnapped a 9-year-old boy called Dylan Groene and his sister Shasta, then tortured and abused the boy until he was ready to kill him. Their torture lasted for weeks after he had already murdered their older brother, mother, and mother’s fiancé. The jurors in the case recall seeing the awful home videos that Duncan had made while committing the crimes. The lawyers couldn’t bear to look at the screen, and at times, neither could Duncan. The jurors actually cried as they watched the heart-breaking videos. It was a huge turning point in the case, which proved beyond doubt that Duncan was guilty and offered a strong and compelling reason to vote for the death penalty. It took them just 3 hours to come to that recommendation, and Duncan is actually on death row with 3 death sentences on his head today.
14. Stephen Young And The Supernatural Séance
Back in 1994, an insurance broker named Stephen Young was accused of killing two people. As he denied the charges, he was brought to trial, which is when things started to get weird. Four of the sequestered jurors might have had a little bit too much time to themselves with the minibar, as they went back to their hotel room and decided to conduct a séance. They used an upturned wine glass on a Ouija board to try to communicate with the spirits of his victims. Apparently, the Ouija board spelled out guilty, which the jurors were happy to report to the rest of their team over breakfast the next morning. Convinced by these supernatural hints, the whole panel decided that Young was guilty and returned a verdict as such. But the jurors were a little loose-lipped, and spilled the secrets of the spirits after the trial had concluded. The conviction was appealed as a result, though a second jury also convicted him of the double murder.
13. Jodi Arias And The Foreman’s Crush
Shockingly, not all jurors are able to stay neutral when listening to a trial. In the case of Jodi Arias, who was convicted for murdering her former lover, one of her jurors allegedly developed strong feelings for her. Prosecutor Juan Martinez was the one to spill the beans, in a book about the case. Although no one is named in the book, a juror from the case was happy to point the finger. Tara Harris Kelley believed it was foreman 71-year-old Bill Zervakos who developed a strong crush on Arias. “We’d have lunch together and he’d tell me how back in the day he was a womanizer. He thought she was young and attractive and he didn’t see how somebody that young and attractive could kill anybody,” she said. Zervakos denies the allegation, though there are reports of him staring at Arias intently in the courtroom and when before the judge’s chambers.
12. Jeffrey Dahmer And The Emotional Impact
Jurors often have to listen to details of some of the worst crimes ever committed. That is magnified hugely when they have to do it for a serial killer. When Jeffrey Dahmer went on trial, the jury had to spend 3 weeks listening to graphic accounts of the horrifying acts he had committed as he killed and dismembered 15 people. The jurors were left with emotional scars that are hard to shift. “I dealt with it by leaving the room and crying,” said Elba Duggins, who served on the jury. A psychiatrist had to be called in to counsel the jurors, and he reported that they were suffering from sleeplessness and irritability. They managed to get through it by coming together and supporting one another, and even ended up referring to one another as family. “At night, we came together as friends,” Ms. Duggins said, even before they were able to discuss the details of the case together.
11. A Pedophile And An Inappropriate Reaction
The details in this case have largely been kept under wraps, and you are about to see why. Firstly, the initial case was about abuse of underage victims by a pedophile, so the victims were absolutely kept secret. Secondly, one of the jurors made things very awkward and very personal, very quickly. The juror told the judge he wanted to leave the jury because he was bothered by the details of the case, which were presented very graphically. Finally, the juror admitted to his fellow jurors that he had been aroused by the case – to the extent that he had taken to wearing a condom to court. Aroused might be the understatement of the century here. One of the peers who heard his story immediately went to the judge and the case was thrown out as a mistrial. Though the New Zealand native was not named, we hope that they also began investigating him as closely as possible.
10. Peter Gill And The Seduction
A Canadian gangster called Peter Gill went to court in 1995, accused of murder and drug running as part of his gang activities. But he caught the eye of one of his jurors in a very special way. Gillian Guess was the juror who apparently thought that murder was totally hot, and decided to sleep with him in a hotel room while the court was adjourned for the night. Strangely enough, she said she thought he was a lawyer when they first slept together, but continued to sleep with him after she realized he was the defendant. Needless to say, this constitutes a serious breach of neutrality. Unfortunately, her deceit was not uncovered until after she had convinced the rest of the jury to acquit him. He walked free until the story came out, and she was eventually sentenced to 18 months alongside him for an act so bizarre that there wasn’t even a legal term for it yet.
9. Ted Bundy And The Lack Of Faith
You’d think that when you return a guilty verdict, and vote also for the death penalty, you would expect the accused to be sentenced to death. Not so for foreman Patrick Wolski, who was present at the trial of Ted Bundy for the murder and kidnapping of Kimberley Leach. That jury voted 10 to 2 that he should be put to death. He has stated since the trial reached its end that he didn’t believe the sentence would be carried out. He believed, instead, that Bundy would find some way to outwit the court system and discover a loophole to get out of it. This foreman also freely admits that he was of the opinion that Bundy should be sentenced to death before the trial even began – something that is not supposed to be allowed. Bundy was apparently furious about the fact that he remained on the jury. He remains adamant that Bundy deserved the death penalty, but he was doubtful the system would ever carry out a death sentence until it actually did.
8. The Quakers And The Starvation
A case in 1670 ended up having a judge in the Old Bailey of London ruling that the jury should always be independent from the judge, as a result of one of his colleague’s misadventures. The case was against two Quakers, William Penn and William Mead, who were accused of unlawful and tumultuous assembly – whatever that means. The jury couldn’t reach a verdict, and the fourth time the judge sent them out, he made an interesting decision. He took away their food, drink, fire, and even chamber pots, threatening that they would not get access to any of them unless they returned a unanimous guilty vote. They came back ‘not guilty’, perhaps just to spite Justice Howell. He in turn fined each of the jurors 40 marks and sent them to prison, until the foreman appealed and got that all-important ruling which now sets out the independence of the jury.
7. John Gotti Jr. And The Many Retrials
The mobster, son of a big mob boss, has been put on trial for racketeering multiple times, but always seems to get away with it. His first trial was a mistrial because of jury tampering. In other words, Gotti Jr. had some of his men go and threaten the jury into an innocent verdict. The second ended with a hung jury. The third trial saw two jurors being dismissed. One of those was an alternate who described receiving a threatening visit from two men right before the trial started. One of them asked if he was on the Gotti trial before continuing to threaten violence against him. He requested to be removed from the trial so that he would not be in danger. As if this was not enough, an anonymous juror from the same trial wrote a letter of complaint to the judge, saying that one of the other jurors was rude, stealing lunch from others, and seemed determined to drag deliberations out for as long as possible.
6. OJ Simpson And The Imprisoned Jury Atmosphere
When you become a juror, you are serving your duty for your country’s justice system. It’s a civic duty that many people try to excuse themselves from, while others see it as a way to give back to the system. Sheila Woods was one of the jurors at the OJ Simpson trial, and she describes the experience as like being in prison herself. She said, “If it had gone on for very much longer I think I would have had to ask to go home.” She described not being allowed to watch TV, having newspapers with anything about the trial cut out, being watched constantly, and having her phone calls listened to. She could only see friends or family members on Wednesday afternoons or Sundays after the court session was finished. They went out a few times – shopping, to the cinema, or to restaurants – but these were isolated incidents during the 9-month trial. She says she felt just a little above OJ himself in terms of freedom and treatment.
5. Steven Avery And The Conflicting Results
If you have seen Making a Murderer, you may already know about the reports from the one juror who was dismissed from Steven Avery’s murder trial. Richard Mahler became a controversial figure after coming forward to talk about what happened behind the scenes. He claimed that on the first day, the jurors made an informal vote, and 7 of them said they thought Steven Avery was not guilty. However, when the trial came to an end after Mahler was replaced, they returned a unanimous guilty verdict. One of the other jurors claimed there was no such vote, while a third said that only 3 thought him not guilty. Whatever the case, something doesn’t quite add up. “I suspect there might have been some undue pressure put — either from within the jury room or outside the jury room — that might’ve affected the fairness of each individual juror’s deliberation,” said Steven’s attorney, Jerry Buting.
4. Jodi Arias And The Death Threats
Back to the Jodi Arias case again, which ended with her life effectively being saved. Juror 17 has since come out to speak about the trial, and what has happened since it ended. She claims to have received death threats because of the way that the jury vote went. 11 jurors voted for the death penalty, but the mother of 3 did not. The others actually tried to have her kicked off the jury, and condemned her for not voting along with them. Shortly after a mistrial was declared because they could not reach a unanimous decision, Juror 17’s name, address, phone number, and even a photograph of her home were posted to Twitter and Facebook. She soon started to receive death threats and other abusive comments. “It was scary and upsetting for me to hear that,” she said. Strangely, it also emerged that the Arias prosecutor had once prosecuted her ex-husband, though she said she felt no grudge against him for that trial.
3. Colin Norris And The Changed Mind
When a jury makes a decision, you would normally hope that they made that decision from a place of deep conviction. That they believed truly that their decision had been the correct one. But this just isn’t the case for the jury of Colin Norris, a nurse from Leeds who was jailed for life for the murder of four patients and the attempted murder of a fifth. Since the trial’s conclusion, foreman Paul Moffitt has changed his mind – stating that he believes the victims died of natural causes only. “I’d like to see Colin Norris freed,” he said, adding: “That’s why I came forward, put my name forward, I just felt it would be my duty to do that.” He is the second juror to come forward, and the first to allow his name to be used. He now believes that there was no murder committed, thanks to new evidence and statements given by experts that suggest that the women died of a natural reaction to their insulin injections – not a deliberate overdose.
2. Dylann Roof And A Changed Community
When faced with a man who had committed a massacre, this jury was deeply affected. Amazingly, they all banded together to form the same opinion, the same unanimous vote, and even the same statement after the case. The jurors formed a group to write an op-ed piece about the experience. They said that the horrific actions of Roof only ended up bringing them together, though serving on the jury had irrevocably changed their lives. They spent some time visiting the church where the fatal shootings took place after the trial had concluded, so that they could get to know the place as it was meant to be. This was part of a healing process that they felt they needed to undertake after being shaken deeply during the 30 days of deliberations. The hardest part, they described, was learning about the “beautiful lives of folks we would never meet” – the victims.
1. Jamie Stewart And The Smilie
Jamie Stewart was only on trial for a drug charge, not for murder. But he still managed to make major headlines after it emerged that he had been chatting with one of the jurors for the length of the trial. Joanna Fraill, who called herself Jo Smilie, was engaging in Facebook messages with Stewart even while she served on the jury that was assigned to his case. Though the judge warned against social media usage during the trial, she went ahead and spoke with him, even promising him that she was trying to convince the others to return an innocent verdict. She was sentenced to 8 months of jail time in 2011 for contempt of court. One of her messages read, “cant get anywaone to go either no one budging pleeeeeese don’t say anyhting cause jamie they could call mmiss trial and i will get 4cked to0 (sic)”. He promised in return that he was deleting the messages.