Jury duty

Three days in a pool of prospective jurors being vetted for a murder trial

During the end of the third day of jury selection for which I’d been summoned last week, Judge Robert Glusman said the words I’d been longing to hear: “Ms. Daugherty, you’re excused.” Or something to that effect. To be honest, by that point, I was pretty wiped. I’d been sitting in Courtroom 8 nearly all day, having arrived at Butte County Superior Court in Oroville at 8:30 that morning.

I was part of a panel of potential jurors for a murder trial set to start Wednesday (March 2) after this paper’s deadline: the People vs. Zir Ion Weems, who is accused of killing his wife, Angelica, a pretty 23-year-old mother of four. CN&R has reported on the case, and a few details in particular stuck with me—namely, that Mr. Weems was treated for self-inflicted cuts to his arms the day after his wife went missing but before her body was discovered in a shallow grave near the Sacramento River. Between knowing that info and having interviewed at least two people who may testify during the trial (albeit interviews unrelated to the murder), I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get empaneled.

Then again, you never know. That’s what I began thinking after watching Deputy District Attorney Stacy Edwards and Mr. Weems’ defense attorney, Eric Ortner, interview one prospective juror after the other. The lawyers were looking to rule out folks who couldn’t be fair and impartial.

The process was an eye-opener.

It started last Monday afternoon (Feb. 22) with the judge excusing people who had a legitimate hardship (be it financial or medical). The rest of us filled out an in-depth questionnaire that, among other things, asked about our experiences with mental illness and domestic violence. The questions gave us a window into what sort of testimony to expect should we be selected for a trial slated to go through March 25.

On Wednesday morning, I sat in the gallery of a packed Courtroom 8. Those whose names were called were seated in the jury box for questioning by both lawyers and, at times, Glusman. Weems was there, too, watching the process.

The thing that struck me is just how many people had either experienced domestic violence personally or were close to someone who had. One woman described living with a violent father, noting that he and her mother had gotten married and divorced four times. At one point, she told the attorneys she was surprised to be sitting there—as in alive.

She got booted that day, as did dozens of others.

My name was finally called near the tail-end of questioning on Friday. I told the judge my interviews with two potential witnesses wouldn’t prejudice me one way or the other. Still, after Ortner asked me just a few questions, Glusman called for the attorneys to approach the bench. I couldn’t hear their whispers, but I was pretty sure I was a goner. Sure enough, the prosecuting attorney chose not to interview me at all, something that hadn’t been done with anyone else. Just before telling everyone to return to court on Monday morning, Glusman cut me loose. From what I can tell, I was a unanimous no-go.

That’s fine with me. As a journalist, I’d much rather sit on the sidelines.