They were sworn to tell the truth. He doubted if they would. Blood Land. Chapter 4 – 2
April 20, 2013
A VG Serial: Blood Land
Chapter 4 – 2
The jury selection process began two weeks later.
Voir Dire: “to give a true verdict”, or in the case of jury selection, to tell the truth.
Hanson was wary of the prosecutor in the case, Town Attorney Beulah Jorgensen, having done due research on his opponent. Jorgensen was a congenitally dislikable woman the professor had not met himself but about whom there seemed no shortage of stories or public opinion. The unmarried woman spent much of her childhood henpecked by the girls of Wind River and ignored or ridiculed by most of the boys. Her position as Town Attorney afforded her, it seemed, the chance to readjust the balance of the scales. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) her demeanor, Jorgensen had a near-perfect record. The woman had not lost a case in well over a decade.
Jorgensen was also seeking the death penalty. A charge of first-degree murder was the only crime in Wyoming punishable by death, and there had not been an execution in the state in over thirty years. Aggravating circumstances were a requirement. Hanson read the relevant portion of the charges levied by the State of Wyoming:
“In planning the shooting, Ty McIntyre, the defendant, did show the premeditative forethought commensurate with first-degree murder and in shooting toward a house with multiple occupants, any of which (or any combination of which) would be put at risk of imminent death by his own hand, did knowingly create a grave risk for the victim of the crime as well as additional persons.”
Voir dire was less about getting at the truth and more about a study of human reactions: expressions, tone and timbre of voice, directional glances—the indicators were myriad and since the balance of the case was about the jury, expertise in reading people was requisite to choosing twelve men and women that would deliver the desired verdict.
And the last thing the accused wanted was a jury of his peers. Hanson learned just a few trials into his defense career that true peers were less likely to sympathize, more apt to convict. He taught it this way:
“Look at your coworkers. They may like you, but there is always that underlying sense of competition, of ‘who’s getting the next promotion?’ Peers tend to have too much affiliation. They are biased and don’t even know it.”
Why should he get away with murder?
Why should she get rich quick?
The thought between the lines was always the same:
Instead of ME?
A good defense lawyer wanted a person who, though obviously not from the same background or race or employment, could put themselves in the shoes of the other. The perfect juror had what Hanson referred to as “transferrable sympathy”; the tendency to have pity on those whose lives seemed worse off than their own. And it was that propensity he sought. No peer conflict, just the innate ability to imagine themselves in the other’s predicament. Hanson, and all good trial lawyers, knew that imagination offered jurors wide latitude in thinking about what a person might do under such circumstances. Too often, a jury of peers was likely to deliver a guilty verdict—it was too much like self-judgment. That is why prosecutors loved jurors who looked, talked, acted, worked, and played just like the accused. Twelve perfect peers would convict every time.
Hanson liked to use an approach where he created a scenario, tried to put the entire prospective panel in a moment; one they could feel. Then he would ask them to imagine the answer to a particular question—many times one that contradicted the constructed scenario.
For example, he might ask them to close their eyes, place their minds in a nursery: two walnut cribs, walls painted neutral green, identical twins—boys; strawberry blonde hair, only a few months old. Perhaps there was a mobile hanging from the ceiling, a littering of stuffed animals, a changing table with diapers, ointments, and wipes stacked on the shelves. Then Hanson would ask the jurors to imagine large swaths of blood marking the walls; the babies, not breathing, death all around and the parents accused.
He’d watch the individual reactions. Horror, surprise, shock, anger. And almost always, there were those who appeared less jolted; not exactly unaffected, but willing to see the process through to the end. In these instances, the prosecutors often succumbed to the moment, as shocked by his “antics” as much as many in the jury pool. But in such reactions, Hanson learned what he needed to know, while his adversaries missed the crucial cues. The selection process was akin to a speed match of chess. One could not afford to miss the smallest potential disadvantage or the tiniest breach in the front line of the opponent.
Another favorite technique involved Hanson regularly eliminating jurors without a single question or conversation from or with either attorney. He would call on a juror only to thank them for their service and excuse them. The strategy was again fairly simple—it required Hanson only to dismiss a juror outright, one who already mismatched his profile. The reaction of the other jurors, however, could be telling.
“Juror seven. Ms. Cornwall?” Hanson asked, though he knew her name.
“Yes, sir,” Dorothy Cornwall answered.
Hanson noted fear in her voice. “Thank you very much for your time today, dear,” he said to her, then addressed Judge Butler: “Your Honor, the defense would like to use a preemptory challenge for juror seven.”
The judge nodded. “Ms. Cornwall, the court thanks you. You are excused, ma’am. Will the rest of you please move forward one chair, including those of you in the alternate chairs and the gallery. Thank you.”
When the reshuffling was complete, Hanson addressed the juror who had just been moved into the box. “Juror number thirteen,” he said. “Ms. Bineford? I hope I got that right.”
“You got it fine,” Suzan Bineford said.
“Could you see yourself as a vigilante? What I mean is, under a particular circumstance, might you take the law into your own hands?”
“I don’t think so,” Bineford said. “Not to such an extreme, no.”
Hanson expected her answer and followed with: “Ever have any cause to scrap with any of your brothers or sisters?”
“’Course I have,” she said, agitated. “Who hasn’t?”
Hanson liked her. He didn’t want to press further, wary of a Jorgensen challenge. He’d gotten her to decry vigilante justice, hoping that might sway the prosecution favorably.
The juror selection continued for most of the day. By four-thirty, the attorneys were ready to agree on a jury. Five men, seven women, and two alternates. Hanson excluded as many male ranchers as he could, but of the seven men on the jury, five of them ran cattle in rural Wind River. One was a teacher—a professed conservative with what Hanson believed to be some pretty strong liberal underpinnings he probably dared not flaunt before the local school board. The five women posed a challenge, too. They’d either sympathize with Bethy McIntyre or believe Ty when he talked about how much he loved his sister. They’d mother him or hang him; it was Hanson’s job to steer them.
On the way out of the courthouse, Beulah Jorgensen stopped him.
“Mr. Hanson,” she said.
“I told you, Beulah. Call me J.W.”
“I don’t care for people who use initials to refer to themselves,” she said. “And I don’t recall asking you to use the familiar with me.”
“Understood,” Hanson said.
“I thought it only fair to tell you that I am planning on calling your, uh, well, friend, to the stand. Ms. Steele.”
Hanson feigned stoicism. “For?”
“To testify as to the violent potential of Ty McIntyre. They have a history,” Jorgensen said.
“She won’t say anything to impugn her uncle, you know,” Hanson said.
“She’ll say whatever is the truth or I will have her jailed, sir.”
“You do whatever you have to, ma’am,” he said.
“She’ll be on my witness list,” Jorgensen said and exited into the fading light.
Chapters of the serial are published Monday through Saturday.
You can learn more about R. S. Guthrie’s novels on his Amazon Author’s Page.