Give juries the credit they deserve

The following editorial appeared in the Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa., on Thursday, August 27:

Jury duty isn’t easy, and it’s rarely even convenient. Just look at how many people try to duck it.

All credit, then, to those who stand and serve. The American system of justice relies on these hardy souls, who take time out of their busy lives, often forfeiting their regular pay, to listen to evidence, discuss the merits, and render a verdict.

Jurors in communities across the country do that every day, but they often don’t get credit. And sometimes they get flak. That happened recently to the Colorado jurors who spent weeks hearing testimony, sifting through quantities evidence and deliberating the case of the infamous Colorado theater shooter James Holmes. Holmes opened fire at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rising” in 2012, killing 12 and spraying bullets at 70 others.

Prosecutors, noting Holmes had secretly amassed an arsenal before the killings, called him a cold-blooded killer. Experts for the defense testified that Holmes was schizophrenic and suffered from psychotic delusions that drove him to do something a sane person would not. Jurors rejected the insanity defense and convicted Holmes of 165 felony counts.

Some of the victims’ families took issue with the life sentence, though. One mother of a chronically injured daughter said the sentence sent a message that the state of Colorado “values a mass murderer more than the lives of those he murdered.”

Hardly. Eleven of the 12 jurors supported the death penalty, but one juror held out. Since Colorado law calls for the death penalty to be a unanimous decision, Holmes automatically got a life sentence — in this case, consecutive life sentences.

The Holmes jury, like thousands of others, rendered justice to the best of their collective ability. Those 12 people spent day after day of their precious time listening to both sides argue. For the Holmes jury, it was an especially bloody and tragic case, followed by a fraught period deciding the punishment. That takes a toll, yet the jurors saw it through. They did their sworn duty.

Now and then it’s good to remind those who have not served, or who second-guess jurors, just how invaluable such service is. No system of justice is perfect, but ours, relying on a “jury of peers,” is the best one out there.


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