By Ralph Seeram
She was lying face down, butt naked, hands and feet tied behind her back, and tears streaming down her cheeks she begged them to spare her life. With the cold barrel of a revolver pressed against her head she knew death could come at anytime.
Through their hooded masks the two animals feasted their eyes on her white flesh, commenting on her beautiful body. They parted her legs, as they prepared to commit the ultimate sex act on this 22-year-old all American girl.
As she tearfully recounted that horrible experience from the witness stand I could not help but shed a tear. It then dawned on me why earlier, both defense attorneys and state asked all potential jurors whether they had children. They wanted to know how many boys and girls as well as their ages. They polled us individually; they obviously felt that if one had a daughter one might feel sympathetic to the victim.
Earlier I was in a pool of forty potential jurors, selected electronically, for consideration for a panel of six jurors and two alternate. I was amazed at the length the system goes to ensure that two accused get a fair trial.
Considering that the two accused were Afro-American one of the questions naturally was whether anyone was prejudiced against blacks. A few hands went up and both defense and state prosecutor duly made note.
Was anyone a victim of crime? Were you in a lawsuit? Are you related to or friends with a police officer? Do you think police break the law? Are you related to the judge or any judge or to the defense attorney or State Prosecutor? Can you set aside that and judge fairly?
Can you judge fairly? Can you put aside your bias? Which is worse, an innocent person found guilty or a guilty person found innocent? Are both a travesty of justice, and one of the other?
As you can imagine quite a number of people responded to the questions, some without doubt gave answers that they knew would eliminate them from the pool, which is what they wanted.
It was a five-day trial, and some explained that they cannot afford to devote that much time. Some of those that were employed had no problem as their employers had to pay their wages, and it was like a little vacation from work.
For those who gave excuses on why they could not serve, the presiding judge made it known that once a potential juror meets the criteria, only a travel ticket or a doctor’s note can excuse one from the panel.
Some members gave answers to deliberately get themselves of the panel, as saying they were prejudiced against blacks, friends of police, cannot be fair etc. The Judge first did his questioning which was aimed primarily to find an objective jury. It was evident that the defence and state prosecutor’s questions were directed to find jurors who would be sympathetic to their respective cases.
A female with a daughter might be more in sympathy with the victim who is female. A male juror with a son or sons might not be inclined to imprison the two young accused.
A juror with both sons and daughters would also present a problem and had to explain if he or she felt a conflicted. At this time we only knew the charges against the two accused, four counts of aggravated sexual battery with a deadly weapon and burglary of a dwelling with a deadly weapon.
One accused was 17 years at the time, the other in his early 20’s. After three hours of questioning a final panel of eight jurors was selected from a pool of forty. Six would make the decision while two were alternates; however no one knew who the alternates were.
I was the second juror selected of a panel of four females and four males. Two were minorities, yours truly and another fellow male West Indian.
The judge made it clear to us that unlike television court cases these cases take more than an hour. In fact, in the real world this case would take five days. The case involved a lot of scientific evidence including DNA and fingerprints.
Evidence showed that the two accused wore hooded masks and gloves, broke into the victim’s house, brandishing their guns demanding money. The young lady had just graduated from college, went out on her own and was seeking employment. She did not have much money, so they turned their attention on her.
If she had no money they would make her pay with her body. They laid her on her stomach face down, and then they drew her hands and legs backwards and tied them. She was fully clothed, so they took a pair of scissors and cut the clothes off her, including her underwear, all the while holding a gun to her head.
Accused Number One felt that he could not enjoy groping her with a glove so he took off his gloves, and taped her mouth with duct tape. He proceeded to part her legs and positioned himself behind her to rape the helpless young lady.
However something unexpectedly stopped him, she was having her period and he felt a tampon in her. This apparently stopped the rape, a little reprieve for the victim. Her ordeal stopped at that point, the animals left with a few electronic equipment..
Five months later the police got a break when the ex girlfriend of the Number One accused gave police some information in exchange for some leniency on a charge he was facing. When the main accused was arrested he still had the gloves and hooded masks hidden in his car. It turned out that they carried out a series of robberies.
Now it was a question of putting them on the scene. Here is where good police work comes in. The younger defendant was not arrested but asked to go to the station to give a statement. After some “sweet talk”, by the Afro American detective, and I emphasize “sweet talk” not brutality, he volunteered to go the police station.
He was not arrested so they did not have to read him his rights. On cameras he confessed to his part of the crime and implicated his friend who he claimed influenced him.
It was fascinating to be listening first hand to the scientific evidence on how the mastermind was placed on the scene. In his eagerness to rape the young lady he left some impressions on the duct tapes which the forensic lab were able produce a fingerprint which matched the accused.
Then they extracted DNA from the mouthpiece of the hood which matched his DNA. The day the scientific evidence were being given one could observed the room filled with attorneys who probably came to strengthen their knowledge of DNA cases.
One observation I made was while quite a few of the victim’s family and friends were there in support, only a solitary person was there for both accused throughout the trial. I wondered why their parents brothers, sisters, or friends were not there, considering that the evidence showed they had a lot of friends when they were spending the proceeds from their ill gotten gains.
There was not much deliberating to do as the evidence was clear and convincing. Both were found guilty on all counts. The mastermind was sentenced to life in prison immediately, while the younger one who was only 17 years at the time will be sentenced after a probation report.
The judge told us later in the jury room that he cannot sentence him to life but he faces a long time in prison, ten years plus. Some in the jury room, including myself, felt a little sorry for him. That is where the father side came in. He clearly admired and was influenced by his older friend.
But the law was clear he was just as guilty even though he did not lay a hand on the young lady. Still I wondered if someone failed him along the way or was it the other way around.
There was no question whether the jury had sympathy for the victim. Her facial expression in the courtroom showed that there was no doubt, that beautiful young woman was still traumatized by this incident.
The convictions are a small measure of satisfaction for her, hopefully in the long term she would get some measure of closure and move on with her life.
Ralph Seeram can be reached at email: [email protected]
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