If you have been reading my writing of late I am sure you have noticed a theme. I am often tip-toeing around a very particular time in my life. Bringing a lot of my experiences back around to it, but not specifically writing about it.
People who know me closely know my recollection in person, but I am not ready to write what I remember of my insanity yet. Often when I write something it is released from me. I feel a weight lift up and outside of me. Or at least, the burden of that experience and those thoughts lessens.
I think through life we are constantly gaining more burdens and finding more strength to carry them. I am not ready for that burden to be any lighter yet. It’s something that keeps me in check every day.
So this will be the story of how I got to be a jury member on a murder trial, and how seriously I took it.
I want to say this was five or six years ago now. So a year or two into my probationary period. I got called into jury duty like any normal person, but figured I was Scot-free because they would tell me to get out as I walked in.
I was on probation for five felonies, plus some. Multiple burglary and robbery charges, multiple breaking & entering charges, assault on a police officer (which thankfully was reduced, because of a guilty plea). It was on a deferred sentence, so I didn’t have to admit to it on job applications and only the court system could pull it up.
If you did a background check on me today I would come up squeaky clean. I’ve checked.
Though I and my family have the paperwork to prove otherwise. This is nothing I am proud of, it’s just a fact. I have a criminal past that even though it was expunged and there are no state records of it any longer, I will live with for the rest of my life. If I did not admit this and did not carry it with me, I would not be who I am today. Who I was is proof positive for me of what and who I never want to be again.
Back to jury duty.
It started innocently enough, I just walked into the Adams county justice center and sat in a room with I want to say a couple hundred — maybe a hundred and fifty very unhappy people.
This was like a snow day for me, though. I was able to get out of work for the day and my boss at that time couldn’t find a way to get me out of it. He did try to tell me to figure out any way I could, but I was so stoked I got a letter from the State saying I could do something that every American citizen has a right to do — that wiggling a way out wasn’t in the cards for me. I was really hoping I had a real shot.
I very nearly sat in front of a jury of my peers, awaiting their judgement. So I really wanted to take this seriously.
When the clerk came in maybe a half an hour after signing in, she made an announcement:
“Alright everyone, we have a few civil suits and a murder trial today. Please be patient and we will get the jurors called. Once that happens everyone else can leave. We will have a short orientation video to watch and form to fill out before we get you to your courtroom.”
There was a collective gasp throughout the room when the word “murder” was mentioned. This seriously only made me more excited. If I had the chance to be on any kind of trial and try to do my best as an American citizen, I wanted a murder trial. That is something that I would take even more seriously just based on its gravity as an act.
Be careful what you wish for.
Looking back on it, it’s almost like fate or something — the way it all worked out. I was put in the group for the murder trial, the exact one I wanted. Then when it came to the questionnaire I filled it out more seriously than any test I have ever taken in school, or otherwise.
I answered every question 100% truthfully and with so much information that I ran out of paper. I admitted my criminal past and how the thought of being a juror really hit home with me. How I felt it was my duty as an American citizen and recovering criminal to give back, to do something right. To try and make it right.
When all was said and done and the voir dire process was complete, I was the 13th, alternate juror. By the end of the following day I was locked in as the 12th juror. I was in. I was going to be a part of something and make a difference of some sort that would mean something to me.
I know Bill Curren was a murderer but we had to let him walk.
One of the very first things the judge told us as jurors when he introduced himself is that all the information we hear and see needs to be put into context of the law. That the law is black and white and cannot be interpreted. We must take the law at 100% face value if we want the system to work how it is supposed to.
This doesn’t mean that the system is always 100% correct. Like anything there will be mistakes, but hopefully if taken in this fashion less mistakes overall will be made. That’s why I am still upset that I have to live with letting a murderer walk because the prosecution decided to charge him incorrectly.
I can’t remember the exact degree he was charged with but it broke down into “Defendant went to willingly rob victim and victim lost life in process”.
This man went to murder the victims first, and robbing was just icing on the cake.
That may seem like a small distinction, but it’s not. The entire prosecution was all about how Bill among others treated the victims — torturing them and then killing them, before taking the pounds of Marijuana in reward. Which was in an entirely separate location as well. There was even evidence of a meeting beforehand about murdering them and then robbing the drugs — at Shotgun Willie’s, a strip club in Denver. The case was a fourteen or so year old one that happened in the late 90s. I can’t remember why it took them so long to get a jury on it.
The trial went on for two and a half weeks or so and I was only paid $50 a day by the state, while still having to provide/purchase my own lunch. I’m lucky that I misunderstood how the whole thing works with companies legally and told my boss he had to pay me like I was working. He definitely wouldn’t have if I hadn’t, and he admitted as such.
During this trial I got to see and hear about things that I had some experience with, but these people went much farther, and lost themselves far more than I did. I can still see the maggots crawling throughout the victims’ faces after they were pulled out from under a ditch overpass on a county road — where they were disrespectfully and unceremoniously dumped.
I can still see the layout of the backyard where they pulled in an Atlas moving truck. Which was then used to transport the bodies to the disposal site. I can still see the shoes, duct tape, trash bags, and blood.
I can still remember being one of two or three jurors at the start trying to convince the entire deliberation that we didn’t wan’t him to walk, but the law stated he HAD to walk.
There’s such a dichotomy of emotions for me when it comes to this experience. Because there is a part of me that is so proud that I really stood for something I believed in, with a small group of others, and we made a difference.
Then there’s the fact that what we stood for was letting a man that all the evidence pointed to — was a murderer. A 100% arrogant, sociopath, scum of the Earth human with total lack of remorse.
Regardless, he was charged incorrectly.
It was not our duty as jurors to tell the prosecution what they should have done and then decide to find Bill guilty because that’s what we felt should happen. We needed to take this seriously, so maybe in the future the prosecution would think a bit more about what they were doing the next time.
Even during the trial itself it was interesting to me. I really felt like the prosecution thought they had the thing hook, line, & sinker before the horse was even let out of the gate.
The defense was made up of two older gentleman. One who was portly, sweaty, and often couldn’t tuck his shirt in to completion. The other looked of an aged crane, very tall and lithe with the most glorious beak of a nose you will find. Mr. Crane mostly took the lead in the proceedings and would often lose his place in his notes or his train of thought.
I believe this made the prosecution very complacent and they forgot exactly what they were supposed to be arguing for, because otherwise I am not sure how they could have chosen the course they did with the charge they went with. As I stated previously the entire prosecution was all about the abundance of evidence against Bill that his whole mission was to kill these people and then take their stash too.
So why charge the murder as if it was happenstance?
It just baffles me, still. The worst part is that the memory most emblazoned in my mind is Bill’s family walking out of the courtroom thanking us profusely. As if we had just saved their relative’s life, and that we did it from the kindness in our hearts.
Nothing about me felt kind, happy, or even correct. I think that might be what justice is supposed to feel like. I’m not sure justice is supposed to be something you feel good about. I do think it is something that is supposed to stick with you, though. Now when I hear or see about any kind of court proceeding with a jury I know what they are going through.
I have been both a criminal with the fear of a jury, and a juror with a criminal’s fear in my hand. Neither is something I want to recommend, but I do think that being a juror is a privilege, honor, and duty as an American citizen.
The larger meaning in this piece for me is that I am going to take it seriously every time. Whether it’s a traffic dispute or a murder, I want to treat it in the same way I would want my jurors to treat it if I was a part of the proceedings.
I hope you do too.
We could have just interpreted the law the way we wanted to, and given a guilty verdict. Philosophically though, where does that stop? How else could things be re-interpreted and looked at as a means to an end? I feel that’s a bit of a slippery slope to go down.
This is my burden. I may have let a murderer walk, but I didn’t compromise my values as an American citizen.
I’m pretty proud of that.
Thank you for reading.
©2017 Trevor Elms
Featured photo by Katie Wood, ©2016