Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I was Served Jury Duty Notice for an Attempted Murder Case

An Experience Too Close to Home

It wasn't just another case that I had been following in the news. The shooting had taken place five blocks from my home, and I had heard the shots. Fourteen rounds, the first six or so fired deliberately at close range. I knew that sound and what it meant, and I was only one of several people to call 911 that night. The gunman had turned during pursuit and fired once, then advanced slowly on the downed officer and pulled the trigger methodically, again and again, as if practicing double-taps at a firing range. The chills still go down my spine when I think of that night.

Jury Duty Notice
 
It conjured up memories of another Manchester officer, Michael Briggs, victim to a vicious shooting in 2006. I have several police officer friends who remember Briggs whenever they gather, and his presence is well known throughout the city. Sections of highways are named in his honor, as well as the local police athletic league gym. Cars and trucks still sport window decals with Briggs' retired badge number, 83, while driving about town. The Doherty shooting hit home. When the jury notice arrived, the enclosed letter didn't say that I would be in any particular pool, but simply a potential juror for an attempted murder trial. That was a big enough clue, and the jury dates matched with the projected trial dates reported in the newspaper. It was the only case it could be, and I was on tap to judge a man I already knew to be guilty.
Officer Doherty hadn't been an isolated shooting for our city. Manchester, NH had lost another police officer,

Witness stand

Questioning My Motives
 
I have always understood that it is our community responsibility to serve on a jury with our peers, and to do so fairly and without preconceived judgement. Our actions are overseen and guided by a judge, and argued for and against by lawyers. But what it comes down to is this - it is we the people who must sit and decide what must happen to those who break our laws and disrupt our communities. Myles Webster had committed the crime. He had been arrested only a block away from the shooting, and positively identified by Officer Doherty as the man who had shot him five times at close range in the chest and legs. I think now that I wanted the satisfaction of making an obvious choice to lock this thug away for good, to have an impacting say in keeping my neighborhood safe. But I knew I needed to impartial, and wasn't sure that I could be.

Civic Responsibility
 
I arrived that morning at the court house for selection with my letter in hand, and after passing the security station, went straight to the jury waiting room. There were perhaps 80 people in there, from all walks of life. Young women, old men, professionals in suits, college kids in jeans and wrinkled dress shirts. Each of us had been handed a brief info packet on the upcoming trial, and instructed by the court officers not to speak about what we might know of the case. To that end, any chit-chat in the room revolved around the mundane in comparison. How the Red Sox would do in the upcoming season, when the snow would melt, and what our kids had asked from Santa for Christmas. It was a stifling experience not being able to talk about what we all knew so much about.

The Selection Process
 
After a time, the 80 of us were brought to the courtroom to begin the voir dire, the selection process of questioning to chose or disregard jurors to sit for the trial. Webster was there with his lawyers, looking us over, judging us as the men and women who held his fate. Of the first 30 or so to be questioned, perhaps 10 were asked to take a seat in the jury box. My number would never called, but the entire time I was answering the judge's questions in my mind. Could I be impartial? Could I be fair? Is there anything the court should know about a connection I had with this case? By three o'clock, the juror's box was filled, and the court had agreed on several alternates just in case. I was thanked for my time with the remaining 20 or so people in the gallery and released from duty. To this day, I honestly don't think I could have answered anything but 'No' if asked if I could be impartial. In my opinion, Webster could only get the least of what he deserved with a maximum sentence.


Convicted felon Myles Webster in courtThe Aftermath
 
Myles Webster was convicted and sentenced to 60 years to life for the attempted murder of a police officer. Dan Doherty has returned to work after extensive physical therapy and having his tibia replaced with a titanium rod due to the injuries he sustained. My family and I have gone on with our lives, and still live in the house from where I heard those fourteen shots in March of 2012. We're in a good neighborhood, a wonderful neighborhood in fact, and the incident only showed us we can't live in fear of the bad things in life. They are few and far between, and when they occur, we must deal with them as they deserve.