And so the selection wore on. As we got closer to the actual trial I couldn't write about it since I would have to mention specifics, so my e-mail newsletter stopped. We weren't even allowed to discuss the trial amongst ourselves.
We took to talking about the wheezing defense attorney, who bought his suits off the rack and left the cuffs to cover his hands. His tie kept curling around so you could see the label, and we'd judge each day as a "good tie day" or a "bad tie day". The prosecuting attorney was a bald man in his thirties, with very long fringes. We agreed that he looked like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, though as a young man.
The trial itself was a monkey trial. Let me just say that they should have been half as careful choosing the lawyers, witnesses and defendant as they'd been in choosing the jury. The case boiled down to a simple murder, and we didn't like a single one of the cast of characters. Some kid with a big radio was on the street with his friends at 3AM. Another kid walks up and says, "Hey! Whatthefuckyoulookinat?" The first kid says, "You?", and then BANG!, in front of 10 witnesses.
It would have been an open-and-shut case, except that it took the police a year and a half to find the guy, even though everyone knew who he was. He hid out in the open, the only difference being that he moved from his mother's house to his father's house and changed his name from Melendez to Menendez. That's why it took the police a year and a half. The arresting detective who testified was talking to himself agitatedly before taking the stand, and rocked himself thereafter.
The defense attorney tried to protest that the defendant was treated badly because he was arrested in front of his younger sister. That seemed to be his only defense, but the judge never let him tell the story. There was also some kind of neighborhood drama going on, with a girl on the stand who threw some deep shade at the defense attorney. None of this had anything to do with the murder, and as far as I could tell, it was more for the entertainment of the jury, who were getting more and more annoyed.
The man who had the hardest job was the prosecuting attorney. The poor guy wanted to be Perry Mason, but not only did he have a tin ear and a poor sense of drama, he had only one line to play with:
"So, he walked up to this kid on the street, and says, 'Whatthefuckyoulookinat?', 'Whatthefuckyoulookinat?', 'Whatthefuckyoulookinat!!!'"
We all winced, and worried that he might lose the case, not because there was even a reasonable doubt about the evidence, but more because everyone would have wanted him to lose.
As the jury, we didn't have any problems declaring the defendant guilty. He didn't look like someone who had problems with his conscience. In fact, we sent the judge a note asking if there was a higher charge we could convict him of. I did have a personal worry that I took the same train as the murderer's family, and that as foreman of the jury I might be memorable. "Someone's got to do this", I told myself, "so it might as well be me." And I didn't know at that point I'd be leaving New York.
The night before the verdict, I practiced my line (actually, my word), since if you have a one-word reply you have to get it right the first time. No clearing of the throat, no "ummm" or "ahhh", just the one word, theatrically and precisely delivered. When I said "Guilty" the defendant's mother sobbed loudly, just like in the Perry Mason dramas. Apparently, she thought that somehow, in spite of overwhelming evidence this case was going to go some other way.
In the end, we all went out for a drink. We saw the judge on his way out, who turned out to be about 2 feet taller than we thought, and he declined our invitation. Ever since then I've been friends with two of the jury members, which is not a bad record for a supposedly impersonal New York.
I live in London now, so I've haven't been called for a long time. Having issued a challenge like this, I'm sure they'll find me soon.