I Must Axe You a Question… Guilty or Not Guilty?
Last Tuesday at 430 PM, I dialed into the Richmond Courthouse to learn if I had to show up for jury duty. The recording is begins with a long list of things you cannot bring, which included e-readers and cell phones. I continued working as the recording droned on, but my ears perked up when I heard that “Margaret Smith” was to return to jury duty. I hung up and set to work rescheduling my Wednesday at work.
The process of reporting to jury duty and seeing if you’re selected involves a lot of hurry up and wait. I had packed a book and a magazine into the clear backpack I’d purchased when I was traveling to and from MA early in COVID. I had fancied myself wiping it down with the Lysol wipes I’d somehow procured in bulk online. But I figured it would be great for jury duty in that it would save security the added hassle of pawing through my bag.
When we finally got to the part where names our called to be potentially seated on the jury, I’d read 98 pages. My name was the last of 20 to be called to be seated in the jury box. By this time, it was after 12 noon and everyone was apologetic and non-specific about the delay. It was obvious that a handful of my fellow prospective jurors were itching to be dismissed from their civic duty but my thought process was that I’d gone through the trouble of rearranging my entire day, reporting at 830, passing half the day at the courthouse - so I wanted to see this through.
There were a lot of questions for the jury pool to respond to, none of which would knock me out of the running.
Finally, sometime shortly before one, the two sides agreed upon the 12 of us. We had been told it would be a one day, criminal trial. The trial was to get underway and when our lunch arrived AND it was a good break, we would eat.
It was the type of story that sounds implausible but, here we all were, hearing it in a court room. There were the basic facts and then there was the he said, he said, he said, of the case. The he said, he said, he said, being the murky part.
The basic facts involved 2 men with their two young daughters in the backseat returning from a pool party in the ‘burbs. The driver was designated as his passenger was, admittedly, in no shape to drive. Somehow, and this is where stories begin to diverge, they encounter a young man, a pedestrian, in a rotary and the passenger exits the car. It just so happened that the pedestrian was carrying an axe (which he’d supposedly lent a friend whom he spent the day with and was now heading back to his parents home - via an Uber that said friend had supposedly called). The pedestrian swung the axe into the head of the passenger. The passenger dropped, as one might expect. And then the drive and ax man had an altercation.
Virginia is an open carry state - and, it turns out the driver did have a firearm with him - which he proceeded to unload on the ax man - shooting him 5 times. Five.
I think it was likely fortunate that the passenger had imbibed - he came to and looked like Carrie - from the Stephen King novel. The part where she has the pig’s blood dumped on her head. There were photos and body cam footage of the chaotic aftermath. Imagine the hangover the next day? That combined with the ache the impact of the ax. The staples putting his head back together.
Ax man was on trial. On the surface, this all sounds very easy, what with him clearly being guilty not guilty of violating which particular law? A lot of details where introduced - many seemed superfluous. I viewed this as me pouring this through the funnel of my brain to distill the information and facts. I know people are supposed to tell the truth on the stand - and perhaps everyone did. But it’s their version of the truth. Their interpretation.
I quickly came to understand why phones were not permitted. I have an insatiable desire to understand people - their choices. What influenced the choices. Such curiousity could lead you down a google rabbit hole. Was axe man impaired? Insane?
It was also confirmed for me that Virginia has no hate crime laws - the driver and passenger in this case were black. The man with the ax was white. Race was introduced. Allegations made. Axe man was represented by public defenders - 2 women. I didn’t think they were very good but how do you defend the indefensible, non-disputed fact of your client swinging an axe into someone’s head?
Then - a jury of your peers. 12 random people to agree - guilty of violating which law? And of course, people remarked all sorts of things - they wouldn’t have gotten out of their car, they would have called 911, woulda, shoulda, coulda….. Of course, the driver and his passenger weren’t on trial here.
We delivered our unanimous verdict (guilty - but of a lesser charge than axe man was charged with) and were summararily dismissed. Escorted to the parking garage by 2 deputies. By that time, it was 8 PM - 11.5 hours later than when we had been required to report for jury duty.
That should be the end but I will admit, my insatiable curiousity led me to the court website which confirmed axe man is familiar with the court system. He had been given a psych eval after this incident took place in June. He will be sentenced in May. Will it be enough? How much time of his sentence will he serve? None of that my job or concern. My job was done.