Serving on 2 juries, Kent Justice was once named foreman

As jurors deliberate in Presley trial, Kent offers perspective on discussion


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jurors continued deliberating Friday in Woodbine in the trial of Zechariah Presley. The former Kingsland police officer shot and killed an unarmed motorist after a traffic stop in June 2018.

The jury kept discussing the case after most courthouse functions had ended for the day Friday. So, what happens inside a jury room that keeps the panel from coming to a conclusion or deciding to dismiss for the night?

Here's my perspective, based on personal experience. About 15 years ago, I served on two juries in Columbus, Ohio. On one of the trials, I was named foreman of the jury.

Many people seem surprised when I tell them I was selected for jury duty considering my role as a journalist. In the case, the judge and both attorneys did not believe my career would negatively influence my service on the jury.

On the trial where I served as foreman, the court began the proceedings on a Thursday. That's not typically when a big court case starts, but we were dealing with a couple of misdemeanor charges, and I think the court felt the case would move quickly.

When the prosecution and defense rested, made their closing arguments and then gave the case to us to deliberate, it was midmorning Friday. We were asked if we would like a lunch break first, and we accepted.

We returned to our jury room at about 12:30 p.m. During the next hour, we voted on a foreman (yours truly). Then we walked through first impressions for each juror. We did that one by one, hearing out each juror until all 12 of us had spoken. At that point, we were, probably, evenly split -- half of us in favor of the defendant, half of us in favor of the state.

As we walked through the points of view of each juror, the conversations turned persuasive for some. Some of the jurors (including yours truly again) got fairly passionate about their positions. At a couple different points, we wanted clarifications on the case or the specific laws involved. That took some time for the court to reconvene, hear our questions, then respond.

By midafternoon, most of the opinions had shifted to the defendant's side. By 5 p.m., there was a single holdout for the prosecution: the jury foreman.

Knowing it was "close of business" for the day, we sent word to the judge that we had a final question: Should we go home for the night or stay longer? He told us we could go home if we wanted but we would be under court order not to discuss the case with anyone. We also asked if we should get a dinner break or push through.

We decided to continue because no one wanted to let the details of the trial linger through the weekend and no one wanted to come back on a Saturday.

At about 8 p.m., the impasse gave way, and there was finally a unanimous verdict of not guilty delivered to the court.

What were all the details of that case 15 years ago? I honestly can't recall. But I know I will always remember the struggle, the back and forth and the mounting urgency of coming to a decision the longer the deliberations went.

About the Author: