March 2, 1997
Thanks to those of you who wrote with encouragement and
support. The new letters and replies should be up in the letter
section by now. I should mention that there have also been a
number of hostile letters as well. But I am not going to put them
up because they don't say anything constructive. Just a lot of
venom and hatred. I guess those so called victims' rights groups
have been busy. I don't feel compelled to put those kinds of
letters up on the site, and they do have a forum already. It's
called the evening news and the daily newspaper. But to those of
you with an intelligent comment, I am glad to hear from you.
Also, thanks to those of you who have written to me directly.
I wanted to talk some more about the courts and the process of
how a death penalty trial works because a lot of the questions I
get are about that whole area of the legal system. The last
couple of times, I talked about the layout of the courtroom and a
little bit about how a jury is "Death Qualified"
- the jury selection process in a death penalty trial. I should
mention that this is how the process works in California. I'm
sure that it varies a little bit from one state to the next, but
I seriously doubt if there is much (if any) difference overall.
As you can see from the last column, I talked a little bit
about how the jurors in a death penalty case are death qualified.
Out of this group of death qualified jurors, the attorneys will
eliminate the jurors they don't want sitting in the trial. Each
side - the prosecutor and the defense, have a specific number of
jurors they can excuse. There doesn't have to be any reason given
when either side excuses someone. Because of the death qualifying
process, there is already a strong contingent of pro-death jurors
sitting in the jury pool. So, in this part of the jury selection,
the prosecutor will get rid of those that seem to have moderate
feelings about the death penalty, while the defense will try to
get rid of those most rabid, pro-death penalty jurors.
As you can see, this process tends to heavily slant the jury
pool towards those jurors who are supportive of the death
penalty. Out of a pool of about fifty potential jurors, the
defense can hope for one or two moderate jurors . . . if it is a"good"
jury pool, that is. I have heard about jurors that joke about how
it's a waste of time to go through a trial, and why couldn't they
just go ahead and sentence the defendant to death right then.
This is before the trial has even started. Unfortunately, these
sorts of comments are not found out about until long after the
trial is finished and the defendant is already sitting on Death
Row. When the picking of the actual jury starts and the
Prosecution and Defense are done seating the jury, the best the
defense can hope for is a moderate jury who are willing to listen
to the evidence and wait until they hear all sides before they
make up their mind. Since the moderate jurors are fairly small in
number, it's easy for the prosecution! n to exclude them from
sitting in the trial, so the most the defense can hope for is to
get rid of the most extreme jurors who are pro-death. Once the
jury is seated, there will be twelve jurors and a few alternates,
usually four to six, depending on the estimated length of the
Once the jurors who will hear the case are selected and the
alternate jurors are picked, the trial will begin immediately.
After mine were selected, I leaned over the table to try and get
a look at the people who held my fate in their collective hands.
It was interesting to watch the body language and the faces of
these people who were to decide what my future would be. Most did
not show any expression at all, but there were a couple who
looked excited at the very idea of being able to sit and decide
if a human being was to die. There were a couple who seemed to
have the reality of the situation sink in and they didn't look
very happy at the prospect. When I asked my lawyer about these
two jurors, he looked up their questionnaires and saw that they
were a couple who were moderately for the death penalty. I guess
that the realities of it started to sink in with them at that
It wasn't very encouraging to see that the ones who had the
excited looks on their faces were the same ones that stated that
they were strongly in favor of the death penalty . . . but would
like to think they were open minded. I have talked with others
here on death row and have heard guys say that they have had
jurors that just sat there and glared at them in open hostility
during the entire trial, not even seeming to listen to the
evidence or arguments in the case.
Because of the length of many trials (from four to six weeks
in the guilt phase and another couple of weeks for the penalty
phase) most young people are not a part of death penalty juries.
Since most young people attend college, or have jobs where they
can not be excused for a few months to sit in a trial, most of
the jurors who end up sitting on a death penalty case are older
people, many of them retired. The reason I mention this is
because older people, usually have strong opinions and are more
rigid in their thinking. They are usually less open minded and
less likely to listen to both sides of an argument. They have had
a lifetime of hearing about how the courts coddle the defendants,
how the defendant has all the laws and all of the breaks on their
side, so they tend to feel it is their big chance to get even.
The reality of it is that since the sixties, the courts and the
politicians have whittled away at the protection that a person on
trial has . . . unless they have a lot of money to spend on
lawyers and experts.
I wanted to go on some more about this, because of space, I
will have to stop here and continue next time. I hope it's not
too boring for you, but as I said, a lot of people have written
and asked about how this process works, so I am trying to explain
it as best that I can. I'll try to finish up on this in the next
one I write. Thanks for being patient.