By Bob Spiwak
Up at 6 a.m., on the Loup highway an hour later, early in September. Sun blazing through the windshield; even vertical and horizontal shades could not keep the brilliance from obstructing views on the road to Okanogan most of the time.
My instructions for jury duty were to be at the courthouse at 8 a.m. for the selection process in an Okanogan County Superior Court trial. There were a lot of people lined up for initial instructions on where to go for the selection, and the crowd being too large for the courtroom, we were directed to the commissioners’ hearing room where there was more space.
There were 110 people of all ages crowded into the place, waiting after our 8:30 a.m. admittance, now adorned with stick-on badges that identified us as “JURORS.” By 9:20 a.m., nothing yet had happened. I cursed myself for not bringing a book or, as one wise juror did, a Kindle electronic book.
Then at 9:50 a.m., the bailiff gave some information: A computer would pick names and as they were called, we were to take seats beginning from the front. I was No. 16. Once the crowd had been numbered and re-seated, we were given large plaques with the number on it. This was our identity, and apologies were given for the impersonal identifications.
At 11:01 a.m. we stood as the judge, Chris Culp, entered. A hush fell over the crowd, we sat back down and he introduced himself and the court officers. He explained that this was a trial for murder in the first-degree. He queried if we were all citizens of the United States, resided in the county, spoke the English language and had any previous felony offenses.
This was the first I had heard that it was a murder trial, although anyone who read the Omak Chronicle in the past was probably aware of it.
The trial would be in three parts: selecting the jury of 12 plus two alternates, which could take the rest of the day, came first. Then would come the evidentiary phase, where prosecution and defense lawyers would present their cases and call witnesses. Finally, the jury would deliberate and come up with a verdict. This could be over the weekend and more days.
At 11:10 a.m. we had a smoke and snack/water break for 10 minutes. Then we were back to our seats for an explanation of preemptory challenges, where the lawyers could get rid of anybody as jurors for any (or no) reason. The court asked anyone who knew the prosecutor or defense attorney to raise their cards and be identified, then asked if this could influence their deliberation. Same thing for any who knew persons on the witness list.
By 3:15 p.m. people were still being excused “for cause,” which means the lawyers did not want them — no reason need be given. The prosecutor told the entourage that there would be pictures of the victim, who allegedly had been knifed and shot by the defendant, a kindly looking older man. About a half-dozen in the jury pool said they could not look at the pictures and were excused.
The jury was selected at 5:26 p.m., and I was not among those. I likely never will be, having been a deputy sheriff as well as public defender administrator for more than 20 years. No lawyer would ever accept me. Those of us who remained were told we would not have to appear for jury summons, whether in District Court or Superior Court, for a year.
I was back in the car about 6 p.m., and encountered the sun blindness again while driving back west on the Loup. I would get 57 cents per mile, round-trip, for appearing. But the procedure, while familiar, was interesting.
On Tuesday, from the Omak paper I learned that the defendant had been found guilty of first-degree murder. I will be waiting for the judge’s sentence.