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One Angry Man
State v. Holt v. Juror #5
In the summer of 2002 I sat on a jury for a criminal case in King County Superior Court. It seemed that this 16-year-old kid shot a 35-year-old guy at some Auburn drug house, and it fell upon myself and 11 other randomly summoned King County residents to determine whether the teenager was guilty of first-degree assault.
The summons arrived in my mailbox about six weeks earlier, and perhaps not coincidentally, about a month after renewing my driver's license. At first I wanted to get out of it, since most others who've served usually say jury duty is an exercise in tedium. Unfortunately, being unemployed at the time, I didn't have a valid excuse. Still, it paid pittance of $10 per day, which was $10 more per day than I'd otherwise make, and as the date drew near, I actually found myself looking forward to it -- perhaps I'd hear a murder case.
On the appointed morning, I reported to the Regional Justice Center in Kent... Kent? It would take less time to walk from my Capitol Hill apartment to the downtown Seattle courthouse than to drive to Kent...
After passing through the lobby's metal detector and having my backpack x-rayed, I headed up to a fourth-floor waiting room and sat down with a pool of 150 or so other prospective jurors, many of whom were wondering the same thing. A woman told us that because the downtown Seattle courthouse was overcrowded, events that occur south of certain latitude are now tried at the five-year old courthouse in Kent. To ensure a "jury of one's peers," jurors are summoned to both locations from all around the county. Fair enough.
The overhead monitors showed an outdated, Troy McClure-style orientation video hosted by Raymond Burr (TV's Perry Mason, a man who's been dead for a decade), followed by Jurassic Park. I resigned myself to what I anticipated would be two days of boredom, which didn't take long to feel like being stranded among strangers at an airport, not knowing when (or even if) your flight will leave. People read, knitted, napped, or stared at the monitors -- next up was Twister.
However, after a few hours' wait, 50 of us were escorted into a courtroom. Before us stood the usual characters -- a bailiff, a reporter, a clerk, a cop, the attorneys and one young man, who appeared to be the defendant. Presiding over it all was the honorable Judge Gain, a distinguished-looking man dressed in a traditional black robe, gazing down upon us from his lofty bench.
Gain explained that we were called in for voir dire ("speak the truth," Lat.), a sort of American Idol-like jury selection process intended to ferret out anyone with scheduling conflicts or conflicts or interest, or any other inability to be impartial. He swore us in as a group (fortunately, with no reference to religion), and then quickly dismissed about 15 of us who claimed that a prolonged trial would interfere with vacation plans.
The opposing attorneys then took turns screening us. Nothing specific regarding the case was revealed, but the telling nature of their questions suggested the trial would involve such lurid elements as drugs and guns. For whatever reason, each attorney was allowed to dismiss an equal number of prospective jurors, thinning our ranks to 14 (12 jurors and two alternates). I answered their questions honestly, and apparently, correctly -- I emerged as Juror No. 5.
Altogether we were 12 men and only two women, median age around 35. Among us were a couple middle-aged homemakers, a recent college graduate, a high school basketball coach, an electrician, an ex-Marine, and a security guy. We might not have been a representative sampling of King County residents, and we certainly couldn't be considered true "peers" of the teenage defendant, but I suppose we were close enough for due process.
Following a three-day weekend, the trial began. Both parties agreed on these basic facts: On the night of October 2, 2001, in the living room of his mother's home, Stuart Holt fired five shots from his .22 into 35-year-old Brian Glaholt. Holt fled the scene and hid out for 17 days before police caught up with him. Meanwhile, Glaholt was airlifted to Harborview, where he lay comatose for much of the next month. Amazingly, Glaholt lived to tell about it, as he did from the witness stand.
Glaholt, an admitted meth user who once worked as a bodyguard for Queensrÿche, testified that he came to the house that night to visit a friend. Upon entry, he engaged in some sort of altercation with Holt's older brother, and the bullets started flying.
Holt's wheelchair-bound mother, who looked on as the shooting occurred, also testified. Having sustained brain damage in a teenage car accident (perhaps further complicated from years of admitted drug use), the 40-year-old woman looked closer to 70. She delivered her muddled testimony in a slow, hoarse whisper as our lunch recess drew near; stomachs growled and heads nodded.
On the trial's fifth day, Holt himself took the stand. Dressed in a Fubu T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, Holt matter-of-factly explained how Glaholt scuffled with his brother and, fearing that Glaholt might've had a weapon, Holt opened fire. He remained unemotional throughout the trial, even as the patronizing prosecutor tore into him during her cross-examination.
The attorneys, both 40-something women, were the stars of the show. Holt's public defender was detached and businesslike, while the prosecutor chewed the courtroom scenery, rolling her eyes, sighing loudly, and acting increasingly exasperated with every objection she made. Although the prosecutor was making a stronger case, I far preferred the defense attorney's more pragmatic style. Regardless, it was difficult to gauge the sincerity of either one; it seemed their common objective was not to see justice served, but to win.
During the numerous breaks in the proceedings, we jurors spent many hours together in the jury deliberation room, which doubled as a sort of holding pen. We'd chat about the Mariners, play cards, read, and so forth, always ignoring the elephant in the room -- Judge Gain repeatedly admonished us to avoid discussing the trial until our deliberations could begin. We obliged, and even though my friends away from court kept pestering me for information, I managed to keep quiet all along.
The tennis-like volleying of questions and answers between the dubious attorneys and pathos-inducing witnesses continued for a couple more days. Also testifying were patrol cops and detectives and doctors, and the defense called a psychologist who claimed that because of Holt's wretched home life, the boy developed a "hyper-vigilant" mental state, similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. By most accounts, Holt lived in a filthy flophouse where sketchy characters dropped in at all hours to buy, sell and consume various illicit substances. Therefore, considering the boy's mentality, the defense argued that Holt exercised "justifiable self-defense."
After 12 hours' testimony from 17 witnesses and the presentation of 44 pieces of evidence (including two bullets, five shells, two bloody shirts, a bloody pair of pants, hospital photos and various police photos, reports, and sketches), both attorneys settled their cases and made their closing arguments. Gain dismissed the alternates and gave us remaining jurors our instructions, and we repaired to the jury room for deliberations.
I volunteered to be our foreman, and nobody objected. I figured the first order of business was to take a vote to see where we stood. Because of the flimsy defense, I was confident that we'd immediately find Holt guilty and go home. On the contrary, I was shocked that five of us felt otherwise -- did we all watch the same trial?
It was a relief to finally talk after keeping our thoughts bottled up for so long, even if we disagreed. We were hung up on the self-defense issue -- the "not guilty" faction maintained that Glaholt was indeed an imminent threat to the others in the room, leaving Holt with no other option but to shoot. I felt that the situation didn't warrant any gunfire (except perhaps a warning shot), and the fact that Holt hid out for 17 days suggested that even he wasn't convinced of his own innocence. While I sympathized with Holt's lousy home environment, I couldn't buy the hyper-vigilant diagnosis as justification for the shooting.
We argued for an hour that first afternoon and all of the next day. As foreman, I took a laissez-faire approach to our heated, caffeine-fueled debate -- mostly I just had to keep insisting that one person speak at a time. Some of us were more engaged (and loud) than others, yet nobody was disrespectful or unreasonable. For what it's worth, Holt's mother is white and his schizophrenic father is black; the two black men on the jury were the most vocal supporters of his innocence.
On the third day we deliberated for another half-hour, but it became clear that none of us would budge. If anything, we each became more entrenched in our initial opinions, so I notified the bailiff. She told us to sit tight, at which point we dropped all discussion of the case and resumed chatting about baseball and playing cards.
An hour later we were brought back into the courtroom, where everyone appeared eager to hear our decision. Judge Gain asked me where we stood, and I told him of our 7-5 stalemate. He asked that, if given more time, we'd be able to reach a consensus. I said I didn't think so. Gain immediately declared a mistrial, and sent us to the jury room one last time.
He followed us in to thank us for our time, and he handed each of us a certificate of recognition. Then the attorneys came in together. They dropped their courtroom personae and talked casually with us, which seemed like a backstage visit with out-of-character actors following a play. They wanted our opinion on which of their strategies worked for us and which didn't, which we were all eager to share. They said they'd keep our feedback in mind when Holt faces a retrial.
Afterwards, two weeks from the day we initially reported, we went our separate ways. I went home frustrated that we couldn't reach a verdict, especially considering all the wasted time and effort of dozens of people, as well as taxpayer expense, resulting from the stupid behavior of some messed-up kid.
On the other hand, the experience was satisfying: I felt like a responsible citizen for doing my civic duty. I learned more about the judicial system from eight days' service than from a lifetime of television dramas. And, in addition to the $10 per day, I received an unexpected daily travel reimbursement of $15.52, totaling $204.16.
More than anything, what most impressed me was how such an ugly incident was treated so routinely by the court, and completely ignored by the media. There were several other such trials taking place in the building at the same time (and presumably at the Seattle courthouse as well), which led me believe that such mayhem is a rather day-to-day occurrence in our community. Apparently October 2, 2001 was just another night in King County, and State v. Holt was just another trial.
At least my driver's license won't be up for renewal until 2005.
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