Sunday, May 22, 2005

Guilty or Not Guilty, But Not Innocent (part 2)...

On Today's Menu:
Still More Just Desserts (Or, A Diabetic's Nightmare)

I was recounting my jury duty experience and interrupted it with the news of my first fiction sale. (Yes, I'm still on that sugar rush--no worries, Robin B., pull up a chair and grab a spoon!) Well, the young woman, the victim's sister, requested to take the stand again after lunch.

Here comes a "Law & Order" twist.

She said, "Well, I'm not sure exactly who I saw look through that blind and shoot my brother."

The defense attorney pounced on this. From that point on, I could not be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that this man was guilty of the crime he allegedly committee. I wasn't sure. I had a very, very strong feeling he could have done it, but we only had one witness's word (and his girlfriend's) about who was inside that house and where they were when the police arrived. Sleeping. Hmmm. And this same witness bore a very strong resemblance to the accused. Even when the DA called a few witnesses at the county jail to testify about some alleged conversations and shouting between the accused and some others who'd been present at the time of the incident, I still couldn't believe these officials had an accurate recollection of what they heard at the time, any more than I had believed the victim's sister.

The DA could not produce enough witnesses to satisfy my reasonable doubts. When my fellow jurors and I went into deliberations, our initial vote was 10 not guilty, 2 guilty. The charge required a unanimous verdict. We decided to have a good lunch and then come back and kick the evidence around some more. Eight of us ladies went to a local Mexican cafe, oh yum. We managed to talk about all kinds of things--men, our kids, our activities, local news, shopping--anything but the trial. Hey, we're women! After an hour's worth of chat and enchiladas, I was ready to work.

Late in the afternoon of the second day of the trial, we had our unanimous vote. The verdict was read, and the accused clenched his fists at his sides and hissed a soft, "Yes." Once the judge continued reading, the young man started wiping tears from his eyes. We as a jury were released from our gag order (which is why I can say all this now).

Michael spent the last nine months in jail. I hope he learned something in the midst of this mess. Whether or not he shot the victim is one thing. Did I help release a criminal to the streets? I hope not. If he was a criminal, I hope and pray he's not a criminal any more.

Fact is, there's lots of not-guilty people running the streets. Not innocent, but those who've been proclaimed "not guilty."

Friday, May 20, 2005

Dancin' in the Streets... Or at least through the living room

On Today's Menu:
Buttercream Icing, A Whole Bowl Just for ME!

I interrupt my jury duty story with a thrilling bit of news. This Tuesday, I received "the e-mail." My novella has been accepted for publication next summer! Three of my author friends and I submitted a proposal together. Oh, I screamed. I scared my husband. I wrote one of my friends and asked her, "Does this mean what I think it does?" The publisher already sent me a PDF contract and I've signed two copies and popped it in the mail to them. This fall, I was planning to go to a writer's conference and now it's all covered.

After my posts of "The Prize in the Cereal Box" and "Uphill Both Ways in the Snow" I'm finally seeing some fruit of my labors. Yes, I believe my writing has a purpose even if it's not accepted for publication. Still, though, I really, really wanted a fiction contract--one with my name on the cover.

My life is full. I have many blessings beyond this contract, beyond writing. I have a wonderful husband, two great teenagers, a good job, family, friends--I could go on. This week though, I feel like I've been handed a bowl of dee-licious buttercream icing to go with my cake. And I can eat all I want. Yes, I've been flying!

I do have to come down and get to work on the book though. The sugar rush feels good!!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Guilty or Not Guilty, But Not Innocent

On Today's Menu:
More Just Desserts

I spent three days at the county courthouse last week on a jury for a criminal case. On day one, I sat around and waited. I didn't think I'd be chosen. My summons read juror #222. They only needed 12. I was certain I'd be back at my work computer that afternoon.

Somehow I fit whatever profile the DA and the defense attorney agreed upon. The 12 of us made the best of it as for a day-and-a-half we heard testimony from a myriad of witnesses about what happened on August 29, 2004 at a particular residence in the town where I live.

The young man was originally booked on a charge of attempted murder, but indicted on assault with a deadly weapon. Sitting in the courtroom, he looked like a polished young man with an inscrutable expression. His dark chocolate eyes didn't glance in our direction very often. I wondered what he wrote when he jotted occasionally on his legal pad. His defense attorney, a no-nonsense woman with a strong sharp voice and bad posture, would glance down at the paper from time to time. I learned later that he had not made bail when I saw him escorted across the parking lot after a day in court, headed towards the county jail diagonally across the street. His slight limp betrayed an ankle bracelet (just like Martha's!) covered up by his tailored khaki pants.

"None of these people are angels," the DA had said when he began the profile of the trial for us, the jury. "You will hear testimony from a young man in Federal prison. Some of these people on both sides of the case have had run-ins with the law before."

At first it seemed cut-and-dry. The accused had supposedly fired out the front window of the house where he was living, wounding a young man in the arm.

"We saw him look through the blinds before he fired," insisted both the young man, and his sister, who first told us she was with her brother at the front door.

The young man who'd been shot glanced over at the defendent. "I--I just wanna be careful, don't wanna send no one to jail if they ain't done nothing. But I know it was him, I mean, I'm pretty sure it was him."

Pretty sure?

Another young woman took the stand. She'd been with the young man and his sister when he was shot. Her long hair hung limply down her back. Her baggy clothes made her look heavier than she probably was.

She raised her hand to be sworn in. "I don't want to do this..." She was ready to cry, but she had no choice but testify. She'd been driven in from the prison, where she was serving a term for a felony misdemeanor.

Another young man testified. He'd been asleep in the house while the accused shot out the window, and he hadn't heard anything until the police came. He too had the same polished demeanor of the accused. I remember seeing their similar facial features and coffee-with-cream complexion and thinking, "They could be cousins," when the bailiff let him into the courtroom.

How easy it is for young people to mess up their lives. No education, no gainful employment, and lots of party time with the wrong crowd. Add in immaturity and a hair-trigger temper, and even the girls would end up in cat-fights. In fact, the night before the shooting, two of them had fought--one had cut another's hand with a knife. The one with the cut hand in turn slashed the tires of the other girl's car. A real "adult" way to solve conflicts, huh?

After a morning's testimony which included an ER physician who assured us the young man had to have the bullet remain in his arm, and a few officers who responded to the shots-fired call, I was ready to eat my sandwich in peace at the park and listen to Days on my car radio.

When we resumed after lunch, though, the first witness returned, telling the court she needed to add more to her testimony...

To Be Continued...

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Fruit and Fads

On Today's Menu:
Holy Mixed Fruit Medley!

There's an old song that goes: "They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love..." I remember we sang it around the fire at camp, back in the Kum By Ya era. (I must note that back then I was very, very young.)

Am I showing Christ and how to live a Christian life because I say the right words and know the special secret code catch phrases? (See? I used a catch phrase there--'showing Christ,' as if I carried Him in my pocket to share with the class at show-and-tell.) In some circles, it's not enough to answer, "I'm fine," when someone asks how you're doing. It's better to say, "I'm blessed."

Do we think that because we wear only Christian clothes, read only Christian books, tune into only Christian news, listen to only Christian music, speak only Christian phrases, suck on Testa-mints instead of Tic-Tacs, consume only Christian food and drink that these things make us examples to others? "Be like me, join our club." Do we think someone wants to join in based on just those things?

What fruit do our lives bear? It doesn't matter if we look like Christ's #1 fan on the outside with a T-shirt that says "Go God!" in red festooned with pom-poms.

"The Pharisees, along with some religion scholars who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around him. They noticed that some of his disciples weren't being careful with ritual washings before meals. The Pharisees--Jews in general, in fact--would never eat a meal without going through the motions of a ritual hand-washing, with an especially vigorous scrubbing if they had just come from the market (to say nothing of the scourings they'd give jugs and pots and pans).

The Pharisees and religion scholars asked, "Why do your disciples flout the rules, showing up at meals without washing their hands?"

Jesus answered, "Isaiah was right about frauds like you, hit the bull's-eye in fact:
These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
but their heart isn't in it.
They act like they are worshiping me,
but they don't mean it.
They just use me as a cover
for teaching whatever suits their fancy,
Ditching God's command
and taking up the latest fads."

Jesus called the crowd together again and said, "Listen now, all of you--take this to heart. It's not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it's what you vomit--that's the real pollution.

When he was back home after being with the crowd, his disciples said, "We don't get it. Put it in plain language."

Jesus said, "Are you being willfully stupid? Don't you see that what you swallow can't contaminate you? It doesn't enter your heart but your stomach, works its way through the intestines, and is finally flushed."

He went on: "It's what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness--all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution."

Excerpts from Mark chapter 7 (the Message)

Lord, help me work on my insides most of all. I won't have to say "I'm blessed" or drive down the road with Mercy Me blaring out the windows, or buy the latest Holy Joe wrist band (in rainbow colors!). When You shine through, I won't have to try to look like a groupie.