Just a few days ago, the Etan Patz trial finally concluded – but with no resolution. Etan Patz was the 6 year-old boy who vanished in 1979, on May 25th, the day we know as National Missing Children’s Day. Etan was the first missing child to have ever been pictured on a milk carton. It wasn’t until 2012 when Pedro Hernandez, a disabled factory worker from New Jersey, was arrested for murdering and kidnapping Etan.
The case finally went to trial after 35 years. It took four months, including three weeks of deliberation to get – nowhere. The final tally was 11 to convict and 1 to acquit.
Most of you know the deal; what it means to deliberate on a jury. But what do Judges say to jurors about deliberating and what did this particular Judge say? He said, in essence, to reach a unanimous verdict you must discuss the evidence, consult with each other, listen to each other and while deliberating have a view towards reaching an agreement if that can be accomplished without surrendering your personal judgment.
That’s the rub. Right there. ‘Personal judgment’. Personal judgment to me means that jurors often enter a trial with an agenda, or an ambition, or to audition. Leon Nayfakh of Slate perfectly prosed it in his January 22nd article, “[T]his week, hundreds of Americans are skipping work in order to audition for starring roles in three high-profile criminal trials being staged around the country. The defendants in all three cases—the alleged killer of 6-year-old Etan Patz, in New York; the alleged Aurora shooter, in Colorado; and the alleged Boston Marathon bomber, in Massachusetts—stand accused of committing crimes that have attracted national attention, making the task of finding people who can evaluate the evidence against them in an unbiased way extraordinarily difficult.”
So, we as lawyers can never fully extricate the agenda of a juror. That is a problem in all cases; but in high profile cases much, much, more so. For one big reason: The media. The press sits thru every minute of the trial; both the newsy and the snoozey. And the minute the trial is over networks and newspapers alike get into bidding wars on who gets the first juror to talk. The second jurors walk out of the courtroom at the end of a trial, the press pounces on them, cliché as it may be, like vultures. And jurors are allowed to talk to the press. Whether the jury reaches a verdict or it doesn’t reach a verdict, they can speak to the press, or not speak to the press. If a Judge were to restrict that, then you’re getting into First Amendment territory. Right? Can’t infringe on the Freedom of Speech. However Judges can strongly suggest…..
Meaning, if there is a hung jury, maybe the jury shouldn’t talk to the press because HELLO the case is probably going to be tried again. And by talking to the press (Hey YOU, juror!) you are potentially tainting the jury pool. Think about it, in the case of Etan Patz, if you, a New Yorker, didn’t know about it for the past 35 years you probably heard about it in 2012 when Pedro Hernandez, the defendant on trial, was arrested. That’s why it was excrutiatingly difficult to find a fair and impartial jury in the first trial.
Exit Adam Sirois, the lone holdout on the jury. He spoke at a press conference after the trial concluded Friday. He gave the New York Post a 45 minute exclusive interview from his apartment on Saturday. And then on Sunday, he made the cover of one of the most, if not THE most, disseminated newspapers in New York City.
What were you thinking Mr. Sirois when you went into grave detail about witnesses, evidence, Mr. Hernandez’ mental health, the veracity of his confessions, the deliberations? You certainly weren’t thinking of Etan’s parents, I get that. Yet you weren’t thinking of Pedro Hernandez either. You obviously aren’t aware that statistics and history both prove that the prosecution is more likely to win at retrial than the defense. So now you know that every person in the next jury pool for the retrial has been granted access to the inner sanctum. BY YOU.
Will that effect justice for Etan or for Pedro Hernandez? I am unsure. But I hope you enjoyed the attention, the fame, the provincial celebrity of it all. Because right now - your 15 minutes – are up.
Seema Iyer is a criminal defense & civil rights attorney with her own lawfirm in NYC. Seema is also an MSNBC Contributor and Host of "The Docket" on Shift/MSNBC.com. Follow her on Twitter @seemaiyeresq
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