Tuesday, August 27, 2013

To Judge With Respect

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About fifteen years ago I served on a six person jury to determine whether a defendant was competent to stand trial.  In Texas at that time (and maybe still) only a jury could make that determination even if the prosecution and defense agreed.

The judge assured us of two things.  First, that this in no way meant that the defendant would not face the charges when he or she was deemed to be competent.  Second, that both the prosecution and defense did not believe that this particular defendant was competent and that we should breeze through this hearing like a desert wind.

A formality.

Or so the judge thought.

The prosecution produced two witnesses, one a psychiatrist.  Both stated with supreme confidence backed by years of hardboiled experience that the bricks and mortar of the building understood more about the charges against the defendant than he did.

The defense then called two witnesses of its own, both assuring us, the members of the esteemed jury, that the defendant at this point in time couldn’t understand the concept of 2 plus 2 equals 4, much less the complex myriad of charges looming against him.

The judge sent us back to the jury room to deliberate, and there the fun began.

I assumed that we would vote 6-0 that the defendant was not competent to stand trial and head on home.

Oh, that ASS-U-ME, makes one of you and one of me.

“Frankly, I don’t see how we can vote,” one of the other jurors said rather haughtily.

“Why is that?”  another juror asked.

“We haven’t even seen the defendant.  We’ve heard testimony that he’s not competent, but I, for one, am not going to vote until I’ve seen it for myself.”

I thought about this for a minute and realized that she made a good point.  How could we, in good conscience, determine whether someone was competent to stand trial without having seen him?

We’d just be taking people’s word for it.  Professionals, to be sure, but what if someone was trying to railroad the poor guy?  How about that, Rock?

“I’m with you,” I said, righteous indignation spilling out of me.

Juror #3 nodded, picked up a note pad and pen and set it in front of me.  “Then you write the note explaining that to the judge, hotshot.”

I didn’t know what qualified me to write the note when I had only agreed with the original point.

But the first vote of the day was 5-1 that I write the note.

It went something like this…

Your Honor,

With all due respect to the witnesses and to this Court, we, the jury, would like to see the defendant before rendering judgment.

Thank you.

Ten minutes later the bailiff opened the door and, scowling, herded us back to the jury box.

The judge entered, looking none-too-pleased herself, and sat down.  She took a deep breath and glared at us, then read our note into the record.

The members of the prosecution team and defense team looked as though we had stolen their holidays.

“Members of the jury,” the judge began.  “This Court understands your desire to see the defendant.  But in this particular set of circumstances I urge you to make your decision based on the EXPERT testimony of FOUR psychologists and psychiatrists who are TRAINED to diagnose these things.”

She dismissed us and the bailiff marched us back to our chamber.

“I don’t care what she says,” Juror #1 said.  “I’m not going to vote.  Period.”

“Write the judge another note, hotshot,” Juror #3 said.  “I just want out of here.”

Everyone else nodded, so I sat down to compose.

Your Honor,

We, the jury will not render a decision until we have seen the defendant for ourselves.

Respectfully yours,

The Jury

After a 5-1 vote I signed it, even though the only part that I composed was the “respectfully yours,” and I insisted on that.

After an hour, I’d decided that the judge had to be punishing us for our recalcitrance.  Three of the jurors paced the room like caged animals while Juror #3 glared at me and Juror #1.  I made a mental note to find an alternative route to the parking garage.
At the hour and a half mark, the bailiff knocked on the door and entered.

“Let’s go.”

The short walk down the hall into the courtroom seemed to stretch for miles.  My heart tried to crack my ribs with snare drum speed, and I fought to keep my breathing normal.

The courtroom had morphed from intimidating to surreal, and quite a few people had taken up residence in the gallery.

The judge entered and took her seat.

“Please bring in the defendant.”

The bailiff walked to the door at the far wall from us and opened it.


“Oh, shit, it’s wearing off!” someone yelled from the other side of the door, panic dripping from every word.

“Get the doctor!”

Ten minutes later, three officers plus the bailiff escorted a large man in a standard orange jumpsuit inside the courtroom and allowed him to collapse in one of the benches in the gallery, barely able to hold his head up.  I didn’t want to know what they gave him.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” the judge said crossing her arms, a smug look decorating her face.  “This is the defendant.”

If anything truth lived under the sun, that man was not competent to stand trial.

Fifteen minutes later, we all headed for our cars.  I don’t know about Juror #1, but my face could have boiled water for having helped cause that much trouble for the court.

Looking back though, I’m glad we demanded to see him.  Because I have no doubt that we made a right determination.  Otherwise…?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

To Kill Or Not To Kill - A Reflection on Jury Duty

I served Jury Duty today.

Before I get into this, let me first offer this disclaimer.  I believe in service to one's community, and for most here in the U.S, Jury Duty is one of the biggies and, isn't voluntary unless you're influential enough to get out of it.  I'm not.  Most of us aren't.  Our criminal justice system depends on us ordinary folks serving in judgment over our fellow humans, judging the facts of a case, criminal or civil, and, hopefully getting it right.

Hopefully getting it right.

That being said, I believe in our jury system here in the U. S.  I've seen some as good.  Many aren't.

But Jury Duty can change your views on things.  Core values, even.

Two years ago it changed my core beliefs on the Death Penalty.

I came within two jurors of serving on a Capitol Murder case, one that could possibly involve me in determining whether a man lived or died.  The crime he was charged with was egregious, to be sure, one that I would have cheerfully argued over three glasses of wine deserved death, if he was guilty.

Sitting on the witness stand being questioned by the State and the Defense for forty-five minutes ... well, I did not have the benefit of three glasses of wine at a bar, or in a friend's living room.  Or my own.

This was real.  And I found myself wanting to please the State in saying that yes there were crimes I felt rose to the level of the Death Penalty.  Premeditated murder.  Child molestation.  Serial rapist.  On the other hand, I wanted to please the Defense in saying that I would be diligent and mindful in my deliberations and would take the responsibility of a case like this into my soul before rendering a verdict and, if necessary, a sentence.

Into my soul.

I had no idea what I was saying at the time.

I spoke words.

The feelings came later.

While I waited to see if I would be sentenced to an execution committee.

From about a week before the court secretary called me to tell me that I was two away from the jury and was released, I lived in a state of panic.  Thinking about it day and night, I no longer believed that I could condemn a fellow human to death regardless of how horrible of a crime he or she committed.  And I feared what the judge and attorneys would think of me if I confessed.

And, had I been chosen, I would have told them this.

I felt weak, even after being released.

I couldn't hold my head high as a human being for a long time because after all the blustering I did over the decades, I couldn't tell my friends I'd changed my mind.

You see, that's what happens when you are 53 years old (I turn 56 next month).  By that age, you're expected to be set in your ways: to be so consistent in your views that when you're invited to a party everyone knows what's coming.

You're supposed to know the world and everyone in it by that age.

You don't make waves.

You talk about serious issues with people who agree with you, and avoid those who disagree with you because you pissed those folks off long, long ago.

How do you walk up to them, who now think you are scum, because we can't seem to accept that good people can have differing views on large issues, and say, "Hey, I'm on your side now?"

How do you do that?

I don't know.

I'm starting by telling my newer friends about my newer views, and y'all are a big part of that.

Please comment.  I'd love to know how you'd handle telling long standing friends about a change in your core values ... when you're nearly 56 years old and should know better.  :-)

They released me today.  I fist-pumped.  I dislike even the thought of sitting in judgment over people, though at times we have to.   All of us.

Next post I'll tell a story of a jury I served on that is funny now, but wasn't funny at the time.

Be well, everyone!!!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Preview of Mina Lobo's That Fatal Kiss

Check out my friend Mina's book!  It looks so amazing that I'm not sure I can wait until September!  Why September?  Why not now?  I'll be patient.


Mina Lobo has long held a passion for Greek mythology. The story of the goddess Persephone's marriage-by-kidnap to Hades, Lord of the Underworld, has particularly fascinated her, and thus came about Mina's debut novel, That Fatal Kiss. Coming September 2013, the revisionist tale features a fiery and noble heroine, a handsome and broody hero, and some heated, earth-shakin' lovin'!

Given Mina's self-professed neurotic nature, it took her and cover artist Steven Novak a few go-arounds before settling on the cover design for That Fatal Kiss. It had to be curiously compelling, slightly spooky, and yet super sexy—and so it is!

The Book:

Feared by mortals for his inexorable power, and loathed by his fellow Greek gods for the same, Hades rules the Underworld alone. A stark eternity looms before him until he discovers Persephone. Struck by the youthful goddess’ beauty, kindness, and spirit, he must have her. But Hades believes Persephone could never love him, and so he conspires with his powerful brother, Zeus, to take her by force.

Persephone too seeks a mate but her possessive mother, the goddess Demeter, frustrates her husband hunting. Then Hades abducts Persephone, tearing her away from the Upperworld she loves to reign with him in the dank depths below. Though outraged, Persephone cannot deny the desire ignited within her by the dark lord’s touch. And even as she hopes that Demeter will unearth her, Persephone aches to surrender to the heat in Hades’ immortal soul.

The Teaser:
“Enough,” Hades said, closing the distance between them. “I have taken you with your father’s consent, as custom allows. You are in my kingdom, under my rule, and if you have any care for your continued well-being, you will get into my bed. Now.” And with the removal of the pins that held together the black cloth about his waist, he stood naked before her.

The anger warming Persephone clashed with another fire that roared to life within her. She choked on a breath and turned her face from him. “Be warned; I will resist you with the full force of my being, through violent means, if necessary.”

His large, unyielding hands encircled the soft flesh of her upper arms as he said, “If you must. Though your surrender to me would prove more satisfying to us both.”

The Author:

Mina Lobo has a lot of Scorpio action going on in her natal chart, which makes for a rather sybaritic and lust-driven Sagittarian. She aims for a wildly successful future as a writer of dark and whimsical romance while dodging the slings and arrows of her outrageous teenaged son, who's buggered off to college (hence the "Lite" in her Twitter handle, below). She enjoys comedic horror and alt rock, goth, & new wave music, as well as quality Belgian chocolates.

Mina invites you to keep abreast of updates regarding That Fatal Kiss, as well as the development of any new neuroses, by stalking her at her usual haunts:

Her blog: Some Dark Romantic
On Facebook: mina.lobo.1
On the Twitter: @GothMomLite
And GothMomLite Will Tumblr For Ya as well

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Retreats and My Cat's Backside

Writers need to be around writers.  They need to be around others as well, but few understand writers like other writers.  Sometimes at work I’m treated as a likable eccentric.

“You published yet, Rock?”

“Visiting your ghost tonight?”

“Hey, get this.  Rocky’s a writer.  Ooooo.”

It’s all in good fun, but to understand the magic of putting words together to create fiction or non-fiction or poetry takes someone who does it.

This past weekend, I attended a retreat in Greenville, California, about 2 hours outside of Reno, Nevada to meet some of my online writing buddies.  We call our online group the Wayward Writers and is composed of those of us who have studied writing with Ariel Gore.

I had an amazing time.  We ate and drank and discussed writing.  We wrote.  We ate and drank and discussed the problems of society, sports, entertainment.  We read our writing to each other at the Taylorsville Tavern.  We ate and drank and solved the problems of the world.

All of us jumped the writing canyon into friendship.

I worked some on my novel, and we actually wrote to a prompt.  Mine was “Your Cat.”

I only managed a couple hundred words in … oh … fifteen or twenty minutes, but included in this are three limericks and a haiku.  They suck, true enough, but here they are.

Don't read, though if you're easily offended.  The theme concerns what my cat does with his back side.

Philosophical questions for the ages. 

When my cat has possession of my lap and wants to change positions, why must he present his ass to my face?

When my cat wants to share my king-sized bed in the middle of the night, why must he jump on me before jumping on the bed ... then present his ass to my face?

When he hides under the couch or the bed and I take kneel down to find him, why do his eyes proclaim, "My ass and your face, hoss."

After giving my cat a chase,

And running all over the place.

He hikes up his tail,

And without any fail,

Sticks his ass right into my face.

My cat don't give me no sass.

For buddies the two of us pass.

Partners forever.

With any endeavor.

My face and his tail-hiked ass.

There once of a man from Texas

Who wrote about both of the sexes.

And the ass of his cat,

And his face and all that

He needs to improve his reflexes.

A wanded feline

hikes his black and white manhood

Toward my startled face.

I have to say that his ass and my face equals a cat-ass-trophy.