Justice — trials, how our system works, lawyers, juries… all these topics have been on my mind since I recently completed doing jury duty. Since the week before I started it (here are Part 1 and Part 2 about it), I’ve wondered about the Mendez brothers. You know, those rich guys who killed their parents back in the late 1980s. This video I checked out from my happy place, a.k.a. any public library, explains their story.
The brothers somewhat physically resemble my two older brothers, plus we three were raised “tennis-y.” Our household wasn’t hellish in the way of Lyle and Eric’s, but controlling and cruelty and looking the other way existed.
Please don’t get me wrong: a) my brothers aren’t killers and they’re nothing like the Menendez — and b) I believe murder is despicable.
Unlike the Menendezes, we didn’t suffer rich-people burdens. Here’s one man’s take on growing up “in tennis” for some players at the nosebleed rungs. Our dad wasn’t a powerful movie mogul, and we weren’t indoctrinated to keep up with the Beverly Hills set. There are benefits to being an apartment-dwelling plebeian. Tennis earned my brothers college scholarships. As for me, I set out on my own the moment I graduated high school, determined to sooner resort to prostitution than go back.
As a writer, I began as a journalist, then later attended a course on fiction. A classmate, Vonda Pelto, wanted to learn story telling for a recount of her former career as a psychiatrist at the downtown Los Angeles jail. Her primary function was to prevent serial killers from dying by suicide. How’s that for irony? (Here’s an enlightening article about discussing suicide.) Her patients ranged from Charles Manson and porn star John Holmes, to “Hillside Strangler” Ken Bianchi and “Freeway Killer” William Bonin.
Clearly, those killers fall into a different category than the Menendez brothers.
Back to jury duty…
For a thumbnail of what I posted about jury duty so far, picture “Car Problems” as my middle name. Was it mere coincidence that the morning my mom lent me her car, in front of the courthouse was a man in a t-shirt with a “check engine” logo?
Every trip to and from downtown was a winding tour of Siri workarounds to Los Angeles traffic. Siri kindly even warned me of traffic cameras. The Spring Street Courthouse is snuggled among the Toy District, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Union Station, Grand Central Market, the Bradbury Building of “Bladerunner” movie renown, and more. Slogging along freeways to get there and back would have been unbearable without my beloved audiobooks.
It’s years since I’ve visited the area. Sadly, the number of people who live on the sidewalks has exploded. Flimsy domed homes shelter people along corners, alleys, freeway overpasses and underpasses. I don’t know an end-all remedy, only that “them” is “us.” Whenever I left my juror chair, I kept my little backpack near. How is anyone mobile enough to find a job, see a doctor, take a leak, do anything, when their worldly goods are housed within a nylon tent parked in the middle of a city?
The trial I worked on involved an RV park, privately run yet publicly owned, endeavoring to evict a couple.
On one hand, one of the two renters had recorded park employees, those not wearing mandated Covid19-preventative masks. They used the evidence to report them to the health department. On the other hand, staff accused the renters of impeding their work and bothering fellow tenants by failing to consistently leash their dog.
Management had a slicker lawyer and employees willing to smooth over their sloppy record keeping. The tenants brought neighbors (via an extremely problematic videoconferencing setup) who stated they loved the dog and the couple.
Ah, the dog! Mike was old, pudgy, and wore a vest that suggested he was an emotional service provider (any dog is, no?). I first noticed him when he snored from the opposite end of the vast courtroom. Basically, he slept and sometimes slurped water.
Hearing testimonies is nothing akin to dynamic TV shows and high drama movies. Questions get reframed in endless ways so lawyers can reveal details otherwise not allowed. Did I say it was boring? Many jurors were there only because they heard rumors that not showing up can result in a $1,500 fine.
This case ran four days, not counting the Friday of jury selection. Monday was a holiday. Tuesday through Thursday were for evidence disclosure, a process rendered mind-numbingly. The last Friday morning was for the lawyers’s closing speeches. Here again, imagine what money buys in terms of lawyers.
Management’s was organized and smooth.
The residents’s insisted on using an overhead projector that blinked his pages onto the screen so annoyingly that I half-closed my eyes. To his credit, he opened with a salient point; each side had recorded, antagonized, and vilified each other. Amen.
Then it was time for a shortened lunch. Then deciding whether the tenants ought to be evicted.
Hand on any religious tome you prefer I swear on, I had every intention to review evidence and turn over every rock.
Twelve jurors: roughly fifteen questions to vote on. The list was one of those affairs of, “if you vote this, answer this or skip this…” Each question required only nine votes to pass.
Within some questions, the word “substantial” was used. Was the residents’s rule-breaking and annoying of neighbors “substantial”? Four months earlier, after they were served a seven-day notice to clean up their acts, did they? Substantially? Definitely, but fellow jurors noted that management had spied near-catatonic Mike off-leash once or twice.
A juror reminded us that the residents bothered neighbors over the past year when twice they called the cops. First, when one renter was assaulted by a stranger, then later when she spotted the assaulter lurking.
I asked the juror, “If a sick neighbor needed to summon an ambulance twice over the last year, would you evict them?”
She nodded her head.
Except for mine, the votes were unanimous. They voted so quickly, and with so little discussion and consideration of evidence, as if they’d made snap judgements, I wonder if justice was truly served.
I’m told the renters can appeal and it was their choice whether to have their trial judged by a judge or a jury. It was an honor to serve, and I learned a lot, though not what I’d expected.
Maybe in the end, like with the Menendez brothers, it boiled down to looking into faces and choosing whether they deserved another chance. TV’s Columbo only needed to solve crimes, not decide whether they were redeemable…
What do you think of our trial system? Would you choose a jury or a judge to decide your case? Do you think the Menendez brothers have served long enough?
Wait — a non-jury thing — I’ve already converted several blog posts into podcasts via the WordPress-to-Anchor function. Once Apple’s podcast app accepts them into its feed, you’ll be the first to know!
29 thoughts on “Menendez Bros + My Jury Duty Pt 3 + a Podcast Note”
I believe that living in the States is more exciting than in Canada. Judging by the books I’ve read in the last year (about 2 or 3 each week), most action happens around LA and West Coast, sometimes in the South, or at least NY. Few books deal with Toronto and Greater Toronto Area. Comparatively, they were also very boring. Among books I’ve read, I had accidentally gotten one from Marcia Clark, the lawyer. I must admit it was quite boring. I didn’t buy it intentionally, I just usually grab some 10-12 books at the second hand store. Time is of essence because car is waiting. I know about your justice system only from the books I’ve read. I practically do not watch TV, and, sorry, not a fan of listening to anything. I dislike Apple iPhone to a very great extent, so I use it as little as possible, too.
It feels the choice of jurors is based on lawyer presentations. If they are experienced, use tricks, have plenty of IT help, lots of funds and similar, they can convince the jury. Like you’re saying 9 votes are enough to reach the verdict. Maybe it is somewhat objective system, however, I doubt we have anywhere on this planet a 100% honest, transparent and objective courts. Any human has potential of misjudging, misunderstanding and just being not-that-well-suited person for that particular case. Everything is tightly connected to and associated with politics, so, most likely, politics affect the decisions big time. Very regretfully so.
Homelessness has probably exploded because of pandemic and, it’s so that while everybody talks about that, no donations are going to give a decent shelter for all people who need that. Alone Jeff Bezos would probably be able to build some 20 buildings for homeless people, but then there’s maintenance and supervision and all the other aspects and it just doesn’t work long term. Because humans are humans with all their shortages and all kinds of characters.
Thanks for the interesting story!
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so glad you found it interesting, Inese — & always love meeting a fellow book lover. what sorts of books do you prefer?
“I’ve already converted several blog posts into podcasts via the WordPress-to-Anchor function. Once Apple’s podcast app accepts them into its feed, you’ll be the first to know!”
That’s SO cool. How exciting. So, we can sign up to listen?
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keep an eye out & I’ll post about as soon as they’re up 🙂
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Thank you for sharing, good to read about actual reality! When you mentioned “Nothing akin to dynamic TV shows and high drama” prolific trial-consulting firm, like a Dr. Jason Bull came to mind.
After Apartheid, the jury system was abolished in South Africa to reduce the possibility of ‘lynch mob’ mentality where a jury composed primarily (or exclusively) of one ethnicity might unfairly react to a member of another ethnicity.
Thank you for sharing!!.. a good many people are closed minded in today’s world and lawyers try to get as many of them as they can on the jury in hopes the jurors will vote in their favor.. the system works, unfortunately there is a percentage of the people in the system that does not… 🙂
“When we begin to build walls of prejudice, hatred, pride, and self-indulgence around ourselves, we are more surely imprisoned than any prisoner behind concrete walls and iron bars.” (Mother Angelica)… 🙂
Until we meet again…
May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
The rains fall soft upon your fields
May green be the grass you walk on
May blue be the skies above you
May pure be the joys that surround you
May true be the hearts that love you.
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very true – & I can’t help thinking that the people who think they would make bad jurors in terms of objectivity would actually be the best ones – they’re the ones who’re actually thinking & trying…
Real-life seldom quite lives up to our ideals. I don’t see that as a good reason to ditch our ideals. Our court system may need some reform, but even under the best of circumstances, lawyers, judges, and juries will still be imperfect human beings.
Very interesting series on your jury duty, da-AL. ❤
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well said, Cheryl – I couldn’t help but want to my best for selfish reasons — what if I was on trial? some people seem to live without worries of such a possibility — perhaps they sleep better?
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