During the recent three-week long Derek Chauvin trial, Eric and I watched highlights of the trial every morning on the local news. Watching footage of the trial and listening to updates offered by reporters on witness testimonies and tactics used by the trial attorneys took me back to March of 2013, when I, myself, was a juror in a three-week long trial. These three weeks spent sitting in a courtroom taking notes, eating lunch and drinking coffee during breaks with my fellow jurors in the jury room, becoming friends with the bailiff, and skirting news crews outside the elevators has been etched in my memory forever as a painful, yet enlightening and faith-deepening event.
The defendant, Chad Chritton, was on trial for allegedly abusing, starving, and locking away his daughter in the basement for years, until she was able to escape and seek help.
At the time of this incident I was busy commuting to seminary in Evanston while leading a small rural congregation, and so I had only taken a quick notice of this case. But by the end of the trial, I knew more than I wanted about the defendant, had my heart broken by the victim’s testimony, and gotten a first-hand look at how the American judicial system works.
My memory as a juror in this trial began as I waited one sunny winter morning in a downtown Madison government building with dozens of other Dane County residents who had also been summoned for jury selection. One by one, the names of prospective jurors were called, including my own. By early that afternoon, I had been questioned by the attorneys and chosen as one of twelve jurors. Fortunately, my seminary professors and congregation were gracious enough to allow me to focus solely on my jury duties for the next three weeks. Unfortunately, though, the jury ended up deadlocked on all of the charges except for that of felony child neglect; a single juror was the hold-out for not believing the victim’s testimony due to her own life-experience with a sister who was a chronic liar. My fellow jurors and I spent hours sequestered in a back room, trying to convince this jury member that her reasoning concerning the authenticity of the victim’s testimony was being jaded by her own life experience. Eventually, the judge made the decision to declare the jury deadlocked on all counts but one.
My anger over the outcome lasted a long time. Gathering with fellow jurors afterward (five of the twelve were from my little town of Stoughton!) helped me work through my anger. Hearing that Chritton was convicted in his second trial renewed my faith in our justice system. Praying to Jesus, naturally, helped with my emotional healing. And two of my fellow Stoughton jurors and I became lifelong friends.
Eight years have gone by, but it seems as if I were sitting in that Dane County courtroom only yesterday. In technicolor I can visualize my view of the witness box, of the defense attorney seeming to treat me differently (was it because I was clergy?), of the judge’s hair always falling in her eyes, and of my tendency to doodle in my juror’s pad. What I visualize most though, is of those crosses--small and large—scattered around the courtroom: not actual crosses, but imaginary crosses that I could ‘see’, a comforting aid for keeping Christ at the center of my heart as I experienced a bit of the horror that the victim had gone through for several years.
Like the fuzzy purple crocus, whose sudden appearance in the spring on lawns and fields offers hope to a frozen world, keeping the Risen Christ at the center of my heart during those three weeks in March of 2013 kept my focus on the hope that suffering and evil never, ever, have the last word. Ever since, I have made this my practice whenever I am feeling stuck in a cold, dark place in my life; the Risen Christ continues to offer me the hope of new life. I just need to be open to it!
Hope in the Risen Christ,