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Anatomy of a Jury
By Seymour Wishman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1986 Seymour Wishman
All rights reserved.
John Minton, alone in his police car, drove slowly through the quiet streets of Glen Ridge, New Jersey, in the middle of a hot, humid afternoon. It was September 5, 1982, the day the case against Leander Rafshoon began.
Minton had been on the police force of this wealthy residential community for eighteen years, and an air-conditioned vehicle—the prize for years of faithful service—had still, somehow, eluded him. His blue short-sleeved shirt, now soaked with sweat, stuck to the vinyl of the back of the seat.
Minton glanced admiringly, protectively, at the stately fifty-year-old mansions of red brick with stone turrets and gray slate roofs, Tudor or Colonial in design—or the best of both—each house, he knew, with its own carpeted recreation/family room in the basement, many of the houses with brick patios and colorful umbrellas over round white tables, some of the homes with pools in the backyard, and all surrounded by high, carefully trimmed hedges. Glen Ridge is a town of bankers and brokers and business executives whose wives fill their days preparing for charitable events and interesting cultural projects and programs of physical fitness. When the children are at school, the streets are silent except for an occasional delivery, or the mailman, or the coming or going of a maintenance man.
John Minton knew the town, virtually every family and every street within the two square miles. They were good people and it was a good community, a peaceful world totally foreign to the danger of violence so common in a place like Newark, only a few miles to the east.
In another four years Minton was to retire from the force and settle into a sedentary job as a guard in a cool, quiet bank. But in a few minutes he would become involved in the most brutal crime of his career, an act of bloody violence that would horrify the good people of Glen Ridge and leave them unable ever again to feel fully secure in their homes.
As Minton's car edged along the tree-lined street, Adam Collins, two blocks away on a parallel street, walked up the slate path to the main entrance of a large brick house. Adam had decided to skip swimming practice and go directly home from school. He was a shy, strikingly handsome, well-behaved boy of fourteen just starting his sophomore year in high school.
Adam closed the front door behind him. From the center hall he saw on the bottom step of the staircase the end of a black and white rope. He called for his mother. No one answered. He followed the rope around the doorframe to the corridor leading to the kitchen. He started to reach down to pick up the rope, but something kept him moving forward in the direction of the kitchen toward which the rope snaked a path.
What Adam then saw was a scene of horror worse than any nightmare. The kitchen table and one of the chairs were knocked over. Pools of blood covered parts of the black tile floor. In the center of the room was his mother ... naked, on her stomach, with blood all over her back. Her head, just above her right temple, was smashed in, and her blond hair was soaked in coagulating blood. The long rope he had followed from the staircase in the center hall ended around her neck.
Adam began to scream.
Ten minutes later loud static forced its way through John Minton's car radio. In rasping patches, as if the radio were clearing its throat, the dispatcher's voice reported that someone was yelling for help at a residence on Ridgewood Avenue, 1326.
Minton pushed the accelerator to the floor—no need for a noisy siren—and within seconds he was at the house. Adam Collins was standing in the middle of the front lawn, pulling on his shirt, screaming, "Mother!"
Minton jumped out of his car and ran to the boy. He put his arm around him and tried to comfort him.
Adam pointed to the house. He was shaking, crying, gasping for breath, trying to speak. "My mother! My mother!"
"It'll be okay," Minton said, unaware of what awaited him in the house. He ran up the path to the front door.
In the next hour dozens of men arrived from various law enforcement agencies, some in uniform, others in plain clothes, almost every one with a gun. Forensic specialists from the state police combed the house, while someone from the Medical Examiner's Office tended to the body. An electric storm seemed to be exploding inside the house as flashbulbs went off while photographs were taken of the body and the objects in the rooms. Dr. William Collins, the husband of the victim, arrived and ran to the body of his wife. John Minton stayed with Adam, his arm around the boy in a pathetic gesture of comfort. A small crowd of news reporters and neighbors had gathered outside the house.
At this point a short, portly man with a smooth, round face and gray hair, wearing a light gray suit with wide lapels and jutting shoulder pads, pushed his way through the knot of people. It was Leslie Ryan, the head of the homicide squad of the Essex County Prosecutor's Office. He entered the house and took charge of the proceedings. At thirty-eight he already had eighteen years in law enforcement, four years as an investigator while he attended law school at night before he became an assistant prosecutor. Ryan had seen hundreds of victims of violence, but most were black and in Newark or the poorer towns next to it. The Collins woman looked like his wife's best friend, and Glen Ridge, with its powerful and wealthy residents, was a community he had always envied.
An hour after the body was carried out, two detectives of the Essex County Prosecutor's Office brought the suspect, Leander Rafshoon, a thirty-three-year-old black male, to the scene. The detectives led him into the living room.
"We got him at the store where the doctor told us he'd be," one of the detectives said.
Leslie Ryan looked up and down at the tall, powerful figure standing between the two detectives. Ryan thought that Rafshoon looked like a frightened Mr. T. "You have the right to remain silent and have a lawyer. Do you understand?" Ryan said.
"Did you know Mrs. Collins?"
"I knew her," Rafshoon said. "I worked for her, or for her husband. I was like her bodyguard."
"We have witnesses who saw you here today."
"I was here. I was here this morning, but when I left she was okay."
"These witnesses, Leander, they say you were the only one here when she was killed."
"There had to be somebody else."
"I called into the record room," one of the detectives said. "He's got an armed robbery. He did three, and he's been out about two."
"Is that right?" Ryan asked Rafshoon.
Rafshoon nodded. He couldn't deny it, but he was sure that with his criminal record the police would be convinced they had their man. He was tempted to tell them he was also a decorated Vietnam veteran, but he didn't think that would make a difference.
Ryan took Rafshoon into the kitchen where the body of Carolyn Collins had been found. "Is this where you last saw her when she was okay, Leander?"
"I don't want to answer no more questions," Rafshoon said.
"Dr. Collins was here a little while ago. He told me you did it. He said you were having an affair with his wife, and she was going to break it off with you today. What do you say to that, Leander?"
"No more questions. I want to see a lawyer. I have a right to see a lawyer."
"Hold him here tonight," Ryan said to the detective. "Bring him down to Newark tomorrow." And with that Rafshoon was led away to the Glen Ridge Police Station.
Six hours later John Minton sat at a scarred oak desk at police headquarters typing a report on an old machine. He spun the report out of the typewriter. Too bad the search of the guy's apartment didn't turn up the weapon, but at least we got the guy who did it, Minton said to himself. And a gullible jury better not let him get away with it.
At the time Adam Collins's mother was murdered, the names of 650,000 neighbors, friends, and strangers, law-abiding citizens living in the same county, were already encoded on magnetic tape and stored in a large, well-lighted room on the first floor in the rear of a large office building six miles from the scene of the crime. The tapes were wound on ten-inch reels and enclosed in tin containers that were stacked upright on shelves lining the walls from floor to ceiling. The names were waiting to be retrieved.
Two squat printers clicked names and addresses onto a wide roll of paper, while spokes extending through holes along the paper's edges moved the roll, hesitated while a new name was being printed, and advanced the roll. A four-inch pile of key-punch cards filled the jaws of another machine.
In the center of the room, seven tape drives hummed as white, green, and red buttons flashed. Glass doors enclosed the upper third of the tall beige machines. Behind the glass, the names of 400,000 voters and 400,000 licensed drivers had been translated into millions of electronic bits of information that were now silently moving onto 1,600 feet of dark tape. The information was being transferred from one reel to another as the machine merged, updated, and eliminated duplicates to produce a single list of 650,000 potential jurors, called the master wheel.
The day after the murder, the medical examiner performed the autopsy and prepared a report:
I hereby certify that I, Graciela H. Linares, M.D., have performed an autopsy on the body of Carolyn Collins at the Essex County Morgue, Belleville, N.J., on 6th day of September 1982 at 11:00 A.M. and said autopsy revealed Homicide by stabbing, stab wounds of chest, neck and back involving heart, lungs and aorta; internal hemorrhage ...
Samples of hair from scalp; smears from vagina, rectum and mouth. Blood for typing; blood, urine, stomach and contents, liver, gall bladder, lungs, kidneys and brain for toxicological investigation of alcohol and drugs. Tissue for histology ...
The clothing included a short-sleeved nylon T-shirt, green front and blue-violet back, a pair of BonJour blue jeans, mustard-colored lace panties ...
The body is that of a well-nourished, well-developed, middle-aged white female. Skin is pale and cold, with average turgor and average elasticity. Rigidity is present in muscles of mastication, upper and lower extremities ... Abdomen is flat, there is an old appendectomy scar ...
Two weeks later the autopsy report was on the desk of Vince Altieri, the detective in charge of the homicide investigation. Altieri studied the autopsy report, and then turned to the lab reports. Sperm found on the vagina smears made rape seem clearly established. No evidence of drugs or alcohol was found. That was good news. Altieri knew that juries are often more lenient with a defendant when the victim was drunk or on drugs or was otherwise unlikable.
Altieri looked at the color morgue shots of the naked body of Carolyn Collins. The number and location of wounds eliminated self-defense as a justification for the killing. In fact, the victim had been stabbed so many times that the defendant might claim he had gone berserk. In Altieri's fifteen years in homicide, he had been involved in only one case where insanity was even claimed, and the jury had brought back a conviction of murder anyway. As it happens, the insanity defense is raised in less than 2 percent of all criminal cases, and the more serious the charge, the tougher it is to convince the jury that the defendant did not know what he was doing.
Too bad they couldn't get a confession out of Rafshoon, Altieri thought. That would have made the case easy. Jurors like confessions. But usually only scared and stupid defendants give confessions, and Rafshoon didn't seem either scared or stupid. Juries, in fact, hear confessions at trial in about a fifth of all cases; almost half the homicide cases but virtually none of the narcotics cases involve confessions.
The Collins woman was certainly beautiful, Altieri thought. Rafshoon looked like a black stud. Maybe there was a love triangle in the case. Altieri had seen a number of cases where the infidelity of the victim was the trigger for the murder. Juries may be more lenient with defendants who had been emotionally wronged by the victim. Altieri shoved the morgue shots back into the folder.
He looked again at the police report submitted by the first officer on the scene, John Minton. A search of the defendant's apartment had turned up no evidence. There was no mention of a search warrant, so Altieri was sure that the search had been done without one. He knew that his boss, Leslie Ryan, was going to hit the roof. As soon as Ryan had decided on the arrest, these local cops had run off to Rafshoon's apartment in Newark. They were so eager to find the murder weapon, they hadn't waited to get a warrant or tell Ryan they were going on a search. They hadn't even told the Newark police. If they had found the weapon, it would most likely have been excluded as evidence at the trial because the search had been illegal.
Small-town cops, Altieri knew, are usually less competent than city cops. The illegal search in this case would never become known. Since no evidence had been recovered, the jury would never even hear that there had been a search. Fortunately, an illegal search keeps evidence from a jury much less often than the public realizes; it happens in less than 2 percent of all cases.
While Altieri was reviewing the status of his case against Leander Rafshoon, Leonard Klein, a widowed father of two, was in his Hoboken office flipping through the mail he had thrown into his briefcase at his house the night before. With the training in time efficiency he had received as an industrial engineer, Leonard felt compelled to deal with his personal and business mail at the same time. He often made fun of this compulsive behavior to his staff, but he also knew that his "habits of orderliness" had probably had something to do with the fact that he had been able to build a multimillion-dollar business out of a one-desk, one-telephone office.
Leonard Klein was unaware that the bloody body of Carolyn Collins had been found a week earlier in the adjacent town, just two miles away from his home. He readThe Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, but neither had made any mention of what must have been considered just another routine crime story. A local television station had carried a ninety-second broadcast from the Collins house, but he had not been home from work in time to see it. This sort of thing could never happen in small towns of rural America where people know from personal contacts what is going on in their community. It would be another ten months before Leonard Klein learned about what had happened to his neighbor.
In the upper-left corner of a computer-printed envelope, his eye caught the words The Jury Commission. Across the bottom of the envelope was printed JURY SERVICE ... A PRIVILEGE AND YOUR DUTY!
He tore off the stub along the perforated line near the edge of the envelope and peeled back the thin front skin of the envelope. "Prospective Juror Questionnaire" said the line printed across the top of the page inside. The computer's printer had typed Leonard Klein's name and address on the envelope, at the same time making the impression through the carbon on the inside of the envelope onto the form.
Leonard decided not to postpone answering the questions. In the first space he wrote "40 years old—3/17/42." Next to occupation he entered "Industrial Engineer" rather than "Chief Executive Officer" because that was really how he saw himself. The remaining questions, he felt, were less likely to provoke an identity crisis. "Yes," he'd lived in New Jersey for more than two years. "Yes," he could read, write, and understand the English language. "No," he was not connected, directly or indirectly, through office, position, or employment with the administration of justice. "No," he had no mental or physical disability. "No," he'd never been convicted of or pleaded guilty or no contest to a crime. And "No," he had never previously served as a juror.
These same questions are asked in virtually every state of every person on the master wheel to determine his or her qualifications as a potential juror. Some 15 to 30 percent of the people asked have died or moved or otherwise do not respond. The answered questionnaires are used to prepare another list, the "qualified wheel," from which a certain number of people will be randomly selected and summoned to court.
Excerpted from Anatomy of a Jury by Seymour Wishman. Copyright © 1986 Seymour Wishman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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