Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menendez Juror

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In the last few years, trials such as those of Rodney King, the Menendez brothers, and O.J. Simpson have focused the spotlight on juries. In many cases, the public cannot understand how the jurors decided as they did. Thornton spent seven months as a juror on the high-profile trial of Eric Menendez, who was on trial with his brother, Lyle, for the shooting deaths of his parents in their Beverly Hills home. Unlike the Simpson trial, the Menendez juries there were two separate juries, one for each brother were not sequestered. Thornton was free to go home and to work when the jury was not in session. Even with this semblance of a normal life, in order to cope with the stress of hearing and seeing the evidence of violence, she kept a journal to sort out the barrage of details. Her book illustrates both the day-to-day life of a juror and also the difficulties that jurors have in coming to agreement on a verdict and penalty. Of particular interest are the commentaries by two psychologists and an attorney. An interesting addition to true- crime collections, especially with today's overwrought fascination with juries.Sandra K. Lindheimer, Middlesex Law Lib., Cambridge, Mass.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566393942
  • Publisher: Temple University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/1995
  • Pages: 174
  • Product dimensions: 5.49 (w) x 8.22 (h) x 0.62 (d)

First Chapter


Jury Selection

MONDAY, JUNE 28, 1993

First day of jury duty. I had heard they were calling panels for the Menendez brothers' trial, but I didn't necessarily believe it because I thought that case had been settled a long time ago. Even I knew that Lyle and Erik Menendez were the Beverly Hills teenagers who had shotgunned their parents to death in their home because they were greedy for their inheritance. When Erik Menendez walked into the courtroom, my blood went cold.

The question of the day [for prospective jurors] was: Whose companies will pay for them to be on a five-month trial? Those who passed that test (maybe 10 percent) filled out a four-page questionnaire about their knowledge of the case and their sources of information. I said I had read about it in People magazine at the dentist's office.

In the car on the way home I was thinking my biggest concern was where to eat lunch every day for five months. However, I was also really confused about what the charges were, had mixed feelings about whether or not I wanted to be involved, and was unsure how much, if any, control I had over that. I guess I was feeling a little overwhelmed, because I suddenly burst into tears!


Those of us who had previously filled out the four-page questionnaires were taken into a little jury room and given thirty-six-page questionnaires about our backgrounds and our attitudes on things such as capital punishment and child abuse. As we filled them out the judge called us into the courtroom one by one and asked us about the first questionnaire. I admitted to having heard they were making a movie about this case and to having remembered that the brothers supposedly had confessed to these murders on tape to their therapist. He asked for my definition of "confession" and whether or not I thought the testimony of a therapist should be allowed in court. I said I thought it should if I were the defendant and the therapist was on my side! He and the attorneys all laughed.

TUESDAY, JULY 13, 1993

A hundred of us were on the final jury panel. The judge told us what the charges were and explained the role of the jury, which made me feel a lot more comfortable with the situation. Then there was a bomb scare, and we had to evacuate the building and stand around outside for two hours. I met three women standing there who were very friendly but also young and animated--they made me nervous! [I was thirty-six at the time.]

Judge Stanley Weisberg, I learned, was also the judge in the original, Simi Valley, Rodney King beating trial. Despite this, I have quickly come to respect him. [This was the trial that sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots, in which several white police officers were acquitted in spite of videotaped evidence that they had brutally beaten a black man, Rodney King.]

The charges against Erik Menendez are: two counts of first-degree murder (or one count of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder) with the special circumstances of lying in wait and conspiracy. [See December 15 for final charges.]


The questions of the day were: (1) In a hypothetical case of two counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances, would you be able to weigh the evidence and determine guilt without considering punishment? (2) If you found someone guilty of such a charge and the trial entered the penalty phase, would you always vote for death? Always vote for life? Or would you weigh the "factors in mitigation" and the "factors in aggravation" and make your decision based on the law?

The law says that life imprisonment without possibility of parole is a less severe punishment than death. I said on my questionnaire that I thought this was debatable.

It seems to me that, when confronted by the judge about something or other on their questionnaires, a lot of people are saying, "Oh, I didn't mean that." Well, maybe they're just nervous, but I don't have a lot of confidence in people who are either lying or who can't understand the questions!


I had been so sure that with one hundred people to choose from they would never get to me, but as soon as they called my name I knew I was doomed! I had already decided, because I was so ambivalent about the whole thing, not to try to influence the outcome. For example, I could have always answered yesterday's questions: (1) no, and (2) yes, but I would have had to lie. Before I knew it the jury (including me) was sworn in.

I was a little disappointed that I didn't get called up to the side bar [the side of the judge's bench, where he steps down to have private conversations]. A lot of people have been, presumably to discuss the more personal items on their questionnaires. I guess mine wasn't that interesting!

Taped a "Prime Time Live" episode about this case to watch five months from now, when the trial is over.

FRIDAY, JULY 16, 1993

Continued "voir dire" (jury selection--everyone at work seems to know this term, but no one's actually used it in court) to obtain six alternates. Went through about eighty-five of the potential jurors (venire), although to get down to two hundred people in the first place (one hundred for each panel--there are going to be two juries [one for each brother]), they had to go through thousands. I had heard that telephone company people were popular jury choices, so I asked around and, sure enough, there are four of us on this one (two Pacific Bell, one GTE, one AT&T).

SUNDAY, JULY 18, 1993

Here is my understanding of my role as a juror at this point: I no longer feel that I am passing judgment on anyone, exactly. The law has already been established and is clear about which crimes are eligible for the death penalty and which aren't. My job in the guilt phase of the trial is simply to determine which side, prosecution or defense, has the stronger case. I do not actually have to have an opinion about the death penalty, in fact it's probably better if I don't so that I am not concerned about punishment while trying to determine guilt. Only if we find him guilty of all the charges and special circumstances will we have to determine punishment (during a penalty phase); otherwise it's up to the judge.

I have no idea why I was chosen. Probably because I'm just so darned reasonable and open-minded! For example, on my questionnaire I said that I definitely thought it was possible for a teenage boy to be sexually abused, and I agreed it would be hard for him to talk about, just like it would be for anyone else. However, I also said I thought it was more likely he would lie about it the older he was, and that, although parental abuse definitely has an effect on a kid's behavior, I think kids should take responsibility for their own lives at some point and not blame their parents for everything.

I also said no, I don't have a strong opinion on the death penalty, but I do think that since we have one, we should use it!

Started reading Compelling Evidence by Steve Martini and had to put it down again because it starts right out with a gas chamber death scene.

MONDAY, JULY 19, 1993

Last day at work. It's interesting the reactions people are having to my news, ranging from "Congratulations, that's quite an honor," and "You'll enjoy the experience," to "Oh, that's terrible! I'm so sorry." As far as my work goes, this is a pretty good time for something like this to happen. There are some projects I will still be able to work on in my spare time, like my ITP [Integrated Technology Plan], and Don [my boss] will supervise the clerks for me. Paula [a co-worker] reads two newspapers every day and is clipping articles for me to read when this is all over.

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