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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Jury duty: Most of us dread it and do anything we can to get out of it. In D. Graham Burnett's provocative account, A Trial by Jury, the author's stint as foreman on a jury deciding a homicide case in New York City becomes a harrowing and eye-opening ordeal, rather than the simple and straightforward civic duty Burnett was expecting.
Although New York State recently abolished the sequestration of jurors in criminal cases, the rule was still in effect when Burnett and 11 other jurors were asked to decide the fate of a man named Monte Virginia Milcray, accused in the knifing of another man, Randolph Cuffee, in an apartment in Manhattan's Greenwich Village in 1998. Milcray pleaded self-defense, claiming the victim attacked him when a sexual rendezvous went bad.
The jury was quite diverse, including everything from a restaurant manager to a vacuum cleaner repairman. Burnett, a science historian, was one of two academics in the group. He was not expecting the jury to be sequestered at all. However, the group was ultimately locked away for four long, agonizing, and frustrating days as the various jurors argued over the evidence in the case and conducted numerous laborious reenactments of the murder.
Burnett, as the foreman, felt the case was not provable, based on the evidence presented by the prosecution; he explains that in a self-defense murder case, the state is required to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not commit the act in order to defend him- or herself. He attempts to guide the others into a not guilty verdict, on those grounds, but the jury becomes caught up in petty squabbles, power plays, and attempted escapes from the jury room.
Ultimately, a verdict is reached, but not before Burnett and the other jurors (and the reader) are dragged through one of the most excruciating -- yet, surprisingly, informative and entertaining -- civics lessons American society has to offer. (Nicholas Sinisi)
Nicholas Sinisi is the Barnes&Noble.com Nonfiction Editor.