Last week, I completed my obligation as a member of a jury. I participated in the case of The People versus Demetrius Marcus. My summons came on January 31st. I wound up spending the better part of a month in the jury box. Maybe I could have gotten out of it. But as a writer participating in the process, I think I got more out of it than I gave.
The People charged that Demetrius Marcus entered The Pollard residence on March 27th, 2017. He was armed, threatened violence on the eldest Pollard (Charles), threatened and pistol whipped the middle Pollard (Keith Sr), stole the Playstation 4 from the youngest Pollard (Keith Jr) along with a wallet and some marijuana. While escaping the gated complex, Demetrius Marcus turned and shot Keith Sr.
Marcus was charged with 2 counts of robbery, 1 count of assault with a deadly weapon, and 1 count of felony in possession of a weapon.
The Ceremony of the Court
Before I get into the details, I want to take a moment to appreciate how the court functions and how it differs from what pop culture would have us believe. For example, in the movies and on TV, court always starts the same way. The judge enters the room from his chambers, often with a brisk step and a stern look on his face. The bailiff intones, “All rise!” Everyone stands up. The judge says, “You may be seated.” Maybe he bangs a gavel.
In the real life court room, the judge was usually seated when we came in. They’d bring in the jury all at once. We’d make our way to our designated seat in the box. In the afternoon, the court secretary would give us a bowl of candy to pass around. When things were about to start, the bailiff would say, “Remain seated, the court is now in session.”
After we had finished with deliberations, handing in the verdict proceeded much like it does on TV. The bailiff took an envelope from the foreman, passed it to the court secretary, and she read out each count and jury’s judgement. The defense exercised their right to have the jurors individually polled. That whole procedure had the weight of ceremony. I felt the responsibility resting on my shoulders. There was enough ritual to the process that it seemed like we might summon the blind avatar of justice herself.
Each member of the jury is given a binder which contains all of the instructions and descriptions for the charges. In addition, the binders contained notebook paper and a pen. I took so many notes that I needed to ask for more paper. Most of my notes were about the witnesses and their testimonies.
I’m not going to write about all of the witnesses that took the stand. There were over a dozen individuals and I don’t remember all of the details. Also, I didn’t get to keep my notes. The binder had to stay in the courtroom the whole time, and when we were done with deliberations, we were told to leave the binders in the deliberation room, to be destroyed later. Fortunately, I have a pretty good memory.
The first witness, Teron, was a neighbor of the Pollards. He lived in the apartment across the way, and he heard the commotion when the robbery was going down. After shots were fired, he called 911. Teron wore glasses, spoke with a quiet voice, and tried to cooperate as best he could. After he gave his testimony, we were able to hear the recording from the 911 call.
Teron left me with the impression that the witness testimonies were going to be straight forward. The reality is that the DA started with Teron because he was the most reliable and the most credible of the non-police witnesses. If the witnesses for this case were part of a multi-course meal, Teron was the appetizer.
The next witness called was Officer Tippets. I’m not trying to fat shame, but Tippets was a big boy. He had a hard time fitting in the witness stand. He squinted and pursed his lips before answering most questions. When he spoke, his eyebrows would raise, like a child asking his parent, “Did I do good?”
Again, I’m not trying to judge or berate Tippets. He seemed like a good guy. But as a writer, I kept noting all of these interesting details about him. The details that would make a character stand out in a story.
Tippets was one of the first officers on the scene after the 911 call. He talked to all three Pollard men. His account of what the Pollards had to say gave us the first hint of what was to come. That the story of what happened in this case wasn’t going to come easy, and it wasn’t going to be clear.
I believe Keith Pollard Sr was the next witness called. This is the middle Pollard, the one that was shot. For reasons that became obvious, Keith Sr’s testimony was the most important, and not only because he was the victim. The whole case centered around Keith Sr, his relationship with a woman named Shawana, and his tax returns.
When Keith Sr took the stand, I knew we were in for a wild ride. For starters, he was brought in against his will. He’d tried to flee the city when the trial began. He’d been captured and incarcerated and brought in against his will. He said on the stand that he was cooperating, but he only cooperated to a point.
Keith Sr couldn’t give his account straight. He kept jumping around, not quite answering the questions given to him. Chronologically challenged. He was a short man with a hard edge and a little bit of swagger. I remember noting that he had a lot of pride, and that the way he presented himself was important to him. Not vanity. It was more that he wanted people to know that he was tough and brave.
The district attorney kept asking Keith Sr questions and expecting certain answers. Keith Sr’s answers consistently disappointed the DA. For example, the DA asked about where Keith Sr’s bullet wound and where he was shot. The DA was convinced that the bullet entered the front of Keith Sr’s shoulder and went out the back. Keith Sr kept saying that he had his back to the shooter. That he didn’t see who shot him, and that the bullet went in his back and out the front.
I could go on and on about Keith Sr. He was quite the character. He had messed up teeth, big eyes, and a hot temper. He was clearly upset about losing a job because of the case. The reason he’d been at his parent’s apartment that night was to take care of his Mom, who has some health issues. I remember noting that I liked Keith Sr. I also remember noting that I didn’t think he was very credible, and I had a hard time believing his testimony.
While they had Keith Sr on the stand all of one day and part of the next, they only had Keith Jr on the stand for about ten minutes. Keith Jr was a punk. He did not want to participate or answer any questions. At one point, the DA asked, “If you had any information that would help my case, would you share it?” And Keith Jr said without hesitation, “No.” That sums up Keith Jr’s testimony, and every account of what Keith Jr had to say throughout the investigation. He seemed more interested in street justice, and would rather die than help the police.
The last witness I’ll talk about is Charles Pollard, Keith Sr’s father. Charles walked and talked slow, a lazy, deliberate pace. He smiled and genuinely tried to help, but he didn’t seem to have much information to offer. He wasn’t able to identify the defendant as one of the two men that entered his apartment that night. He wanted to be helpful, but he didn’t have much he could contribute.
There were many other witnesses. So many. There was Trujillo, the hot detective in training that took Keith Sr’s account in the hospital a couple of hours after the incident took place. There was Burgquist, the detective assigned to the case that was just a few months from retirement. There was a forensics expert that specialized in finger prints. Other police officers. All of them interesting characters in their own right.
But the jury’s job isn’t just to listen to the witnesses and take notes. Their job is to take all of this evidence and discern the truth of what happened. And that’s what we did.
What Actually Happened
I want to talk about the deliberation process and some of the drama that came out of that. But before I do, let me walk you through what I think happened in this case. I’ve already talked about some of the key players. Let me paint for you a picture of what really transpired based on the evidence that was presented.
Sometime in 2016, Keith Sr and Shawana Lynn entered into a relationship. They went to Reno and married in June of that year. It sounded like it was a spur of the moment thing. Much of what happened with them was spur of the moment. This was not a great union, and their relationship was rocky at best.
They often stayed at the apartment where Charles Pollard lived. Keith Sr was his Mom’s caretaker, but I think they stayed there most of the time because they didn’t have any money. Keith Sr was often employed, but Shawana herself did not work.
In early 2017, when it came time for Keith Sr to do his taxes, Shawana suggested that he claim her daughter. That would ensure that they’d get a big tax return. They went in together, and the people that did their taxes gave Keith Sr a prepaid credit card with about $500 on it, an advance on the larger return to come.
With the promise of thousands of dollars of tax money, Keith Sr and Shawana went to Matador Motors to purchase a 2016 Nissan Altima. Keith Sr didn’t have a driver’s license so Shawana drove off with the car.
Shortly after that, Keith Sr discovered that the prepaid didn’t work. Shawana had stole the real card and replaced it with an empty one. Keith Sr went to his tax people made a change so that instead of the rest of the money going to the card, Keith Sr would be sent a paper check.
Keith Sr cashed the check and gave the money to his father for safekeeping. He and Shawana exchanged some heated text messages concerning the car and the tax money. Neither of them were particularly nice to each other, but in one of the last messages, Shawana sent “I’m sending you the life insurance forms. You’re worth more dead than alive.”
On March 27th, just before midnight, Marcus and another individual stormed into the apartment where Charles Pollard lived. Charles Pollard was near the door, sitting on the floor while he went through some mail. Keith Jr was in the back room on a couch, playing his Playstation. Keith Sr’s mother was also in that room, sitting on a bed. She’d been sick, soiled herself, and Keith Sr had just cleaned her up. Keith Sr was in the bathroom cleaning up the mess.
The first assailant stepped immediately up to Charles and pistol whipped him. Charles moved, and the assailant hit him again. The injuries were severe enough that he would later need to be taken to the hospital. A laceration behind his ear bled for days after the event.
While Charles was getting pistol whipped, Marcus went to the back of the apartment, gun drawn. He saw Keith Jr and made him get down on the floor. Keith Jr complied.
Keith Sr heard the commotion. He started out of the bathroom and saw his son getting down on the floor, bug eyed. He came out, rounded the corner, and immediately ran into Marcus. They fought over the gun. Marcus won, throwing Keith Sr to the ground. Marcus kept saying, “Where’s the shit at? Where’s the shit at?”
Marcus pistol whipped Keith Sr. Keith Sr offered his wallet as well as a small container of weed that was sitting on the counter.
The first assailant came to the back of the apartment to help Marcus. He reached past Marcus and hit Keith Sr with his gun.
When the first assailant went to the back of the apartment, Charles got up and bolted out the door. He went to a neighbor’s apartment to call 911.
Marcus and the assailant tried to cut their losses. Marcus grabbed the Playstation, the wallet, and the weed. He and the first assailant then both fled the apartment.
It’s a little bit unclear as to what happened next. There are some conflicting stories. Keith Jr may have pursued the first assailant. There’s a lot of speculation as to what Keith Jr did. It’s clear, however, that the Playstation, wallet, and weed were dropped along the way. It’s also clear that Keith Sr got up and chased after the robbers.
The apartment complex is a gated, retirement community. There was only one way in and out of the complex. Regardless of what transpired between the Pollard apartment and the gate, it was at the gate that Keith Sr saw Marcus and the first assailant get into a white Nissan Altima. The same Altima that he and Shawana had purchased together just a couple of weeks before. It was at the gate where Keith Sr was shot.
I believe that Keith Sr saw Marcus turn and shoot him at that time. Marcus fired the gun twice — pop pop — and one of those bullets went into his shoulder. The Altima sped off and Keith Sr went back to his apartment. His neighbor Teron had called 911 after the shots were fired. A little while later, the police arrived and Keith Sr was taken to the hospital to be treated for his wounds.
At the hospital, Officer Trujillo and her partner took pictures of Keith Sr and took his full statement. He spoke for over an hour. Trujillo didn’t have any equipment to record the conversation, but she took several pages of notes. Important details came through in that account. I believe that the most accurate account we received of what happened that night came from Keith Sr talking to Trujillo.
Going into deliberation, I wasn’t really sure yet what happened on the night of March 27th. There’d been lots of testimonies, but much of it was contradictory. Especially the accounts given by Keith Sr. Every time he told the story of what happened, and he told it a lot, there were details that didn’t line up. I didn’t think Keith Sr was credible enough to find anyone guilty.
But there was other evidence. While Demetrius Marcus was being held prison before the trial, he’d called Shawana. He didn’t think he was being recorded, and they talked about threatening and intimidating Keith Sr to get to change his testimony, or not testify at all.
The most painful part of deliberation for me was putting up with one of the other jurors. He could not follow the instructions we were given, and he kept making up stories and taking the entire discussion down flights of fancy. He asked for the court recorder to come and read back an hour and a half of testimony that we didn’t have any questions about. He was a complete jackass.
If we had any questions or requests during deliberation, we needed to write it down. The foreman would contact the bailiff, pass the note along, and a little bit later we’d receive a response. I passed a note to the foreman, and she nodded and sent it on to the bailiff. The note was, “What do we do if one of the jurors is unable to follow the instructions?”
The response came quickly. We were brought out of the deliberations room, taken back to the hall outside the courtroom, and the foreman was brought in and questioned by the judge for a few minutes. Then the problematic juror was brought in,. He was questioned for almost twenty minutes while we waited in the hall. Once they were done with him, they brought us all in. The judge reiterated some of the instructions then sent us back to continue our deliberations.
After that, the juror behaved a little bit better. He was still a jackass, though. I’m pretty sure he was trying to stretch out the trial because he was getting paid the whole time we were on jury duty. It was like a vacation for him that he didn’t want to end.
In the end, we found Marcus guilty of robbery in the first degree, guilty of assault with a deadly weapon, and guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm. There were two enhancements on the first count that we found him not guilty. Because there were two people with guns, most of the jury couldn’t agree beyond a reasonable doubt that Marcus was the one that shot Keith Sr. Myself and two other jurors were sure Marcus had done it, but we found that we could live with finding him innocent on those enhancements.
The Importance of Jury Duty
As a writer, I came away with a treasure trove of information that will influence the subject matter of future stories. Did you know that it is rare to get usable fingerprints, and that if your hands are particularly dry, you might not leave fingerprints at all? That’s just one little nugget I picked up from this experience that flies in the face of what pop culture would have us believe.
But jury duty is important whether you’re a writer or not. It’s an inconvenience, but it’s also an important part of our society. If good people of integrity do their best to avoid jury duty, who is left to sit and judge the evidence? To listen to testimony with an open mind?
Whatever faults our criminal justice system may have, the jury system is one of the things we got right. But it only works as long as good people of conscience participate.