Interview with a Cirignano juror

posted by Mike on November 19th, 2007

I recently spoke with a juror in the Larry Cirignano case. The juror chose to be anonymous.

I edited the juror’s answers only lightly, but I removed some of my more aimless questions, and some of our conversational exchanges that aren’t really relevant.

If other jurors would like to come forward with their stories, please e-mail us at pieandcoffee@gmail.com.

Some would say that the details of deliberations can’t be revealed without hurting the whole process. But I learned a lot from this conversation, and I hope it will make me a better juror if I’m ever called to serve.

Pie and Coffee: How did the deliberations go?

Juror: Well, as you know, they took a long time. I believe four hours on Friday, another four hours on Monday I believe. You have me to thank for that, to be totally honest, because I was the voice of dissent on the entire deliberation process. The other people had made up their mind fairly early on in the trial, and if I had been chosen as the alternate, if I wasn’t on the jury at all, they would have been in and out in ten minutes with a verdict of “not guilty.”

I just saw things completely different from the other five jurors. I shouldn’t say–we actually came to a conclusion of what we thought the event that happened, with all the different testimonies, we came to the conclusion that “this is the event that most likely happened.” But the other jurors believed that didn’t constitute assault and battery, and I thought that it did. And so that’s where we really differed.

P: You guys also asked the judge, “Is this charge a felony?”

J: Right. I’m not sure who brought that up, but a lot of people were concerned that if we did find him guilty, that he’d be going to jail, and for an offense like this we didn’t want him to have a felony on his record. And judge of course responded that “you’re not supposed to consider those things at all.”

Yeah, the questions that were raised. Because the judge went over the definition of assault and battery before he sent us in. I was trying to argue the case that, according to the definition of assault and battery, he’s guilty, cause he fulfilled all those criteria. And the fellow jury members didn’t agree. A lot of them couldn’t remember the exact components were, so I had the judge print out the written definition. And from there, it became pretty clear to me. I believe the components were: did he touch the victim, did he intend to touch her, did he have any right or excuse to touch her, and was it without her consent or could it lead to bodily harm. And I thought that fulfilled, his actions fulfilled every component of that. And so by the law, I felt he should be guilty. Some of my fellow jury members also felt that yes, he did fulfill every component of that, but they didn’t agree that was assault and battery. They thought assault and battery was when the victim ends up bloody, or beaten, or with a black eye.

They were feeling pretty bad about that, and I said, “Well, we have to go by what the law is. I mean, that’s our job as jurors, to decide by the legality.” We’re supposed to interpret this law, and if you look at all the components, he checked each one, he did it, he committed assault and battery. But my fellow jurors had a different view of what assault and battery was.

P: So after about six hours of deliberation, you guys were ready to be a hung jury. What was it that changed your mind in the last couple of hours?

J: Basically the judge rejected the hung jury verdict. So I come back in–and they weren’t very happy with me in the first place, cause a lot of them wanted to get in and out on Friday, quite a few of them. So at that point the atmosphere started to get hostile–“hostile” is not the correct word, but more confrontational. Like they were clearly upset with me at that point. Cause they wanted to have the day free, they wanted to get out of there, a lot of them didn’t work, quite a few of them were retired on the jury. They just wanted to spend the day not working, they just wanted to get out of there and spend the day doing what they wanted to do: fishing, spending the day with their kids or grandkids.

So they clearly weren’t happy with me at that point. It was a tough situation to be in. After that experience–I didn’t know how long it would take to be a hung jury, and to go alone against five other people, it’s a really tough experience to describe, and you really have to have a sort of indifference to your fellow man in order to keep on fighting against the current. I mean, I think you really have to be autistic or sociopathic.

P: There’s a human element in the deliberations.

J: It’s tough to just keep going on against people like that, unless you’re personally invested in the case–which I hope they would have screened for that.

I mean, I didn’t know how long I would be there, I didn’t know how long we were gonna be there, I wasn’t gonna be that cruel to my fellow jurors. And also–it was just a tough situation to be in, I’m having a hard time expressing cause it’s such a unique situation, where there are five people against you. I knew I’d feel regret if I went along with their verdict. And yeah, I kinda feel bad about it, but at the end of the day–you know, I’ve been thinking this out. He didn’t intend to hurt her. That was the major thing we all agreed on: he didn’t intend to hurt her. I highly doubt he’s going to do something like this again. It’s not like we’re letting a convicted criminal go free and roam the streets. So I guess at the end of the day that’s why I eventually decided that if I have to give a reason–but I’m not satisfied with that. I wasn’t satisfied with the verdict, I wasn’t satisfied with my five other jurors. I felt they didn’t interpret the law as it was meant to be interpreted.

P: What was the jury’s opinion of the different witnesses’ credibility and testimony?

J: A lot of my fellow jurors agreed with the defense side, for the most part. They really felt credibility with the two young girls. They really thought that testimony was very key. They really thought that Sarah Loy tripped over the 13-year-old girls’ foot, it made a very clear impression in the jurors’ mind. And we all agreed on that, no one else could refute that. So yes, Sarah Loy tripped over her foot. I was trying to explain that the only reason she tripped over the 13-year-old girl’s foot was because she was moved, pushed, escorted in that direction. And so I thought the defendant, Larry Cirignano, should have some liability, should be held responsible for that. But the jurors didn’t agree. They said, “Well, his hands weren’t on her at the time she tripped over the 13-year-old girl’s foot, and so he should be let off the hook.” And I didn’t buy it, I thought that was a very fishy argument. Kind of akin to, I tried to explain: If you push me off a cliff, and I teeter back and forth and then I fall, you’re off the hook because your hands weren’t on me at the exact time I fell?

Like I said, there’s a lot of differences of opinion with me and the other jurors.

But to get back to the St Peter Marian student, a lot of the jurors believed that, Oh yes, Sarah Loy, she was pushed down, and the 13-year-old girl–or the 16-year-old girl, I get those two confused–that she testified that she hit the pavement, looked up, saw people were watching, and then went back to the ground again. And the five other jurors believed that. I thought that was something a 13-year-old girl would do. That’s not something a 28-year-old adult would do. And I thought yeah, the 13-year-old girl probably construed that as happening. Cause I work with youth, I’ve been working with youth my entire adult life. I see what happens with the 13-year-olds. They do things like that. But that’s not something an adult does.

I think there was a lot of bias on the jury. I think a lot of people had made up their minds on day one, honestly, without hearing all the evidence. Just from statements that were made.

P: Well, you know, it’s a bunch of people. I think the jury is asked to do something that’s impossible. That would be autistic, to listen to people making really passionate statements for three days, and come to no opinion about that.

J: It wasn’t a good experience for me, honestly. Like I said, I don’t like fighting with people. But that’s what I ended up doing for two days. And I’m usually the most easy person to get along with, I really am. and just fighting with people was against my nature.

But yeah, comments that were made on day one, like “I think the ACLU is just doing this for publicity,” and “She’s just probably faking it, she probably just wants the attention.” I mean, things like that. On day one! And this is when we’d just heard the prosecution’s side.

P: Watching the jury, I thought they were inscrutable. I couldn’t read their body language at all. Everybody seemed pretty unhappy the whole time.

J: Yeah. I actually enjoyed the trial, I enjoyed hearing the evidence. I’ve never been on jury duty. I liked that experience a lot. I was surprised I would, because I don’t watch any of those court shows or anything like that. Even when they were doing their boring sidebars, I was trying to figure out, “What are they saying?” The whole deliberation process left a sour taste in my mouth.

P: Thanks for being on the jury. Thanks for going through several days of misery on behalf of civil society.

J: Lemme tell you, it wasn’t easy.

We couldn’t believe a settlement wasn’t reached in this case. All of us thought this was a tremendous waste of the taxpayers’ money, and our time, and the court’s time, and everyone’s. It seems that this whole thing could have been solved with a simple apology.

If you want to talk about arguments in the jury. I believe, Reverend Payson? That was his name? One of the jurors said, “Oh, his testimony seemed really shady to me,” and I said, “Shady? This is the only guy to help her when she fell down. This was the most noble guy in the entire crowd. Everyone else is just standing and looking at her, and she’s down on the ground, possibly in pain, possibly hurt, no one knows, and he’s the only one who comes over.”

Those were the sort of arguments I was having in the jury room.

I should have also clarified that my fellow jurors were saying, “This should have never gone to trial, because she shouldn’t have pressed charges,” and I was saying, “This should have never gone to trial because he should have issued an apology.”

P: I’m not sure to what extent Sarah could have withdrawn the charges. [blah blah blah] People really want to make this about gay marriage.

J: I know! And . . . I was trying so hard to keep this element out of the deliberations. I was trying so hard because, I kept say, we’re not judging, you know, whether gay marriage is right, gay marriage is wrong, that’s not what we’re judging. It’s not going to impact the Catholic church. Our hole job is to judge: Did he commit assault and battery, but the law? I think people’s biases got in the way, is what I think happened.

P: Have you ever read about jury nullification?

J: I heard about this term after the fact, of course.

P: This sounds to me like a perfect case of jury nullification. This is where the jury says, we have decided that this should not be a conviction, it just doesn’t seem reasonable, and we’re not that interested in the law. And the jury is asked to not do that, but the jury can do that. Who’s going to stop a jury from doing that, right? Nobody’s monitoring the deliberations.

J: We all agreed, we came to a consensus on this one issue, that piecing together everything that happened, the most likely scenario was: Sarah Loy made her way through the crowd, put the sign at her chest on the first step, stood there for a minute, people yelled at her to get down, she took a step down, stayed there with her sign to the audience, Larry Cirignano saw this, came across the podium. This part were a little bit in a debate on, but somehow he touched her. I said it was probably a combination of having his hands on her shoulder, and then he switched to his hands on her back. So somehow he touched her, moved her into the audience. Pushed her, moved her, escorted her. And moved her into the crowd, and right when he turned around, she turned around to see who it was, and it all happened so fast, in that instant she trips over someone’s foot to see who had just pushed her, and falls to the ground, bruising her elbow, shoulder, and lightly hitting her head. And that’s what we all agreed happened based on all the different conflicting testimonies we heard. The ones that agreed, the ones that disagreed, and the ones that were completely out there, like the person that said Larry Cirignano never touched her at all. Where did that come from?

It was amazing to see how different people see the same event. Just amazing. It’s remarkable, that’s what we all agreed happened. It’s just that they didn’t think it was assault and battery, and I said, “Well, according to the law it is.”

End of the day, like I say, he didn’t intend to hurt her, he’s not going to do this again.

And we just all thought it was a tremendous waste of time.

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2 Comments Leave a comment.

  1. On November 21, 2007 at 08:56 massmarrier said:

    That’s a real coup, Mike. Many thanks.

    It probably shouldn’t be surprising that the jurors blew off the law and the judge’s instructions. That’s what I’ve seen serving on juries. Also, as we saw in the courtroom, the defense lawyer was damned clever and very experienced.

    Your interview was a great peek into the toy chest of the process.

  2. On November 23, 2007 at 15:19 Adam Villani said:

    This doesn’t sound entirely unlike the jury I was on, although there wasn’t any political dimension to my trial. Basically three guys got in a fight, and the guy who lost the fight — who started it in the first place — pressed charges. I seem to remember that according to a very literal reading of the law, we should have found one of the defendants guilty of making “terrorist threats.” But “terrorist threats” doesn’t mean what it sounds like it means, like you’re Richard Reid or Ramzi Yosef or something; it basically just means you threaten to hurt somebody (this was before 9/11, though). So nobody wanted to convict the guy because (A) the word “terrorist” sounds a lot worse than it is, and (B) we thought it was a dumb case to begin with. A couple of us wanted to look more closely at the instructions on that charge, though, to justify acquitting him, and we found wiggle room in the part that said that the victim had to have a reasonable belief that the threat would be carried out. We eventually figured that the threat was something said in a moment of passion and that the victim didn’t have a reasonable expectation that the guy was serious about carrying it through. Or, at least, we didn’t think so beyond a reasonable doubt.

    It’s tough to come to an agreement with the different personalities that end up on a jury, though. One guy I remember from the very beginning of starting jury duty I thought to myself, “Please don’t put me on a jury with this guy,” and, sure enough, I was on a jury with him.

    The bigger point is that juries use their wiggle room even when judges tell them not to.

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