Jurors Get Counseling After Deciding Gruesome Cases
After sitting through five months of sometimes gruesome testimony in the murder trial of a motorcycle gang member, jurors asked for, and got, group counseling.
It’s a trend whose time has come, legal observers said.
“The juror didn’t ask to be there, and suddenly he’s having to hear upsetting evidence,” said Santa Clara County Judge Hugh Mullin, who granted jurors’ requests for counseling after the murder trial of James Francis O’Malley.
The O’Malley case is among only a handful of cases nationwide in which jurors have received counseling, said Tom Munsterman, director of the Center for Jury Studies in Arlington, Va.
One juror, who spoke to the San Jose Mercury News on the condition that she not be identified, said she had nightmares because of the trial and because she feared retaliation.
The jury convicted O’Malley Sept. 9 of killing Sharley Ann German and two acquaintances in 1986.
“I’d dream about some of the pictures we had to see, pictures of the woman when she was found, pictures of the other victim who had been buried for a while before they found him,” the unidentified juror said. “I never cried in court, but I’d go home and cry.
“The whole experience burst my bubble about feeling safe in the world. It made me realize you’re not really that safe. The woman he killed could have been a woman I’d see at the grocery store.”
As jurors were making up their minds to ask Mullin for counseling, he had been thinking along the same lines after reading about a Carrollton, Ky., case about a pickup truck that crashed into a school bus, killing 27 people, mostly children.
The trial took place in a small town where most of the jurors knew the defendant and frequent recesses were called as jurors broke down crying. After returning the verdict, which was a reduced count of manslaughter with a sentence of 16 years in prison, the jurors asked for counseling, as has happened in a few other cases, Munsterman said.
In Santa Clara County, the O’Malley jurors’ counseling prompted Superior Court Judge Joseph F. Biafore to offer the same service to jurors in the long trial of convicted mass murderer Richard Wade Farley. The jury convicted Farley of killing seven co-workers at ESL Inc. in Sunnyvale and recommended that he die in the gas chamber for the killings. He has not yet been formally sentenced.
In both cases, jurors met with counselor Josie Romero after the verdict, sessions which cost about $1,000 and were paid for by the county.
The sessions were emotional, Romero said. Jurors in the O’Malley case expressed fear of retaliation from gang members. In the Farley case, jurors were afraid of being in public places with “the fear that you never know if someone’s going to start shooting,” said the psychiatric social worker, who coordinated the county’s response to the October, 1989, earthquake.
“When you’re not used to seeing that kind of thing, the sights and the smells stay with you awhile,” Romero said. “Since the juror can’t talk about it, it all adds up to a bottling of anxiety, which is contrary to what people should do.”