(originally published in J Journal, Fall, 2012)
My Jury Story
It’s happened to me a few times, as I suppose it has to everyone, that for a brief period, the ordinary course of my life is altered by a sequence of events with a beginning, a middle, and the prospect, somewhere ahead, of a resolving finish. It’s a period in which life is like a story.
Such a sequence began developing the night I opened my mailbox and found the dreaded red envelope from the County telling me that my number had come up for jury duty Like most people, I really wanted to avoid serving… until I saw the defendant. That happened six weeks later when I and about thirty other prospective jurors were led into a courtroom and seated in the spectator section. Then twelve of us – not including me – were told to take seats in the jury box.
It was while this was all being sorted out that I got my first look at the defendant, sitting a table with his lawyer. Definitely my type. Handsome Asian guy. Jet black hair. Young looking but not a kid. Mid twenties. Angular face. Something his lawyer said made him smile.
There was an easy self-assurance in that smile, as though he understood that little inconveniences like being on trial were just something that had to be tolerated. What was he up for? Was he a gang member? Had he pulled a knife on someone? Shot someone? His name, I would eventually find out, was something I can’t pronounce, let alone spell, something Thai. Part of it sounded to me like “Jerry”, and that is how I think of him.
The people who had been called into the jury box were now subjected to questions by Jerry’s lawyer and the DA and sometimes by the judge. The idea is to weed out anyone either side doesn’t want. I’ve been through this a couple of times. Some people say they don’t trust the police and think they lie; others say the police and the courts should be tougher. I’m sure a lot of people believe what they say, but I’ll bet a lot are like me, trying to come up with something that will get them rejected. I’ve tried a few things myself in the past but this time was different. This time I was beginning to think of what I should say to insure that I was included.
My curiosity about Jerry and what he was supposed to have done grew as the questioning went on. The lawyers asked the prospective jurors how they felt about gays, and do you believe in so-called victimless crime, and, more specifically, how do you feel about prostitution? This was getting ever more intriguing. Was Jerry a hustler? Do they still bust people for that?
No one admitted to disliking gays. One woman was excused when she said she hated prostitution, that her marriage broke up because her husband was seeing what she quaintly termed “ladies of the night”. None of the others felt quite that strongly about the subject. One man was excused when he said he was a Libertarian and thought it was fine for people to pay for sex. He went on to volunteer that he also thought all drugs should be legalized. This seemed to vastly irritate the judge, who lectured us about how we all have to obey laws whether we agree with them or not. Really? I found myself thinking about laws they used to have against gay people. Which brought me back to wondering what it was Jerry was supposed to have done. I really hoped I would get a chance to play a role in all this.
Each time someone was excused, I thought I might have a chance, but each time someone else from our group was called into the box so that by the time I finally did get a chance, I had a pretty good idea what and what not to say. No, I didn’t have anything against gays – was it apparent to them that I am a deeply committed homosexual? I lied and said “yes” when they asked if I thought prostitution was a bad thing. In fact, I agree with the Libertarian about this. If people want to pay for sex, why not?
I made the cut, the last person needed for a jury, as it happened. We were all sworn in and as we sat back down, I tried to send Jerry a telepathic message of reassurance. He would get more than a fair hearing from me. By now it was almost 4:30 and we were dismissed for the day.
Of course you don’t go to work when you’re on a jury but I’m a waiter, usually on the dinner shift, so I normally go to bed later than most people. I decided I’d try to get to sleep early because of having to be back in Court in the morning but I lay awake for quite awhile and for much of that time I thought about Jerry.
The next day we finally found out he was charged with. Two counts. One was soliciting for prostitution, the other was for running a place of prostitution. Two felonies.
The DA called his first witness, a police detective, a white man of, I would say, early middle age, short brown hair turning gray, kind of pudgy. He testified that he had come to a place called the Thai Garden at an address on Pico Boulevard. When a girl at the front desk asked if he wanted a guy or a woman, he asked for a guy and a man he identified as Jerry came out of the back and led him to a room with a massage table.
The DA asked what happened next, and the cop said, “He told me to get ready and he would be back in a minute.”
The DA asked what he thought Jerry meant by “get ready”.
“Take my clothes off, get on the table.”
“Did you do that?”
The cop said he didn’t get undressed and just waited for Jerry to return.
“Then what happened?”
“I asked him if he used a condom.”
“Why did you ask him that?”
“Because that would show intent to engage in sexual conduct.”
“And how did he answer your question about the condom?’
“He said he did use a condom.”
“I arrested him.”
This business about condoms shocked me. Up until now, I was for Jerry because he was hot and because I don’t think you should go to jail for jacking people off for money or doing even more than that, but now I started thinking the cop was lying. I’ve been in a few of those places myself and I’ve heard a lot of stories about what goes on in them but outright fucking is not one of them. It just isn’t. If that sort of things is set up, it happens off the premises. Jacking off, maybe even a blow job, but not fucking. I wondered if Jerry was going to explain this to his lawyer and if the lawyer would pursue it.
The DA had a few more questions. Was the cop working with a partner? The answer to that was yes He was sitting in their car, in the parking lot outside the Thai Garden.
The DA asked if the cop was wearing what he called “a wireless transmitter”. He was and his partner was on the other end.
After the DA was finished, Jerry’s lawyer got up and asked the cop why he had come to the Thai Garden. The cop said there had been complaints about what was going on at there.
When the lawyer asked if the complaints were from neighbors, the DA tensed and shifted a little, like he was about to stand up. If you work in a restaurant, as I do, you begin to sense when people at a table are about to do something.
The cop said, yes, the complaints were from neighbors. Now Jerry’s lawyer asked if the Thai Garden is in a mall. When the cop said it was, the lawyer asked if the complaining neighbor was one of the other businesses, and the DA was on his feet with an objection. Just like in the movies, except that we didn’t get to hear the objection because the judge called the DA and Jerry’s lawyer to the bench and they all talked quietly for a minute or so. Then, kind of like actors getting back into their roles on a stage, the DA and the lawyer went back to their places. The lawyer said he had no more questions for the witness.
Then the DA called another witness, the first cop’s partner, a short, powerfully built black man, shaved head, maybe in his early thirties. He told us that he had been sitting in the parking lot of the mall, in their car, listening over the connection they had. Not surprisingly, he confirmed everything his partner had said, including the talk about the condom. When he heard the arrest being made, he got out of the car and was going in to assist when his partner came out of the Thai Garden, with Jerry.
After the DA was finished with this cop, Jerry’s lawyer asked if he had recorded the conversation. He hadn’t. He said they didn’t usually do that.
Jerry’s lawyer asked a few more questions that got the cop to say that he helped his partner get Jerry into the car and then off they went to the police station. By now, it was close to five o’clock so the judge decided to call it a day and told us to be back the next morning. He also told us not to discuss the case with anyone, including our fellow jurors.
The next day, Friday, it was Jerry’s turn to testify. As he walked to the stand I realized this was the first time I’d seen him on his feet. He was tall for a Thai guy, close to six feet. Lean but not skinny, wearing a narrow-cut black suit, white shirt, black tie. Stylish but conservative . It was only a few steps to the stand but he moved smoothly and powerfully, like an athlete and seemed completely calm, centered, not in the least intimidated by his situation, as I’m sure I would have been. I found his confidence enormously attractive.
He was good humored when there was some trouble with his long, complicated Thai name as he was sworn in, but then he got quite serious as he began answering the questions his lawyer asked him.
Yes, the officer had asked if they used condoms, but he said he told the cop that nothing they did there required them. I believed that but I wasn’t all persuaded when his lawyer drew him out on the kind of massages they gave at the Thai Garden. Jerry said they only did what he described as “therapeutic”, for a family clientele. The lawyer introduced a piece of evidence, a printed flier for the Thai Garden that didn’t have much more than the name of the place and the address. There was nothing suggesting any kind of sex.
Then they moved on to another matter. When his lawyer asked him about it, Jerry insisted that there had been only one cop, that the second cop hadn’t been there at all. Only the one cop had arrested him and taken him in to the station. This of course was very interesting but I had no idea then how important it would prove to the case and to me personally.
The DA didn’t have any questions for Jerry so the judge said this would be a good time to break for lunch and told us to be back in an hour. I had the feeling things were drawing to a close.
After lunch, the DA and Jerry’s lawyer summed up, each of them saying pretty much the same thing. It was a question of who did you believe – the testifying officers or the defendant. Jerry’s lawyer explained about giving the defendant the benefit of any doubt we had. He reminded us about the Thai Garden flier and pointed out that the other side hadn’t brought in any evidence – no ads or internet listings – suggesting that the Thai Garden offered any kind of erotic services. When the DA referred to this is his final speech, he asked us to use our common sense.
My mind was made up. I wasn’t at all sure what exactly had gone on at the Thai Garden, but no way was I finding Jerry guilty of anything.
The judge gave us some instructions about the law and told us that the time had come for us to begin our deliberations. It was already 3:00 but we could get started before he closed things down for the weekend, which he said he planned to do at 4:30. Our first job, he said, would be to choose a foreperson.
We filed out of the jury box and into the jury room, found seats around the conference table and then we all kind of just looked at each other. Finally, someone said, “Maybe we can wrap this up today and we won’t have to come back Monday.” Someone else asked who wanted to be foreman. A woman raised her hand and said she had done the job on another jury. We all agreed that it was fine with us if she did it this time. She suggested we take a vote to see if we all agreed on anything. The man who had said maybe we could get everything done before the weekend thought this was a great idea. We were to vote on the first of the two counts, that Jerry was hustling. We all wrote “guilty” or “not guilty” on slips of paper and handed them into the lady in charge.
I voted no, and was pleasantly surprised when the votes were counted. One other juror agreed with me. It seemed I had an ally.
Not so. I guess it was that juror who then said he thought Jerry was probably guilty but that we should go over everything. He flipped open his notebook – we’d all been given one at the start of the trial – and started reading out the instructions we’d been given by the judge, including what exactly you had to believe Jerry had done in order to find him guilty Then he started going down the details of what the first cop had said. No one complained or groaned but several people slumped in their seats. They really wanted to get this over with and get back to their lives. Who can blame them? I wanted to do what I could for Jerry but now that I saw what I was up against… I’ve never been very good with pressure. How long would I be able to stand it when the vote was 11-1, with me being the one voting not guilty?
There was a knock at the door and the bailiff entered. Four thirty. We went back to the courtroom, where the judge reminded us not to discuss the case. He also warned us to stay away from any locales mentioned. If he hadn’t said that, it might never have entered my head to do what I did.
The next day, Saturday, I was out driving around, running errands. I hadn’t planned on going by the Thai Garden but one of my faults is that I’ve never been very good at resisting impulses so that when I found myself on Olympic, I thought well, I’ll just have a look, and made a left down to Pico. I remembered most of the address. It was 72 something, 7250 or 60. Something like that.
I found it, a two story strip mall I’d passed a thousand times before, maybe ten thousand. There was nothing remarkable about it – a liquor store, a nail salon, a donut shop, a Chinese restaurant and the Thai Garden Massage Spa. I pulled into the lot, stayed in my car, looked the Garden over. You couldn’t see through the storefront window because of a bamboo screen and some potted greenery.
If I waited long enough, projected some kind of mental signal, would Jerry appear in the entrance?
No Jerry but my sitting there attracted the attention of the guard, an older Filipino who came over to my car and asked if he could help me. He was probably just bored but I felt guilty because of course I wasn’t’ supposed to be there and I was acutely aware that I might look downright suspicious if I didn’t do something, so of course, master law breaker that I am, I blurted out a question about the one subject I shouldn’t have raised at all. I asked him if he remembered an incident some time ago when the police had come to the massage parlor. He didn’t say anything for a beat, so I prompted him by saying, and I remember this exactly because I felt like I was a character in a movie when I said, “They raided the place.”
He nodded, but said that it wasn’t “they”. When I asked him what he meant, he told me that it wasn’t a lot of cops or two cops. Just one.
I went over it with him, to be sure. No, he said it was not one cop going in and the other waiting in the car. Just the one, white, who came out of the Thai Garden with Jerry in cuffs and took him away.
I’m not a lawyer, of course, but I knew this was important. If there was only one cop, then he didn’t have a witness. It was just his word against Jerry’s. And if he had lied about being there with a partner, then his word couldn’t be trusted. I wondered why Jerry’s lawyer hadn’t called the guard in to testify. The answer turned out to be simple. No one had asked him about that day.
I thanked him, told him it was nice talking with him and made a note of his name tag, which said, “Alex Manolo.”
I was terribly excited. This was something my fellow jurors needed to hear about. But if I told them, I’d get in all kinds of trouble. Maybe if I somehow got the information to Jerry or his lawyer. Maybe an anonymous note slipped to them somehow. But what if the bailiff or someone saw me? It’s really amazing how stupid you can be when you’re excited. It wasn’t until that evening, sipping a Stoli and cranberry, that it hit me. It took a second Stoli before I had the nerve to go back to the mall and this time go into the Thai Garden.
Jerry was there and it was clear that he recognized me from the jury. When I told him what Alex had said, he understood immediately and gave me a big grin. Then he said, “Thank you a lot. You’re a good guy.”
I told him that it was really important that no one know what I had done, that he should tell his lawyer that he had spoken to Alex directly. He understood that, too. He thanked me again and told me that after all this was over, I should come back.
I left wondering what might be in store for me… a free massage, maybe more. I was developing a serious infatuation. Maybe we’d become friends, date?
As scheduled, by 10:30 Monday morning, all of us jurors were ready to go into the courtroom. The bailiff, however, had us wait outside, in the hallway. My nerves were up again. Did this delay have anything to do with my little expedition on Saturday? After about half an hour, the bailiff let us in and told us not to go the jury room, but back into the box.
Everything looked pretty much the same. Jerry and his lawyer were at their table; the DA was at his, and the judge was on the bench. The only thing difference was that Alex, the mall guard, was sitting in the spectator section. I tried to avert my face from him as we all trooped by but somehow he caught my eye and nodded and I nodded back. I could only hope that if anyone noticed, they would just think we were two strangers being amiable.
Once we were all in the box, the judge told us the case had been settled. He thanked us and told us we were free to go. Some of my fellow jurors hung around in he hallway to see if they could find out what had happened and I was probably the most curious of all of them but in fact, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
I stayed away from the mall for a week, with the idea that I should let everything cool down before I went back to ask Jerry what had happened and to see what reward lay in store for me. Then they needed me for an extra shift at the restaurant, and then something else came up but finally I went back. Although I didn’t realize it then, the story-like order of my life was beginning to dissolve.
The Thai Garden had a “Closed” sign on it. Alex ambled over and when I asked him what was going on, he explained that the Chinese restaurant had bought out Jerry’s lease so they could expand. When I asked him if he had any idea where Jerry had moved he shrugged and said “These places open and close all the time.” I didn’t like his attitude about this because the Thai Garden had become a place of special possibilities for me. It was Jerry’s place.
He also told me that the day after I ’d first been there, Jerry’s lawyer had come by and talked to him and then had him come to court. After he told the judge about there being only one cop, the judge, the lawyer and the DA had gone into the judge’s office for about half an hour and when they came out, the judge announced that the case was over.
Some time after this, I told a lawyer friend much of this – leaving out my role as detective – and asked what she thought had happened. She said she could only make a guess but since the original charges were felonies, Jerry’s conviction would have probably voided his lease and the space would become available to the Chinese restaurant. It was distinctly possible that they were the ones who made the compliant to the police. Or perhaps it was the landlord, figuring he could get a better price from the restaurant than from Jerry Once the felonies were dropped or maybe replaced with misdemeanors, Jerry was free to negotiate. The only thing my friend couldn’t guess at was why the charges had been dropped or reduced, but I had a pretty good idea.
As for me and Jerry -- in a story, I might meet Jerry again and we become lovers. Or, the Court finds out what I did and the story has an ironic ending where Jerry goes free and I go to jail. Or maybe both.
Here’s what did happen. About a year later, Jerry and an older white guy came into the restaurant where I work. This time, Jerry didn’t seem to recognize me.
I didn’t push it. I am able to be discreet, at least when I’m on the job, although of course I was dying to talk to him. They weren’t at one of my tables but I kept an eye on them as they had drinks and then dinner. What could I do to get Jerry alone? I couldn’t think of a thing. They were finishing up. Maybe one of them would go to the bathroom on the way out. Nope. They were gone.
Maybe I’ll run into Jerry again some time, some place. Until then, anyway, my life has stopped being a story and gone back to being just a life. Stories may be better, but life is what you get.