May 12, 2006


One Juror Between Terrorist And Death: Moussaoui Foreman Recalls Frustration (Timothy Dwyer, May 12, 2006, Washington Post)

Only one juror stood between the death penalty and Zacarias Moussaoui and that juror frustrated his colleagues because he never explained his vote, according to the foreman of the jury that sentenced the al-Qaeda operative to life in prison last week.

The foreman, a Northern Virginia math teacher, said in an interview that the panel voted 11 to 1, 10 to 2 and 10 to 2 in favor of the death penalty on three terrorism charges for which Moussaoui was eligible for execution. A unanimous vote on any one of them would have resulted in a death sentence.

The foreman said deliberations reached a critical point on the third day, when the process nearly broke down. Frustrations built because of the repeated 11 to 1 votes on one charge without any dissenting arguments during discussions. All the ballots were anonymous, and the other jurors were relying on the discussions to identify the holdout.

Why not vote by a show of hands?

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 12, 2006 2:16 PM

Privacy Rights.


Posted by: h-man at May 12, 2006 2:23 PM

Yes, what a silly foreman. What's the point of "deliberating" without discussion?

Posted by: pj at May 12, 2006 2:24 PM

This is dumb beyond belief. If the jurors were really frustrated at the lone holdout's refusal to identify himself, they could have easily stated their own votes to the group until only one person was left who hadn't stated he was in favor of death. I'm sorry, but this shows a distinct lack of seriousness on the part of the entire jury, and the foreman in particular.

Posted by: b at May 12, 2006 2:34 PM


The lone dissenter probably would have lied.

Posted by: Brandon at May 12, 2006 2:41 PM

Brandon: Then it would be obvious that someone was lying, and therefore the foreman would be totally justified in scrapping the secret ballot to get the truth out. It's not as if they deliberated for weeks and were truly hopelessly deadlocked. This story seems to indicate that the effort expended to reach unanimity was practically minimal.

Posted by: b at May 12, 2006 2:48 PM

Take a piece of paper, put your name on it, and the word "guilty" and post it on the wall for all to see, and tell the other 11 clowns they can keep wasting time on anonymous votes, but that will always be your vote. Encourage the others to do the same, and Mr. High Moral Principles may finally be forced to publicly admit them for once.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 12, 2006 3:48 PM

If the person lies and says he favors death, then call the judge and tell him you're unanimous. If he lies to the judge too, justice is done. If he tells the truth to the judge, go back in for more deliberation knowing who the dissenter is.

Posted by: pj at May 12, 2006 3:54 PM

I've been the jury foreman. You have to understand, most jurors don't want to be there. Most jurors really don't want to pass judgment on anyone. Once you've been designated to be the foreman, you have to take charge, and lead. The thought of taking an anonymous vote is unexceptable to me. Read the instructions that the judge gave you. Ask for a show of hands for the extreme position, then ask for a show of hands for the other extreme position. Then, and only then, can you debate/argue the case. Not being able to understand the lone dissenter underminds the whole jury system.

Posted by: AllenS at May 12, 2006 6:30 PM

He's a teacher.

Posted by: Sandy P at May 12, 2006 9:34 PM

A teacher? Well that explains a lot.

Posted by: erp at May 13, 2006 9:37 AM

The jury did, indeed, use anonymous voting. That was a group decision. So, in effect, no one "explained" his or her vote. We discussed the issues and then passed a cup around the table and each threw in our vote.

There were, however, some dissenting views voiced. In fact the foreperson is quoted as saying, "most of the arguments we heard around the table were" in favor of the death penalty. She didn't say "all of the arguments". In other words, there were some, but not many, dissenting views. It was up to each juror which views to embrace.

Most of the jurors were relying on the discussions to shed light on the evidence and testimony rather than "relying on the discussions to identify the holdout". The foreperson was more focussed on reaching unanimity than on allowing each juror to share their views and then individually draw conclusions on the appropriate verdict (as we were instructed by the judge).

Posted by: Juror-USvsZM at May 13, 2006 10:48 AM

I like the foreman to lead a discussion before taking a vote. Once people vote, they tend to get locked in and defensive about changing their vote.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 13, 2006 11:14 AM


Your comments are a fascinating insight into the jury process, but I am unclear about the judge's instructions. Were you instructed to reach unanimity or instructed to share your views and then individually draw conclusions on the appropriate verdict?

Posted by: erp at May 13, 2006 11:18 AM

The judge instructed us to deliberate and then to reach our own individual conclusions. She told us we were "twelve co-equal judges." Unanimity was necessary to return a death-penalty verdict. A non-unanimous vote meant the defendant was sentenced to life in prison.

So, it would have been very improper for the judge to instruct us to reach or strive for unanimity. That could have been interpreted as directing us to reach a verdict for the death penalty. Judge Brinkema was impartial and straight-arrow throughout the trial.

Posted by: Juror-USvsZM at May 13, 2006 11:35 AM

That last line from Juror says much. The judge's rulings were anything but impartial, though since the jury wouldn't have heard the key ones, I can't blame her/him from thinking that.

The judge made up her mind from the beginning that the scum would not get death. I believe that even if the jury had recommended death, she would have imposed life, since I understand she has such discretion.

Posted by: Bob at May 13, 2006 11:59 AM

Under the circumstances it sounds like a majority would have been more than willing to ditch the anonymous voting, which is what we're saying should have happened.

Posted by: oj at May 13, 2006 12:25 PM

Juror-USvsMZ, You seem to be saying that the foreperson didn't follow the judge's instructions. If that is so, why didn't you or any of the other jurors object to his/her highhanded behavior and seek a ruling from the judge?

Jury nullification, if I understand it correctly, means deliberately finding a guilty defendant not guilty to make a political point.

Posted by: erp at May 13, 2006 2:57 PM

ERP, I see your point about alerting the judge, but the foreperson never spoke about identifying a holdout until after the trial was over. Her intentions are now much clearer--after the fact.

Posted by: Juror-USvsZM at May 13, 2006 3:08 PM