An impartial jury
The U.S. Constitution says criminal defendants have the right to a trial by “an impartial jury.”
When the trial of Jerry Nemnich commenced last month for the murders of Linda Benson and her daughter Kelley Ketchum, we have no doubt the 12 people chosen to pass judgment on Nemnich were just that — an impartial jury.
After all, they went through an extensive jury-selection process, in which both sides had ample opportunity to question potential jurors. They were able to dismiss those with a bias against their side or those whom counsel felt might have a bias against their side.
But the jurors clearly had grown sympathetic to one side by the time the trial ended. That was evident not just in their verdict finding Nemnich guilty of two counts of first-degree murder for the 1975 stabbing deaths of the 28-year-old mother and her 5-year-old daughter. It was also demonstrated Tuesday when all 12 jurors showed up at Orchard Mesa Cemetery to lay roses on the graves of Benson and Ketchum, and to join family members and law enforcement officials in a memorial service.
Good for the jurors. It was an unusual act that showed tremendous respect for Benson, Ketchum and their family members. Indeed, so far as we know, their gesture was unprecedented in Mesa County.
Our judicial system depends on impartial jurors to evaluate all of the evidence presented to them and determine the guilt or innocence of the accused.
But we don’t use automatons or computers to balance all of the evidence with some algorithm formula to determine the likelihood of guilt.
We ask humans to do the balancing, and they do more than weigh the evidence presented. They listen to the attorneys and witnesses. They watch the faces and body language of defendants and witnesses. They may empathize with the victim, the victim’s family, or the defendant.
In short, they acted as humans, evaluating situations in a million different ways — consciously and subconsciously — just as we all do.
For those who followed the Nemnich trial, it’s not hard to understand how 12 people sitting through the entire trial would end up feeling sympathy and compassion for Benson, Ketchum and their families. That they chose a public display of that compassion Tuesday is to their great credit. Their job as impartial jurors is over. Their humanity remains.