Judging the jurors

Marilyn Charlesworth has ample reason to be angry.

She performed her civic duty thoughtfully and appropriately during more than three weeks in 2004 as a member of the jury that convicted Michael Blagg of murder.

For her efforts, Charlesworth now finds herself under legal scrutiny, her integrity challenged, her medical records and other private details of her life in danger of being made public.

Charlesworth describes the legal assault she is facing as “character assassination,” and she’s not far off the mark.

Blagg was convicted of first-degree murder for killing his wife, Jennifer in 2001 at the family’s home on the Redlands. The couple’s 6-year-old daughter, Abby, remains missing and is presumed dead.

Blagg lost one appeal of his case last year, when the Colorado Court of Appeals refused to overturn his conviction based on some of the evidence presented.

More recently, public defender Tina Fang has been pushing for a new trial for Blagg based on Charlesworth’s physical condition.

Fang began with the argument that Charlesworth is legally blind, and that she should have disclosed that fact when she was questioned about becoming a juror. Legal blindness is defined as 20/200 visual acuity. It can be corrected with appropriate glasses or contacts. A Missouri Supreme Court justice is legally blind. By Fang’s logic, all of his decisions should be reversed.

More recently, Fang has claimed that Charlesworth had suffered from anxiety and back pain shortly before the Blagg trial began. And she has sought subpoenas for Charlesworth’s medical records and for her and her husband’s income tax reports for 2003-2004.

This amounts to an attack not just on Charlesworth and persons with disabilities, but on the entire jury system. It suggests that prospective jurors must disclose any past and present ailments, and that those with disabilities aren’t fit to serve.

Who hasn’t suffered from back pain or anxiety at some point?

Furthermore, how many people will be eager to serve if it means some portion of their tax records could be made public by defense attorneys on fishing expeditions.

Prospective jurors are typically asked questions about their knowledge of the case, and whether they have any relationship with the defendant, the witnesses or others involved. They may also be asked whether they have physical problems that would prevent them from understanding the testimony to be presented.

There is no indication that Marilyn Charlesworth misrepresented her situation on any of this. She believed she could sit through a lengthy trial and comprehend the evidence presented, and she did. The fact that the conclusion she reached — unanimously with 11 other jurors — wasn’t what Blagg and his attorneys wanted doesn’t make that conclusion invalid.

Judge David Bottger, who is reviewing the defense requests for Charlesworth’s medical and tax records, ought to reject those demands. He shouldn’t let a juror become a victim of dubious defense motions simply because she performed her duty.


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