April 24, 2000
BOSTON (Boston Globe) - Sixteen months after his jury service ended, Edward Wack still carries an unwanted memento of the month he spent in Middlesex Superior Court: a detailed, indelible memory of the medical examiner's photos of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley's suffocated, decomposing corpse.
``I can still remember them pretty clearly,'' the 33-year-old engineer says
Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley can understand that sort of post-trial trauma. She was stunned recently to learn of a former classmate's nervous breakdown after serving as a juror on a gruesome murder trial.
``We often ignore the fact that the jurors we are picking are ordinary bankers and teachers who, within an hour, may be hearing about a brutal murder or the rape of a child,'' Coakley said. ``I think we do not pay enough attention to the stress that it subjects them to.''
Coakley is one of a number of law enforcement officials, judges, and court administrators who believe that jurors asked to make decisions in violent court cases should be offered at least some form of post-trial counseling.
``We, the government, are asking jurors to subject themselves to (troubling testimony). This is something we can do in return,'' Coakley said.
At a conference of Massachusetts judges last Friday, many agreed that, at a minimum, judges should meet privately with jurors after they have returned their verdict to give them an opportunity to discuss their feelings.
Graphic evidence and testimony in cases such as the one involving Curley, a Cambridge boy murdered while trying to resist two men who were attempting to sexually assault him, isn't the only potential problem for jurors.
The very measures designed to ensure a fair trial for defendants - sequestering jurors, prohibiting them from talking about the case during the trial - can add to the mental and emotional pressure.
``You spent the whole day listening to this gruesome testimony. It bottles up inside you and you want to talk about it, but you can't,'' said Wack, who was on the panel that convicted 22-year-old Salvatore Sicari of Curley's Oct. 1, 1997, murder.
Wack is not alone. A 1998 survey by the Virginia-based National Center for State Courts indicates that nearly half of jurors on cases lasting 11 days or more reported ``disturbing memories,'' while nearly a third said they felt ``numb and detached'' after the case was over.
And the longer the case, the more of a toll on jurors. In cases lasting 20 days or more, 96 percent of jurors experienced stress, according to the study.
More than 26 percent of the jurors surveyed said that ``something should have been done'' to make their experience less emotionally taxing.
``It is well documented in a clinical research sense that jury service can be very stressful. After a criminal trial, jurors have been observed having problems sleeping and coping with stress,'' said Robert Brink, director of the Flaschner Judicial Institute in Boston.
The institute cosponsored the conference in Randolph at which more than 200 Massachusetts judges learned the results of a two-year study aimed at making trials more juror-friendly.
One recommendation, according to Superior Court Judge Peter M. Lauriat, was that, at a minimum, judges should speak with jurors after stressful cases and warn them about what might lie ahead.
``We should have judges meet with them and tell them about some of the feelings they are likely to experience: the nightmares, flashbacks, self-doubts,'' Lauriat said. ``If it becomes extreme, they should be encouraged to seek professional assistance.''
Currently, there are no official court resources for post-trial stress.
``There is a need there, and we need to address it,'' Lauriat said. Though resources are scarce, he said, it might be possible to expand the state court clinic - which offers counseling to new defendants - to include jurors who believe they need help.
State Jury Commissioner Frank Davis said there have been discussions about putting a psychologist on the court payroll or hiring one on a freelance basis.
But Davis said he does not see juror stress as a major problem. Those who might be emotionally fragile, he said, are screened out during jury selection. The vast majority, he said, get through the experience without any long-term emotional damage.
The judges who attended the conference also agreed to study further whether jurors should be allowed to talk about ongoing cases. It's an issue that sharply divides the legal community, with some fearing that jurors will become wedded to positions before they've heard all the evidence.
Other suggestions that emerged from the two-year study included allowing jurors to take notes, a practice allowed by some judges; giving jury instructions in ``plain English;'' and permitting jurors to ask witnesses questions, a practice that some federal court judges follow.
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