• Janaury 2, 2006
Observing the jury (Rick Zych, who works for the Benzie County Sheriff Department as a Corrections Officer)
This past spring, the sheriff assigned me to be the court bailiff for the Mark Unger murder trial. This trial was a very high exposure trial, in that there were numerous media people covering it. Part of my responsibilities included taking care of the jury. This was something that I had done before, but not in a case of this magnitude. The selection process was a little different, as each prospective juror was brought in separately and questioned by both councils.
Once the jury was seated, my duties included the safety and well being of all the members. These duties included everything from making sure their needs were met, to being sure they did not have any contact with certain people involved with the case, or any members of the media. I also had to make sure they were all accounted at all times.
This jury was a very good one. They were very attentive during sessions, yet when it was break time, they would relax. They would laugh and it seemed like, just forget about the trial, until they were back in the courtroom—then it was all business. They were very unique, in that none of them were ever late, and none of them ever called in sick. In fact, both councils and the judge all remarked that they could not believe, or ever remember, anything like this happening. Remember, this trial lasted for nine weeks.
Once deliberations started, the remaining 12 jurors were all business in their deliberations. Many times, when I would give them a break, they would be back and ready to go to work well before. When they were close to reaching a verdict, their demeanors changed. They asked for some Kleenex, and then shortly after that, a break. I could tell that they were very emotional. One of them even refused to step outside for the break. I’m not sure if it was because of the decision they made, or relief that it was done. Whatever it was, they only took a short break, went back to work for about 10 minutes, and informed the judge through a note that they had reached a verdict.
After the verdict was disclosed, they were instructed to remain in the jury room, as the judge wished to address them. Upon returning to the room, many of them let their emotions go. After the judge spoke to them, I think they were relieved. This is something that they will never forget, nor probably will ever want to go through again.
My heart goes out to them. It would be hard to imagine doing this for nine weeks. Not to be able to discuss anything with your spouse or significant other during this time would be very hard. Also, to just say goodbye to someone you spent all this time working with, just like that, was hard on all of them—myself included.
Some of them did an interview with Dateline about their views of the trial. This went well, and everyone involved felt at ease with this. They stated they did not feel pushed to give a response to the questions they were asked. Afterwards, they were glad they did the interview; it kind of gave them some closure to their whole event. Since then, I have spoken to a few, and they all seem to be doing fine.