Jurors in death penalty trials have a tough job.
Some people are forced to make life-and-death decisions in the blink of an eye, of course. The soldier in combat, the driver endangering her own passengers by swerving to avoid a child in the road, can envy jurors given all the time they need to reach a verdict.
The courts try to help. Potential jurors in capital cases are “pre-qualified” through careful questioning. If you honestly believe you could not hand down a death sentence, even after acknowledging the state has met its rigorous burden of proof, you’re allowed — you’re supposed — to tell the judge.
Two years ago, juror Rachel Poore survived that screening process and sat on the jury that sentenced Beau Maestas to death for the particularly heinous crime of cajoling his way into a locked trailer home in Mesquite in 2003 and taking out his fury over a bad drug deal on two children, crippling then-10-year-old Brittney Bergeron Himel for life and massacring 3-year-old Kristyanna Cowan in an unprovoked knife attack of unimaginable savagery.
But the decision preyed on Ms. Poore. She says she sought counseling and then began communicating with the 24-year-old convict, telling him she planned to have his name tattooed on her body and begging him for his forgiveness.
This month, the former juror went a step further, contacting the court and seeking a new sentencing hearing for the murderer, based on her allegations that misconduct occurred in the jury room.
After an initial polling indicated 10 of the jurors favored the death penalty and two preferred life without parole, jury forewoman Tina Ransom commented that so-called “life sentences” don’t always mean what they say, that such convicts can sometimes end up back on the street, Ms. Poore contends.
Appearing before District Judge Donald Mosley on Monday, Ms. Ransom denied stating she had any special knowledge of the parole system and how it works, based on her work as an emergency dispatcher in Boulder City.
Judge Donald Mosley is scheduled to rule later this year whether Maestas should be re-sentenced.
Allowing Rachel Poore to re-open this matter because she’s had a change of heart would do a lot more than merely grant Beau Maestas more mercy then he ever showed his victims.
First, it would violate the sanctity of the jury room.
Juries are supposed to speak freely without fear of later repercussions. How would it advance the cause of justice if future jurors speak only in monosyllables, refusing to actively deliberate because “I saw the way that forewoman’s remarks in the jury room were later used against her in the Maestas case, so I’m not sayin nothin’ “?
Beyond that, a decision to reopen this case would mean that jury deliberations don’t really end when the jury confirms its verdict and is dismissed. Should friends of the convicted defendant really be allowed — encouraged — to approach jurors months or years after the fact, harassing them, offering them benefits if they’ll go back to the judge and say they’ve changed their minds?
Judges should set a very high bar for reconsidering such matters. If a juror comes forward to allege the panel was corrupted through outright bribes, extortion or credible threats of physical harm, that’s one thing. But nothing like that is alleged here.
The jury did its job as best it could. Just as you cannot wade the same river twice, so Ms. Poore must live with what she did when she was part of the Beau Maestas jury — which no longer exists.