My neighbours don’t ask me to feed their cats when they go on holiday, so why the State asked me to do Jury Duty I’ll never know. It caused me great anxiety – there was too much pressure. What if I got it wrong? What if I got it right and the defendant’s friends found out and came and whacked me and then buried my body in a pine forest? What if I found the proceeds of the trial so damn funny that I laughed at an inappropriate time and ended up on the front page of all the major papers, forever tarred as ‘that horrible juror’? What if, what if, what if? The questions spun around and around in my head as I read and re-read the court summons over and over again. Rational people don’t dwell on ‘what-ifs’ for very long – they let them slide by and get on with their lives. I don’t really do rationality; isn’t really my thing. I don’t do responsibility either, so my mind turned to ways of dodging my ‘civic duty’.
Fun fact: did you know that there are several things which preclude someone from jury duty? I certainly didn’t, but after a few moments on the internet I found several ‘get out of jail free cards’ which were all easily achievable. Prospective jurors are all interviewed before the trial to try and identify any biases that may affect the outcome of the trial. Sometimes race comes into play, and sometimes gender. If a white man kills a black man for instance, there might be racial bias among black jurors, so a racial balance in the jury has to be reached. If a woman kills her ex-husband due to jealousy over his new girlfriend, male jurors who have gone through messy divorces may be biased against her. Such a wealth of information exists on the internet about jury selection, all of it useful to me. For example, a juror who has had dealings with the defendant may be biased as well. So much room for bias! So much room for error! So many options for me to pursue! I collected as much information in the days leading up to the jury selection process as I could, and committed much of it to memory. No way was I going to be an asset to society; I had way more important stuff to do.
When the appropriate time came (is there EVER an appropriate time to go to court?) I drove into the city, head brimming with ways of skipping out of the trial. I sat in an anteroom with other prospective jurors and started planting seeds of doubt in their minds as to my suitability as a juror.
‘So, how about that clown that was killed the other month, hey? I wonder who had the last laugh? Hey? Hey?’ I said.
Stony faces all around. ‘Well that went down well,’ I muttered. The man next to me shuffled uneasily in his seat as I picked my nose and sniffed intermittently. He turned to me with a look of disdain upon his face, which I replied to with a wink and a thumbs up. He wasn’t pleased with my behaviour so I changed seats. My new neighbour was a pretty lady in her mid-twenties. I could tell she was a lady because of the way she wore her hair. Very important feature, that. ‘So, come here often?’ I asked, nudging her in the ribs and winking conspiratorially.
‘Yes. I come here all the time,’ she said with a sneer. I just stared at her, deadpan, until she got uncomfortable. She clutched her handbag nervously when I smiled at her and gave her a lightning-quick thumbs up. She flinched. Women, hey?
I started whistling the theme from The Godfather really loudly and off-key until someone told me to shut up. ‘Don’t you think that’s a bit inappropriate, mate?’ asked one burly-looking chap.
My awkward stare didn’t work on him because he just stared back. I didn’t blink for a good two minutes – I had tears rolling down my face and everything as my eyes burned. He’d bailed out of the staring competition thirty seconds in, but I thought I’d keep going for good measure, making it clear to all present that I would be a terrible choice for a juror. I kept up my sniffing and nose picking and whistling for another five minutes or so until I was rudely interrupted by a man in a police uniform. He had a hat with ‘Bailiff’ written across it in big letters, or at least he should have, because he was the bailiff. I honestly can’t remember if he was even wearing a hat.
‘Is there a mister Sam K…?’ he started, looking around the room.
I jumped up so fast that everyone in the room flinched. ‘That’s me!’ I shouted, ‘but you can just call me “Sam”.’ My voice echoed around the stone walls so much that I gave myself tinnitus. The acoustics in old stone buildings really are fantastic.
‘No need to shout. Come with me, please,’ said the bailiff. I can’t for the life of me remember if he was wearing a hat or not. That’s really going to bug me now.
I followed him down a short hallway and through a large door into a courtroom where the jury selection panel patiently sat.
‘Good afternoon, Sam,’ said the one in the wig.
‘Hey, judge,’ I said.
‘I’m not a judge,’ he said with a frown.
I paused for dramatic effect before saying, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I just assumed you were a judge, what with you wearing that terrible wig and all.’ I winked at the stenographer and made pistol fingers at her. There was an awkward silence and the bailiff slowly shook his head at me and motioned that I should lower my hands. The not-judge looked over his half-moon glasses and said quite sternly, ‘I’m not wearing a wig, and I’m not a judge, now please sit down so we can get on with this interview.’
I flopped down heavily in the chair and crossed my hands in my lap. ‘No problem, Judge Joe Brown. I’m happy to help.’
The man just stared at me before glancing at some papers on the table in front of him. ‘I need to ask you some questions pertaining to this case in order to determine any bias you may have towards the defendant. Now, the case that you may be taking part in relates to the murder of a clown wh…’
I burst out laughing. ‘No way! This is THAT case? Oh man, that’s incredible.’
The man’s face turned red before he returned his attention to the case sheet in front of him. I wiped the tears from my eyes as he continued, ‘…which took place two months ago. I think we can ignore any question of racial or gender bias since you, the defendant and the victim are all white males.’
‘Dammit,’ I said.
‘Nothing, Judge John Deed. Please, continue.’ The stenographer stifled a snigger and glanced my way. She was totally into me, I could tell.
‘Will the record please state that mister Kellett is not taking the process seriously,’ said the man, directing his attention to the stenographer. I gave him a dirty look – no one looked at my stenographer like that, or at all. She was totally going to propose to me. I could tell.
‘Have you got anything you’d like to tell us which might bias your decision for or against the defendant?’
Since my get-out-of- jail-free cards had been used up I had to think fast. I scratched my chin and looked at the ceiling. An idea struck me. ‘Yeah, there is, actually,’ I said, staring back at the panel.
‘And that is?’
‘Well, you’ve got the wrong guy.’
‘I’m sorry, what?’
‘You’ve got the wrong guy, Judge Judy,’ I said. I winked at the stenographer again, but she didn’t wink back. Mean bitch. Another relationship down the tubes. Just what I needed.
‘And how have we got “the wrong guy?”’ the red-faced man asked.
It was time to shine. I flicked my arms like a magician and pulled out my trump card; the seven of clubs. I placed the card on the floor in front of me and said, ‘Well, what if I killed that clown?’
‘Nah, but what if I did? What if I knocked him over the head, dragged him into my van and drove him out to that forest near Wistow where I buried him in a shallow grave lined with lime?’
‘It would make you a murderer if you did that.’
‘Even if I cut off his fingertips and head and dumped them both in the ocean?’ I asked, my left eyebrow raised. I have great difficulty raising my right eyebrow.
The red-faced man took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. ‘Yes, especially if you did that. Do you have a point to this story?’
‘Yeah, I think so. Ok, new tactic, what if I killed a different clown and did all that stuff to him? Does that give me a bias that would preclude me from jury duty.’
‘Do you particularly hate clowns?’
Bingo! He’d reached the conclusion that I would’ve taken way longer to get to.
‘Yes! Oh God yes. So much. Like, you don’t even KNOW how much. They’re clowns. How can you not hate clowns, man. You, babe in the skirt by the typewriter, you hate clowns, yeah?’
The stenographer looked at me icily. ‘No. Clowns are fine.’ She didn’t really mean it; she was just saying that out of spite - it was clear our divorce had really got to her. That’s what she gets for trying to take my dog. He’s more mine than he is hers. Our fictional marriage would never be reconciled.
‘How can clowns be fine?’ I continued. ‘There’s a whole damn forest of clowns out there that’ll never be found, I hate them that much.’ I crossed my legs and winked at the bailiff. ‘I really don’t think I will be able to approach this trial from an unbiased position, is my point.’
One of the women on the panel whispered into Red-face’s ear. He nodded slowly and put his glasses back on. ‘Mister Kellett, you’re right. I think you’re entirely unsuitable for jury duty in this particular case.’
I threw head back in relief. ‘Finally.’
‘There is another matter which we need to address though. You said the forest out near Wistow is full of dead clowns. Was that a fabrication or a poorly-concealed truth?’
I had to say the right thing, lest my plan go awry. I took a deep breath and smirked. ‘Oh yeah, most definitely. That forest is just silly with clowns.’ The stenographer stifled a laugh. It was all going to be alright between us after all.
Red Face sighed heavily. ‘Please stop wasting our time, mister Kellett. You may go, I’m sure you can see yourself out. Bailiff, please send the next candidate in.’
I rose from my chair and skipped out the door and down the corridor to the waiting room where everyone greeted my arrival with nervous glances. I danced a jig past them and high-fived the guard on the way out.
Jury duty successfully beaten, I stood at the base of the courtroom steps and took a breath of fresh air, marvelling at my own magnificence. As I walked towards my van I caught sight of a lone clown walking up the street towards me. Without breaking stride I took my leather gloves out of my jacket pocket and pulled them on. I called out to the clown, ‘Hey mate, have you got a second?’
The Wistow forest was about to get a whole lot sillier.