A reporter ends up on the jury
for a murder trial 

We start watching the video again, and I know by the timer in the upper-left part of the screen that Jacob Higgs has less than three minutes to live. The footage is from a security camera in a corner of the bar.

"Is he reaching for the assault rifle there?" asks Nancy, whom I first met two weeks before in the Jackson County Courthouse, at the corner of 12th Street and Oak in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. She renovates houses for a living and wears her frayed work boots to court every day.

None of us can answer her question. The footage captures just seven frames of action per second, in coarse black and white. There is no audio. For the past few minutes, we've watched Higgs and his friend Reno Dillard argue with two brothers, Tony and Vess Sisco, in the darkened back poolroom of a bar called the Filling Station. Higgs has walked from behind a minibar to the back end of a pool table with even less illumination than the rest of the room. Dillard sits on the edge of the same table, near the center pocket. The brothers wait on the other side. Higgs' white shirt floats in the dark, below a face the camera can't see.

Higgs comes out of the black carrying an AR-15 assault rifle that he has picked up out of camera range. He's holding it the way a soldier in an honor guard would. He hands the gun to Dillard, who slides it onto the table, by his side.

"See, that's a threat," Jessica says. "Not guilty."

She's one of two black women on the jury. Sequestered in our 8-foot-by-20-foot jury room above the court, she has been splitting her time between drawing pictures with crayons left on the long table and playing blackjack.

"The gun hasn't been a threat to anyone for the last two hours it's been out," Amy says. She's Jessica's age and white, another of this jury's nine women.

On the video, Higgs and Tony Sisco keep up their argument. Higgs sways as he absently pokes at the cash register and lets his hand slide over the beer tap. Tony talks, but we never hear what he says. When the coroners examine Higgs' body, they will find that his blood alcohol level when he died was three times the legal limit.

In a slow, four-second draw, Vess Sisco takes a pistol from his pocket and aims it at Dillard's back. The camera doesn't record frames fast enough to capture the muzzle flash when he fires, but we see Dillard spill from the pool table. Higgs and Tony Sisco both jump, presumably at the sound of the shot. By the time Tony turns to face his brother, Vess is already advancing on Higgs. This time, the camera catches the explosion from the barrel when Vess pulls the trigger. Higgs joins his friend on the floor.

Tony Sisco circles the minibar, tugs a pistol from the belly pocket of his sweatshirt, and fires two shots into Higgs' back.

When the footage stops, the jury foreman gets up from the polished wood table. Tony Sisco and his two defense attorneys spent the past two weeks seated at this table, where we view the video numerous times during deliberation. The courtroom is empty now except for the jury. Three hours earlier, after closing arguments ended in Tony Sisco's first-degree murder trial in the death of Higgs, the judge sent us to deliberate, with instructions on how to communicate from the jury room. Ring the buzzer once to summon the court clerk, three times when we've reached a verdict. So far, it's been used to ask that smokers be allowed to take a break on the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse and to ask that the video monitors be set up in the courtroom.

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