A reporter ends up on the jury
for a murder trial 

Page 2 of 7

"Does anyone want to change their vote?" the foreman asks. A few people shake their heads. No one speaks. Then Nancy asks, "Did anyone catch the light fixture moving over the pool table? Was that from a gunshot?"

I walk to the courtroom's thick, oak door and knock to signal the clerk. I know from experience that she's waiting on the other side of the door, sitting in an office chair and reading a paperback.

"I think we need to watch that again," I say when she opens the door.


When the jury-duty summons arrived in the mail, everyone told me that I wouldn't be required to serve. Reporters talk to too many lawyers, cops and convicts to be attractive to trial attorneys. So when I answered the call at the courthouse that late-June morning, I expected to lose a few hours, get bounced and then go back to work.

The waiting room full of potential jurors is divided into groups, then not much happens. Everyone watches a video about jury duty, shot like an office orientation film, with George Brett and Kansas City Star columnist C.W. Gusewelle in cameos. Smarter people have remembered to bring a book or a laptop. I settle for a stack of waiting-room magazines. I'm halfway through a story on trout fishing in Men's Journal when my group number is called, five hours later.

We're taken to a courtroom on the fourth floor, where we see the prosecution team: a balding man in a suit and a blond woman in a blazer and a skirt. At the defense table is a tall, lean man with silver hair. Seated next to him is a young black man in a red button-down shirt and a tie. His dreadlocks are tied back, and he smiles at us. This is my first look at Tony Sisco.

In the waiting room, people joked about drawing a property-line dispute — neighbors arguing over a tree. The judge tells us that this is a first-degree murder case, with a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

For the rest of the afternoon and most of the next day, the lawyers question us: Do you know police? Do you know Tony Sisco? Do you have any knowledge of a shooting that took place at the Filling Station in October 2006?

Maybe two dozen people have asked to be excused for reasons they ask to discuss with the lawyers in private. Some in my group are obviously going to be dismissed because they've answered every third question. There's the retired police officer who says he presented cases to the same prosecutor's office trying this case. There's the man with the assault charge on his record and 52 guns in his house. For my part, I make sure both sides know that I work for The Pitch. Any minute, I'll be excused.

"Number 32, you raised your card earlier when we asked if anyone thought the justice system isn't fair. Why is that?" the balding attorney asks me.

"I don't think everyone can afford the same defense," I answer.

He looks at me blankly for a moment. "And?"

"That's it. That's all. Some people can afford great representation. Some people get a public defender who's got an overbooked caseload."

"OK," he says, apparently satisfied.

Afterward, I wait outside the courthouse with two other potential jurors. One, James, is in his 40s and ships electric guitars for a living. He has watery eyes and smokes cheap cigarettes.

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