Mariya Vandivort, Realtor in Champaign Urbana, Illinois

Coroner's Jury Duty: Commentary

My thoughts on Coroner's Jury Duty... (Main page describing this)

The day started off with a little action, and a lot of waiting. The inquests were scheduled at certain times, and couldn't start early. For the first couple of cases, the outcome was pretty clear cut, and didn't require much time at all. So, we came back with a verdict, and then had to wait.

Once we got behind by a little bit, that sped things up, because we could end one inquest and immediately start the next.

Most of the witnesses had obviously rehearsed their lines, which was fine. The witnesses talked directly to the jury. The whole affair seemed much less formal than a courtroom case. In between the cases, people were chatting with each other in a very friendly manner. Once the inquest started, jurors could ask questions at any point, and the inquest basically continued until the jurors had satisfied their curiosities about the case.

It was important, as a juror, to remind myself what I was there for. My only purpose was to determine: Accidental, Suicide, Homicide, or Unknown. Furthermore, each of those manners specified that the person's actions that day, or the particular event, had to occur with the intent of loss of human life. This was an important distinction. People might have been acting irresponsibly, such as in the DUI case, or they might have set themselves on a path years in the past that was inevitably going to lead to death, such as the painkiller addiction cases. But, that didn't matter. If they hadn't gone out that day with the intent of killing themselves or someone else, the manner of death had to be accidental.

The coroner often specified the metabolized toxicity level of a drug, which showed that a user had been taking a certain level of drug for an extended time. This was in addition to the actual level in the blood, which spikes immediately after taking a drug and diminishes. This allowed us to determine if the event was an overdose event, or a chronic case of excess use.

In each of the cases, you have to hope that the witnesses are telling you everything that they should be. It would be very easy to make something look like an accident by simply leaving out details. You just have to trust the system to give all pertinent information.

Specific cases:

Case 1: The suicide. This was a sad case. Talk about problem upon problem.

Case 2: The murder. I should have asked if and where the gun had been found. That would have helped completely rule out suicide in my mind. From what they told us, though, it was clearly a homicide.

Case 3: First painkiller addiction case. We had a lot of questions on this one. The issue, of course, was whether or not there were indications of suicide. We didn't really have indications of depression or other factors that might indicate suicide, so we had to assume that it was just accidental.

Case 4: Man burning in car. This was sad. The man was pretty well completely burned up. They found keys on his bones approximately where his pants pocket would be. They also found a wedding band which his daughter was later able to identify as his. It was sad because it sounded like he probably would have called for an ambulance if he hadn't been embarrassed previously. He just didn't want the attention. My suspicion is that he realized he needed to go to the hospital, and he simply didn't make it.

Case 5: Second painkiller addiction case. This was an interesting case. There are lots of possibilities. Were this a TV show, in the last 5 minutes you would have learned that the husband actually was exasperated with caring for her all these years and "did" it. According to the officer in charge, there were several "domestic" calls to the residence prior to this event (I don't know the time frame of the calls). We don't know what event caused her addiction. He said he had been married for 20 years, and she had been addicted for 10. Lots of unknowns. But, we didn't have any reason to think that it was a deliberate event.

Case 6: Babysitter in fire. Slightly bizarre case. Unfortunate that they never did determine a cause for the fire. Not pertinent to our ruling, they found a smoke detector but the battery had been removed. Supposedly it went off at strange times and annoyed her. There were two other smoke detectors found that were still in their boxes.

Case 7: Drunk Driver. 0.42%. Wow. It's an impressive thing for a person to be able to drive (at all!) with a BAC that high. I'm amazed she made it as far as she did. I suspect that it took her many years of drinking to build up sufficient tolerance to make it that high. 0.42%, at one o'clock in the afternoon.

Case 8: 84 year old female from fall. The fall happened six weeks prior to the death. But, things don't heal as quickly (if at all) as people get older.

Case 9: Female with blood on neck. As best can be determined, she probably went into the bathroom, somehow cut her neck on the sink, and decided to go lay back down on the bed for a bit to recover. Not pertinent to the case, the ambulance wasn't called until 7:40. Apparently the wounds were fatal, so it didn't make a difference, but there was a miscommunication between the daughter and the workers at the facility, which caused the delay. Again, if this were a case on TV, the facility would have been found to be guilty in the last 5 minutes of the show due to a massive cover up involving several people.

I left jury duty feeling OK. When I had court jury duty a few years back, I felt lousy. I felt as though the defendant was guilty as sin, but the prosecution didn't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. So, we had to let the defendant go. (It was a drunk driving case). When this same defendant made the news a few months later (they, while drunk, drove their car through the window of a local storefront) it didn't help my overall mood any. I felt better after this one.

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