Jury Duty: The Rape Trial


I’ve been summoned for jury duty. When I let a male boss know, he recounted how he’d been a foreman at a rape trial and found it “interesting and educational.” In response, I let him know that I’d also been the foreman at a rape trial, which I proceeded to describe as “memorable.” “Traumatic” would have been a more honest descriptor.

I was 19 years old. It was in Chicago, 1987, and the first trial for the Pill Hill rapist, who was convicted in seven rapes, all together.

During jury duty selection, the male judge learned that I was a student at University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, his alma mater, and that somehow bonded us, at least in his mind.

During the trial, which lasted several days, the judge commented on the fact that we were the only jury he had ever had in which the jurors took different seats in the jury box each time that we entered the courtroom.

The trial was ugly. The accused was a poor, undereducated black man from the south side of the city. His confession read as though it had been written by a third grader. He would wait for women to get off of a CTA bus and then drag them into a nearby alley to rape them, using a box cutter knife as his weapon. Photos showed much of this particular victim’s blood soaked into the surface of the unpaved alley.

As luck would have it, toward the end of the trial, we entered the room, and I sat down in the front row on the side closest to the attorney’s tables. The accused had a scar leading to his penis that was identified by the victim and prosecution wanted us to see it, since it was evidence. They made the defendant bare it. I was the one sitting closest to where he stood with his lawyer when he unzipped his pants and pulled down his underwear. I was a still relatively innocent 19-year-old woman and on one hand, I was embarrassed to have to look at the evidence, and on the other hand, felt it was my responsibility to force myself to do so because it was crucial to the case. The defense attorney could not have made the situation any worse when, staring straight at me, he asked, “Need a closer look?”

I must have turned a shade of red I’d never been before.

To this day, decades later, I question the remark. What did that attorney gain from such sarcasm directed toward a young woman in an awkward situation?

When we deliberated to review the case, I was, as mentioned, foreman (now “foreperson”), and we were thorough. We went over the confession and every aspect of the case and shred of evidence available to us to determine this young man’s innocence or guilt. After all, his life hung in the balance.

After doing so, we returned to the courtroom and gave our “guilty” verdict.

Just after court was adjourned, the judge’s final comment was: “What took you so long?”

I’m really hoping for a traffic case this time.

One thought on “Jury Duty: The Rape Trial

  1. I know they take jurors from the registered voting lists (or at least they used to), but I’m surprised that they seated somebody under 21–and that you were chosen foreperson! In spite of the trauma, it sounds as if you handled it very maturely and did a great job.

    Hopefully you will get a tame civil case this time–a boring contract or property dispute and not a personal injury case.


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