The Jury Experience
to: legalchallenges back to: home page
In mid July, I received a letter from the Hennepin County courts informing me that I had been selected for jury duty. Because I am over 70 years of age, I could have declined the service but I decided to proceed, largely out of curiosity about the process. A year earlier, I had sat through a week-long jury trial for murder involving my former step-son.
The letter from the court included a questionnaire that I needed to fill out in order to determine if I was qualified to serve on a jury in Minnesota. Was I a US citizen, at least 18 years of age, a resident of Hennepin County, and able to speak and understand English? Did I have a physical or mental disability? Had I ever been convicted of a felony? Had I served on a jury in Minnesota within the past four years? Was I a judge? I completed the online version of this questionnaire.
The letter kindly included a pair of bus tickets from Metro Transit. It also included a statement that I could fulfill my duty as a juror through “call-in status”. That meant that, after initially being assigned to a group, I could call the juror office twice a day to see if my services would be needed on that day. Unfortunately, I did not read this provision closely enough: I needed to sign up for “call-in status” no later than the Friday before the week when my jury duty would begin. I neglected to do so. Therefore, my physical presence was required each day. I needed to report to the Jury Office on Monday, August 10, 2015, at 8:15 a.m.
My wife-to-be drove me to the Hennepin Government Center on Monday morning around 8:15 a.m. The jurors were watching a video when I walked into the room. There were perhaps 200 persons in the room seated mostly at tables. The video gave basic instructions on being a juror and explained the process. We were told it was important not to discuss the case with anyone, including your spouse, until the trial was over. Then a court employee named Rob made additional comments. He was quite good at his work, which was keeping us informed and entertained.
Rob, a middle-aged man, told us where the restrooms were and where were nearby restaurants, especially those reasonably priced. Jurors needed to present their summons letter each day so the bar code could be scanned. The cheapest parking in the area was the old Armory. We would be paid $10 a day for jury service - it used to be $30 - and would receive a 27 cent per mile allowance for transportation. Parents of young children also received $40 a day per family for day care at an unlicensed provider; and $50 a day for licensed day-care providers. Employed jurors could request “work certificates” in case their employers offered paid time off. Free coffee was available in the juror room on Mondays only. The bus passes were good for one round trip only. Otherwise, there were plenty of magazines, board games, etc. in the juror room; and there was free water. Attendance was taken each morning.
Rob said that around 2,500 jurors were summoned in Hennepin County each year. He also explained that once our time had been served as jurors, we could not be summoned again in state courts for four years; two years, in federal courts. There would be a lunch break from noon to 1:30 p.m. each day, along with short breaks in the morning and afternoon. There were usually around seven trials each day. Jurors would be randomly selected for each trial. Hennepin County courts handle half of the cases in Minnesota. Around 98 percent of the cases are settled without the need to go to trial. The jury room was immediately beneath Sixth Street so we might occasionally hear trucks rumbling overhead.
We should remain in the jury room at all times except for the lunch break in case a new jury was assembled. Short restroom breaks were OK, but otherwise jurors should write their names on a white board if they left the room for five minutes or so. A green sign meant nothing was happening; a red sign meant that a new jury was currently being impaneled. A computer would pick fifteen to forty persons at random to go up to the courtroom to be screened by a process called “Voir Dire”. Those not accepted to serve on the jury should report back to the jury room where they would become eligible to be in a new group of prospective jurors.
Finally our jury instructor told a joke. He said he had been on the job only for a few months. When he was interviewed for the position, he was told that it would not be all peaches and cream. He would be dealing with grumpy people in the morning. He had replied: “I’m prepared to handle all this. I’m married.” The audience smiled. Afterwards, the jurors all lined up to sign in for the morning.
The jurors then sat mostly in silence for the next hour or so. I sat at a table with a young man who had a lap top. I myself had brought two books to read. I also helped myself to a cup of coffee. I was making good progress reading the book when the first jury call came. A man read sixteen names from a list. Mine was among them. The summoned jurors had to line up again in the hallway and then take a freight elevator to the 15th floor where we would be given further instructions.
Most of the jurors in our group were men. I spoke with a middle-aged man who I thought might be Korean; in fact, he was from Tibet. In the 15th floor hallway, a court employees had us line up again. He read a list of names and and asked people to line up against the wall in a certain order in two rows. This would be the way that they would be seated in the jury box so the judge could identify them by name. Unfortunately, five jurors including me were not included in this group. We would be seated in the visitor’s section of the court room while the others were being questioned. Once in the court room, we were all given small slips of paper with basic information about the trial.
Judge Daniel Moreno presided over the trial in room C-1559. He said he was judge only of the law; the jury would judge the facts. The case was Annette Schluender v. Patricia Marie Watson. Evidently the two women had been involved in an automobile accident on Stinson Boulevard in Minneapolis on June 8, 2008. Schluender had been injured and Watson had admitted guilt. The trial involved the amount of damages that Ms. Schluender would receive. Watson was denying the extent of injuries claimed in the crash.
Schluender, a resident of Bloomington, was seated at a table next to her attorney, Karl Menk. Watson’s attorney, Kristin Pranschke. Schluender wore dark glasses and had short combed hair in back. Watson was not present in the court room. She lived in Florida and would testify later by an electronic device.
The sheet given jurors asked each juror seated in the box to provide the following personal information: employment, educational background, marital status/children, occupation of spouse or partner, occupation of grown children, interests and hobbies, community organizations/volunteer work.
Judge Moreno began the questioning by reading a list of witnesses (mostly doctors) and asking each juror if he or she knew any of them personally. None did. He asked if the jurors had any health issues. They did not. He explained that the trial would take two business days. The judge then questioned the eleven jurors - eight men and three women - on the points of personal information requested on the sheet. The only concern aroused by the judge’s questioning was that a young woman originally from Belorussia had a limited grasp of English; it was decided, after a conference of the two attorneys with the bench, that this would not prevent her serving on a jury.
Then began a lengthy questioning of jurors by the plaintiff’s bearded attorney, Mr. Menk. He wanted to know if any of them had been involved in automobile accidents. About six or seven had. An elderly woman seated near us (the excluded jurors) had been seriously injured but this had happened years ago. A number of jurors had been rear-ended or had rear-ended others. One male juror was chief engineer at a medical-waste treatment facility. He was questioned about an employee who had filed a Workers Compensation claim. It was possible that some of these jurors would be excluded. I remembered that one juror said he owned the Aster cafe in Minneapolis.
A turning point came when a white-male juror at the other end of the box confessed that he was skeptical of injury claims. Having lived in Japan for a time, he was struck by the tendency of Americans to sue for damages. We needed tort reform. We had a “sue-happy culture” was how he put it. Several other jurors expressed the same sentiment to a lesser degree. The McDonalds coffee cup lawsuit was mentioned.
Then there was a white man with a long beard who said he was a furniture maker and a farmer. He expressed resentment against law enforcement, having been convicted of a federal crime many years earlier. The judge wondered if he was eligible to be a juror. Had his civil liberties been restored? The judge called the afternoon break at this point. When the jurors returned, he said that the bearded man’s civil liberties had been restored ten years earlier.
The defense attorney also questioned the jurors but was briefer. She wondered if the defendant’s absence from the court room would prejudice anyone. No, was the answer.
The judge conferred privately with the two attorneys at the bench. While those conversations were taking place, a whirring song like running water (“white noise”) was heard on public-address system, evidently to render those conversations inaudible to persons seated in the visitor’s gallery. Then the judge announced the list of persons who would remain on the jury - seven persons in all. That meant that four jurors had been dismissed. They were: the man who had lived in Japan, a man who owned the Aster cafe, the bearded farmer, and an African American man who worked at the Veterans home.
These four jurors were dismissed. I had thought that some of us seated in the visitor’s section would be called to take their place; but, no, we were being dismissed, too. We were all being sent back to the jury pool in the basement. I wondered what was our purpose in being called initially. It seemed that the jury to hear this case was short-handed. Evidently, I did not understand the process.
So it was back to the jury room for the remaining hour or so. Around 3:50 p.m. the court employee dismissed us for the day. No further juries needed to be assembled.
On Tuesday, August 11, 2015, I reported back to the jury room at the Hennepin County Government center. The starting time was 9:00 a.m. The video was not shown this day but the court employee, Rob, gave much the same presentation as the day before. He announced that 38 prospective jurors on call-in status had been asked to report for duty this day.
The first jury was impaneled about a half hour later. Again, my name was called. Our group consisted of twenty-four prospective jurors. The jury itself would have twelve members plus an alternate. After passing through the metal detector at one end of the jury room and being asked to line up in the hall, we were taken up the freight elevator to the 19th floor where Jade, law clerk to Judge Thomas Fraser, gave further instructions. Twenty-two of the prospective jurors, including myself, were asked to take seats in three rows of seven jurors apiece in the jury box, facing Judge Fraser, in court room C-1957. I noticed that three in our company had been in the group of rejected jurors from the day before.
Judge Thomas Fraser wore a colorful bow tie. He explained that this was a criminal case. Again, there were two judges: himself on the law, and ourselves on the facts of the case. The case was titled State of Minnesota vs. Ricky Glenn Baker, Sr. Mr. Baker was being charged with 3rd degree assault and 2nd degree assault with use of a weapon. Baker, a dour-looking middle-aged man with glasses, was seated at a table next to his attorney, a man in his 40s. His last name was Connor (or maybe O’Connor). At the other end of the table was the prosecutor, an assistant Hennepin County Attorney named Sarah Hilleren who was in her late 30s.
As in the previous day, the judge began the questioning. He addressed each juror in turn. Each was asked what was his or her initial reaction upon receiving the jury summons in the mail. Many said they were irritated by the summons. I said I was startled but was not unhappy since jury duty would not interfere with any paid employment. Otherwise, we were asked to respond to the list of personal characteristics that is standard in all trials: employment, educational background, marital status/children, etc.
When my turn came, I tried to be unobtrusive, giving minimal information about myself. However, I did disclose that I had a B.A. degree from Yale, with a major in English. I also disclosed that I was a Minneapolis landlord. The other jurors also answered the same set of questions. Two of the jurors were associated with the law firm, Frederiksen and Byron, as was the judge himself. At least two prospective jurors were musicians, including the owner of the Aster cafe. Another was a young white woman from north Minneapolis, called from the visitor’s gallery, who said she was in an inner-racial relationship. Three in our group were from Eden Prairie.
The judge asked the entire group certain questions which, I thought, might get me booted from the jury. Had anyone ever been convicted of a crime? I volunteered that I had been convicted of domestic assault. (I had pled guilty continuance.) It was a misdemeanor but a crime nonetheless. There were a number of people who had been arrested for DWI (driving while under the influence of alcohol), but this offense did not seem as bad as mine. Was any prospective juror involved in a current court case? Yes, I revealed I was dealing with foreclosure.
Another tough question for me was whether any of the jurors had been in a court room before. Most had been there once or twice but I disclosed that I had been in a court room numerous times: in a divorce case, for domestic abuse, the foreclosure case, in a murder case witnessing in the visitor’s section, in a parking case, etc. This surely would not help me remain on the jury. Had anyone or anyone’s family member been a victim of a crime. Yes, my former wife Sheila and her daughter had been robbed; a cell phone was taken from them. We were also asked if anyone had strong feelings about the police, either pro or con? This time I did not volunteer information although I did have strong feelings about the Minneapolis officer who arrested me for domestic abuse and lied on the police report. Despite my record as a prospective juror, I said I could be objective in dealing with the facts of this case.
The defense attorney then questioned prospective jurors. He first wanted to know if anyone had strong feelings about alcohol use? Did anyone automatically disbelieve testimony from someone who was alcohol-impaired? Two people confessed to such an attitude, a young man most strongly. The defense attorney also wanted to know if any juror objected to inter-racial relationships? Everyone said he or she would be totally objective. A more sensitive issue than this, perhaps, was whether anyone believed that a man could be physically threatened or injured by a woman? Is the woman always the victim? Again, most, if not all jurors, thought that a woman could be the aggressor. A related question was the prospective juror’s attitude toward self-defense. Was it possible for one party to strike another but be innocent for reasons of self-defense? One man, the owner of the Aster cafe, said he could not answer that question unless “self-defense” was defined. The defense attorney said that the judge would do that so the definition would have to wait.
I was seated in the back row of the jury section, third from the end, between the man who had lived in Japan and an African-American man who came from Detroit. I had short friendly discussions with both men in the hall way between breaks. The first had worked in marketing for the Star Tribune. He was also a big soccer fan. After disclosing that I had been born and raised in Detroit, I talked about our former home town. He had been in the Twin Cities for seventeen years; me, for fifty years. During questioning, the former Detroiter disclosed that he had witnessed domestic abuse in his parental household. So had the other black man, who might have been African. The fathers of both men had been murdered. The other black man was studying criminal justice in hopes of becoming a parole officer.
The judge declared a fifteen-minute break. I knew what was coming. After the break, the judge read the list of persons who had been dismissed from this jury. My name headed the list. Others also dismissed from this jury were: the two black men who had had personal experience with domestic abuse, the man who had objected to alcohol use, the owner of the Aster cafe who may have been too curious about the definition of self-defense, the man in the front row who worked for Frederickson and Byron, and a pudgy woman in the front row who, like me, had also been excluded from the jury impaneled on the previous day. There may have been another person as well. Our dismissal brought the jury down from twenty-two to thirteen.
The dismissed jurors were asked to sit in the visitor’s section while the seated jurors were sworn in. The judge then told us that we should not take our rejections personally. It was just that we might be better suited for another jury than for this one. He then sent us back down to the jury room where, conceivably, we might be selected for another jury.
I drew two lessons from this experience: First, it seemed to me that “voir dire”, the jury selection processes, weeded out persons who had experience with the subject of the trial. For instance, both black jurors and I had first-hand experience with domestic abuse. In my case, I had been arrested. In their case, their fathers had abused their mothers. It may also be that the two black men were rejected because of their race since this case involved violence between an interracial couple. The owner of the Aster cafe may have been too inquisitive. The alcohol hater was dismissed for obvious reasons.
My conclusion was that, in an effort to eliminate biased jurors, anyone with direct knowledge of a situation similar to that being tried would be dismissed from the jury, leaving those innocent or, I would say, ignorant of the experience. Intellectually curious types also did not make the best jurors. Neither did lawyers. The survivors of the jury-selection process were those who could be easily influenced by the attorneys and the judge. To be blunt about it, the surviving jurors were not a cross-section of the community - a jury of one’s peers - but the result of a highly refined selection game played by the two attorneys.
The other conclusion that I drew was that the line of questioning by the defense attorney had the potential to coerce certain decisions during the jury deliberation. For example, when he asked the question “Can you accept the concept of self-defense?” and later made the self-defense argument the centerpiece of his case, a juror who had answered the question affirmatively during voir dire would almost feel compelled to side with the defense when it came to a verdict. Likewise, if a juror said he could be objective about gender roles in domestic abuse, he or she would be more likely to accept the defense assertion that a woman had physically abused a man because it would reinforce the sense of his or her own intellectual integrity or, perhaps, consistency with what had been said before the judge.
This comment is not meant to be critical of the defense attorney. He was a persistent and skilled interrogator. He was doing his job. But, in a sense, he was forcing jurors to commit to a certain decision on specific issues that might come up during the trial. I think a single statement asking jurors if they could set aside their personal biases would have been sufficient.
In short, we rejected jurors were all sent back to the jury room shortly after 3 p.m. I resumed reading a book. About 45 minutes later, a court employee announced that because they were experiencing “light service” - i.e., no more juries were required - “Your service is complete.” We needn’t report for duty the next morning or at any time during the next four years. That was it. My jury-duty experience was done.
Frankly, I was disappointed. I wanted to experience jury deliberation. I wanted to write about this aspect of the legal process. And now I would not have that opportunity for the next four years and probably ever. With that thought, I walked to the bus stop and used my last free ticket for the ride home.
Even though my jury obligation was satisfied, my investigation into the process was not. I decided to come back on Wednesday to see what was happening with the second case. I would not be participating in jury deliberations, of course, but I could witness the trial itself. I could see what issues might be raised, casting light upon the selection process.
This day I drove downtown and parked in the Stevens Square area across I-94. I also checked the jury room. It was completely empty. Rob, in the office, confirmed what I already knew. When I went up to the 19th floor where the trial was in progress. A middle-aged black woman was on the witness stand. I happened to arrive at the close of her testimony.
The way she was talking, I thought this woman was the defendant’s landlady. Mr. Baker had left his belongings in her house and she was owed $800. She was seeking restitution. Then the witness mentioned that she had picked up a bottle. The defendant had hit her with it several times. However, she had not called 911.
I came to realize that this was the alleged victim in an assault case. Her name was Winifred Hartsfield. Her testimony had begun the day before after the rejected jurors had left the room. On this day, I heard perhaps five minutes of testimony. The jury consisted of seven men and six women. All were white.
The next witness was Andrea Hartsfield, Winifred’s daughter. She and her mother had lived in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, for eight or nine years. Andrea identified the defendant, Ricky Glenn Baker Sr., as her mother’s boyfriend. Winifred worked nights at Target; Andrea did temp work. Andrea said her mother had not been injured although her eye was swollen and blood was on her face. She had been hit with a bottle.
On February 24, 2015, Ricky Baker was intoxicated. After being gone for several hours, Andrea talked with him and her mother. Three police officers arrived. Baker was uncooperative. Her mother knew officer Cudd through her grandfather. The police arrested Baker. They would not let him take his cell phone or wallet. Her mother smelled of alcohol that had been poured on her. Baker had no shoes on (only socks) when the police took him to the squad car. It was cold outside.
Officer Charles Cudd of the Brooklyn Park Police Department was next to testify. He had been on patrol on February 24, 2015. He and a partner went to Hartfield’s house on 73rd Avenue North in Brooklyn Park. The dispatcher said someone’s mother had been assaulted. It was a domestic assault case. The victim had been hit in the face with a bottle. When the police arrived, Baker opened the door but then slammed the door shut and locked it. Andrea shortly opened the door and let the officers in.
Ricky Baker was sitting in the living room, Cudd said. He refused to to stand up or answer questions. Baker was very intoxicated, judging from his alcohol odor and slurred speech. Winifred Hartsfield was crying. There was a knot on her head. She had a split lip with blood and alcohol on her clothing.
Hartsfield and Baker were engaged to be married. The defendant, Baker, had accused Hartsfield of cheating on him with a male friend. He called her a “conniving bitch”. She threw a styrofoam cup at him. Baker then punched her in the mouth with a closed fist. Then Hartsfield threw artificial flowers and a small plaster cast at Baker to get him out of her room. She then went downstairs to the kitchen where they had another argument. Hartsfield picked up a a bottle to defend himself but Baker took the bottle away. He then struck Hartsfield twice in the face and poured liquor from the bottle on her. Winifred then ran upstairs.
The prosecution then introduced four photographs as exhibits 4 through 7. One showed a puddle on the kitchen floor. Officer Wagner, Cudd’s partner, recorded a conversation with Baker although he refused to give a statement. Baker was arrested. He stood up and put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed. However, Baker later resisted arrest on the way to the squad car. He saw blood on Baker’s shirt and an abrasion on his shoulder which might have come from falling on the pavement outdoors. Baker did not want to be photographed but this was later done when he was in jail. Officer Cudd denied knowing Hartsfield or her father as Andrea had said.
Both Baker and Hartsfield had been drinking. On the way to jail, Baker said he was hit by a bottle before he hit Hartsfield. Baker, wearing an undershirt, told Wagner he had been assaulted. He wanted medical treatment. Wagner fell on top of Baker when the latter fell to the ground outside. Again, Baker was not wearing shoes.
After the morning break, officer Ben Wagner of the Brooklyn Park Police Department testified. They were called to Winifred Hartsfield’s house around 9 p.m. Baker exhibited blood-shot eyes and slurred speech, indicating intoxication. He was wearing tank tops and jeans as he sat in a chair watching television. There were a small cut under his nose and abrasions on his hands. Baker was rocking back and forth in a rocking chair while making a clenched fist when the officers arrived. He was yelling at Winifred who was upstairs.
Officer Wagner was wearing a body microphone. The recording was played for the jury. They also received written transcripts of the recording but were not allowed to keep the transcripts or have them during deliberations. The recording abruptly ended when Baker and officer Wagner fell to the ground on icy pavement. Baker said he had been hit in the head with a bottle but otherwise refused to make a statement without having an attorney. Baker also complained of chest pains. An ambulance was sent.
Detective Chris McNeill, a general investigator with the Brooklyn Park police, talked with Winfred Hartsfield on the phone the day after the incident. They did Q and A. Winifred said Baker had cut her engagement ring in half. She had tried to get him out of her bedroom after he punched her. There was a recording of the conversation which the prosecutor played, providing written transcripts. McNeill never asked Hartsfield if she had hit Baker with a bottle because none of the officers thought this was a case of self-defense.
Kevin Banks, an African American detective with the Brooklyn Park police, interviewed Ricky Baker while he was in jail. His procedure was: 1. Look at the police reports. 2. Make contact with the victim. 3. Refer the case to the Hennepin County Attorney to see if anyone should be charged. In this case, Banks interviewed the accused perpetrator and made an audio recording. This was played to the jury.
Baker told Banks that he had been in a relationship with Hartsfield for two or three years. Hartsfield was physically abusive toward him. He wanted to end their relationship. Around 6:30 p.m. on February 24, 2015, he came home from work. Hartsfield came down from her bedroom upstairs and started fighting him while he was seated in a chair. She had a bottle of vodka. Baker said he was hit in the face and mouth while seated in the chair. Hartsfield picked up a bottle in the kitchen and swung it at him, knocking off his glasses. Baker said he then hit Hartsfield in the face. He never hit her with a bottle. Detective Banks said he saw bruise marks on Baker’s arm. There was bruising on his knuckles. Baker said Hartsfield had bit him. Baker said she had struck him in the face with a bottle and with her fists and he had hit her back with his fists. Baker used the word “self-defense”. There might have been bite marks on Baker’s arm.
After Banks’ testimony was done and the jury had left the room, Judge Fraser conferred with the attorneys. The defense did not want the judge to include paragraphs about “the duty to retreat” in the jury instructions. The judge and prosecution agreed to a modified statement. Because defense attorney Connor had a conflict next morning, the trial would resume at 10 a.m. - an hour late - when the jury received printed instructions from the judge.
Now it was time for lunch. I ate at Subway Sandwich in the nearby Century Link building and then sat in a metal chair in the Government plaza while a brass band called “the Celebration Brass Quintet” played music from the Civil War period. It was a high point of my day.
The thought occurred to me that, in this case, the Brooklyn Park Police had interviewed both the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator. When I was arrested for domestic assault in 2011, a Minneapolis police officer had arrested me without asking questions. There were no follow-up interviews by detectives although the Minneapolis city attorney did interview the alleged victim, my wife. So Brooklyn Park police showed a greater sense of fairness than their counterparts in Minneapolis.
The trial was set to resume at 1:30 p.m. I entered the courtroom a few minutes early and sat in the visitors’ section. Judge Fraser was discussing certain matters with the attorneys. The first question was whether Mr. Connor, the defense attorney, would have his client take the stand. Connor explained to Baker that this was his decision alone. If he chose not to testify, the jury would be instructed not to take adverse inferences from this decision. However, Baker stated emphatically that he did wish to testify.
A second issue was that the prosecuting attorney, Ms. Hilleren, wanted to add a third count to the case against Baker. She wanted to add assault in the 5th degree. The defense attorney said he had concerns that this would facilitate horse trading during jury deliberations. Some jurors who had reservations about Baker’s guilt might agree to a lesser charge. (Such a problem had also crossed my mind.) Attorney Connor wanted the jury to choose between guilty or not guilty as a single charge. However, the judge allowed adding a third charge.
When the jury returned to the court room after its lunch break, it heard testimony from Dr. Justin Duyer who was an emergency-room physician at North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale. He had treated Winifred Hartsfield around 11 p.m. on February 24, 2015. She said she was assaulted by a bottle and a fist. Ms. Hartsfield did not appear to be intoxicated. There was a bruise on the left side of her face under an eye. She had a ruptured ear drum. It took five sutures to repair a lacerated lip. The wounds were consistent with blows to the side of the heard. In some cases, blows to the head cause the brain to shift around and produce bleeding. Ms. Hartfield’s injuries were not so severe. There were no fractures in the skull and it was not thought necessary to do a cat scan. The injury to the ear suggested that she had been struck by a hand rather than a bottle. There was hematoba or blood in the skin covering the eye. Hartsfield had a history of alcohol dependency.
After Duyer’s testimony, the state rested its case.
Ricky Glenn Baker Sr., the accused, now stepped up to the witness stand. He was white, 59 years old, came from eastern North Carolina, and had been in Minnesota for about three years. Career-wise, he had worked at the North Carolina Department of Corrections maintaining refrigeration unit. He had seven grandchildren.
Baker had met Winifred Hartsfield on a blind date. Soon he moved in with her. They became intimate. Baker helped Hartsfield financially, giving her most of his money after certain of his needs were met. She had filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy. He had never signed a lease with her to stay in her home. The couple had separated several times.
Baker worked for D & V Commercial in Rogers, Minnesota. He became suspicious of his relationship with Hartsfield when he saw a text message from “Bob” on his cell phone. A message from her that caught Baker’s eye was “I’ve been a good girl too long.” Evidently Winifred had a relationship with Bob since October. Baker decided to end his relationship with her. He cut her engagement ring in half.
Baker had been on a roof all day on February 24th in temperatures between 8 and 10 degrees. When he came home, he plopped on a chair and watched television. He also had two drinks of vodka and had poured a third. He talked with his daughter Priscilla on the telephone. While Baker was seated in the chair, Winifred Hartsfield stepped into the room and said to him: “You’re leaving my house this night, you son of a bitch.” She then hit him on the head, knocking off his glasses. She struck him with a closed fist on the right forehead.
Then Hartsfield opened a bottle of tequila in the kitchen and poured herself a drink. Gripping the bottle, she then came at Baker and jabbed him in the face above the lip. She swung the bottle spilling tequila all over the place. After she had jabbed him with the bottle, Baker hit Hartsfield in the mouth and eye. When he grabbed the bottle, she bit him. He put the empty bottle of tequila in the sink. He never poured liquor on Ms. Hartsfield. Baker did not call 911 because he did not want to pursue the argument further. He just wanted to leave.
He had a good relationship with Andrea Hartfield. He had bought her a car and paid the auto insurance. He was wearing a tank top because the temperature in the house was kept at 76 to 78 degrees. Admittedly, he used profanity during the argument. He drank more vodka while waiting for the officers to arrive after Andrea called 911. He tried to empty the bottle.
Baker was talking with officer Watson while officer Cudd was upstairs talking with Winifred Hartsfield. When Cudd walked downstairs, he instructed Watson to arrest Baker. Although Baker asked to put his shoes on, he had to walk outside in his socks alone. The handcuffs were tight. En route to the squad car, he fell, or the officer pushed him to the ground. A third officer arriving pushed his face into the snow. He requested medical attention because he had an irregular hear beat.
During cross-examination, it was established that Baker had searched Hartsfield’s cell phone. He discovered she had been lying. Baker was quite upset. He was drinking straight from the vodka bottle when the officers arrived. Baker had told someone had struck Hartsfield only once but now it was four to five times to be consistent with the visual evidence.
Prosecutor Hilligen now employed what I regard as an oratorical trick. She harped on inconsistencies between what Baker had told detective Banks and what he was not saying. She did so repetitiously and with a rising voice: You didn’t tell detective Banks you heard a popping sound in the kitchen when she opened the bottle. You didn’t tell Banks you observed Winifred with a glass. You didn’t use the word “jab” with Banks. You didn’t tell Banks you observed Hartsfield pouring alcohol on herself, etc.
The prosecutor also wanted to know why, if he had to strike Hartsfield to defend himself and prevent further injury, he slammed the door on the police officers. Shouldn’t he have welcomed their arrival if he feared for his safety? Baker said he regretted doing this. The prosecutor said he had not answered her question.
Finally the defense called Priscilla Baker, Ricky’s daughter, as a witness. I had observed her sleeping on a cushion in the hallway for much of the trial. She said she was 20, lived in Anoka, and knew Winifred Hartsfield as “Sylvia”. It was unclear to me why she had been called as a witness.
After that brief testimony, the defense rested its case.
The jury then left the room. I remained to hear a conversation between the two attorneys. It concerned the fact that the ER physician, Justin Duyer, had a pony tail. Ms. Hilleren did not much favor men with pony tails. But his testimony might have been OK.
When I went to the rest room and returned, the jury had left. I was thinking that the judge might give jury instructions later that day. No, they would be given on Thursday morning. I left the court room and the Government Center.
I had parked the car near Stevens Square that morning. After walking back to that spot, I discovered that the car was missing. I noticed that one spot on the street had permit parking only. I must have parked in that space without a permit. I took a bus home. The Minneapolis Impound Lot confirmed that they had the car. However, since the car was owned by my former wife’s daughter, he had to get a signed and notarized permission letter from her to pick up the car. She was living in Cottage Grove so this might take some time. The Impound Lot would charge $150 for towing and storage.
I knew that the defense attorney had another engagement at 9 a.m. but was unsure of the starting time. I arrived at 9 a.m., only to learn that the trial would resume at 10 a.m. Again, the jury room in the basement was empty. I went up to the law library to read a book in relative comfort.
I returned to court room C-1957 at 10 a.m. before the jury had reassembled in the box. The judge was discussing certain details of procedure with the two attorneys. First, it was agreed that, if the jury failed to reach a verdict that day, the jurors could go home instead of being sequestered. Another question was use of the podium. The prosecuting attorney wanted to stand behind the podium; the defense attorney wanted to stand next to it.
A more substantive issue was the aggressor’s right to self-defense as defined in statute. In State v. Edwards, there was a dissent opinion that carried legal weight. As I understood them, the jury instructions would say that the defendant had a right to self-defense only if he honestly tried to escape from an injurious situation. But was there a duty to escape a fight occurring in one’s own home? The defense attorney wanted to eliminate instructions relating to the duty to escape because it shifted the burden of proof to the defense. The instructions would be confusing.
The defense attorney insisted that no assault had taken place in the bedroom. There had been only one incident of fighting. The prosecution insisted that Baker had started the fight so he had no right to self-defense. The judge ruled that he would let his previous wording on self-defense stand. The facts would be more favorably reviewed for the prosecution.
There was a discussion of Ms. Olson, the north Minneapolis woman who was an alternative juror. Alternate jurors cannot vote. In some cases, alternate jurors could sit in on the jury deliberations, but in this case she would be dismissed before the deliberations took place.
The day’s proceedings would be as follows: 1. jury instructions, 2. closing arguments, 3. final instructions, and 4. jury retires for deliberation.
Judge Fraser then gave the following instructions to the jury:
Follow the law even if you disagree with it. Remember that the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. He must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This means the the proof should be such as an ordinary man or woman would understand it in an important situation. Do not draw implications from his decisions whether or not to admit evidence since these are determined by court rules. Jurors are allowed to take written notes but they should rely primarily upon their own memory and recollection. The notes are an aid to memory, not a substitute for it. The remarks of an attorney are not evidence. Jurors can judge the credibility of witnesses. Rely upon your own judgment and common sense. Evaluate expert witnesses. Rely on your own and other jurors’ memory. Juries can request that audiotapes be replayed in open court if they have forgotten something.
Mr. Baker is facing three separate charges: 1. assault in the 3rd degree, 2. assault in the 2nd degree, and 3. assault in the 5th degree. (Second degree assault is more serious than third degree assault, and third degree assault is more serious than fifth degree assault.)
Second degree assault means: (1) that Mr. Baker assaulted Ms. Hartsfield intending to cause injury or cause fear of injury. (2) The actor must have had knowledge of what he was doing. (3) The defendant used a dangerous weapon, known to have the capacity to produce great bodily harm. (4) The action took place on February 24, 2015 in Hennepin County. If any of those elements is not present, find the defendant not guilty.
Third degree assault means: (1) that Mr. Baker assaulted Ms. Hartsfield intending to cause injury or cause fear of injury. (2) The actor must have had knowledge of what he was doing. (3) The action took place on February 24, 2015 in Hennepin County. If any of those elements is not present, find the defendant not guilty.
Fifth degree assault means: (1) that Mr. Baker intended to inflict bodily harm upon Ms. Hartsfield. (2) The actor must have had knowledge of what he was doing (intent). (3) The action took place on February 24, 2015 in Hennepin County. If any of those elements is not present, find the defendant not guilty.
The jury should find Mr. Baker not guilty if it believes he used reasonable force to prevent injury to himself. He was trying to defend himself against Ms. Hartfield’s attacks and this was necessary to prevent imminent injury. The rule of self-defense does not allow a person to seek revenge or punish someone for another act. The defendant must have declined to carry on the fight. He must have expressed a desire for peace. “Stand his ground.” The state must prove that Mr. Baker used unreasonable force.
Then came the closing arguments with the prosecution going first.
Ms. Hilleren, representing the Hennepin County Attorney, first observed that the defendant was drunk and angry on February 2, 2015. He injured and humiliated Winifred Hartsfield. He punched her when he was not under attack. He was angry and drunk. This happened beyond a reasonable doubt, doubt being based on reason and common sense.
Ms. Hilleren defined 2nd degree assault as the intentional infliction of bodily harm upon Ms. Hartsfield’s head and lip. He struck her with his fist and a bottle. The liquor bottle was a weapon. It was full when he struck her. A dangerous weapon was used to strike her in the head. Danger described the consequence of being struck with a bottle. Fortunately, Ms. Hartsfield has recovered from her injuries.
Assault in the 3rd degree means that the defendant inflicted substantial bodily harm upon Ms. Hartsfield. Here the state does not have to prove that the defendant intended to inflict such harm. Winifred Hartsfield needed five stitches to repair her lip. She had a ruptured ear drum and could not hear for a month.
Assault in the 5th degree means only that the defendant inflicted bodily harm.
With respect to the self-defense issue, the state needs to show that the defendant did not act in self-defense. (1) The defendant was not steadily being assaulted or believed that he was. (2) The force that he used was beyond what would be necessary to deal with the situation. The victim said Baker struck her in the upstairs bedroom while he was drunk and angry. The defendant said that he was sitting in the living room when Winifred Hartsfield punched him and hit him with the liquor bottle. There were no witnesses to this other than Baker and Hartsfield. These are two irreconcilable stories.
The jury needs to decide who is lying and who is telling the truth. Hartsfield’s stories have been consistent. She said she threw the styrofoam cup at Baker - it could not have hurt anyone - and then he punched her. She then grabbed a bottle in the kitchen. Baker hit Hartsfield at least twice. He then poured alcohol over her saying “take another drink”.
The defendant’s stories have been all over the place. She hit me with a bottle and then I punched her. She knocked my glasses off. He did not tell the officers that. Baker said he hit Hartsfield in various places on her head and was struck. He now says he was “jabbed” with a bottle. He did not use that term before. There was previously no mention of a cork popping in the kitchen as the bottle was being opened. First Baker said he hit the victim once or twice in the head with his fist. Now he says it was four or five times because that fits the visual evidence and the officers’ testimony. In fact, Baker was drunk and aggressive. He shouted at Hartsfield ”bitch, you’re through!”
Why is the potpourri on the bedroom floor if no fight had taken place there? Ms. Hartsfield’s bruised face is consistent with what Mr. Duyer observed. There are no injuries to Baker’s face to suggest assault, only a tiny cut mark on his nose. Ms. Hilleren put an image of Baker’s arm on the screen. Is this a bite mark, she asked? No, it is a bruise from the bottle. The defendant has a motive to fabricate facts but the victim does not. He is lying to avoid punishment for his acts.
Why would the victim of an assault slam the door in the officers’ face? Baker had a duty to retreat if he felt he was being attacked. He needed to communicate that the fighting was over to assert self-defense. The defendant started the fight. Now he must suffer the consequences.
Now it was the defense attorney’s turn to make a closing argument. He started by observing that the prosecution had used the term “crazy girl friend” in her presentation. Was this not to influence the jury? Both parties had used alcohol. Nasty breakups often involve violence. In this case, Baker’s violence was justified because he had been attacked with a bottle. He force he used was reasonable because Baker had to defend himself. Remember, there is a presumption of innocence. The Brooklyn Park police officers intended to arrest Baker when they came to the house because the suspect was male.
Baker should only be convicted if found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Hartsfield lacks credibility. Did she drink? She denied it but then told officer Cudd that she drank. No, she was drinking. When asked about this, Cudd delayed for a few moments before answering, perhaps knowing it was a sensitive subject. Hartsfield admitted that she picked up the bottle in the kitchen. This explains why alcohol was poured on the floor.
Winifred’s daughter, Andrea, said she had left the house before sundown (in February) and the incident took place around 9 p.m. But she was only gone for a short time? She said that officer Cudd knew her mom but Cudd denied it. Cudd also did not know Andrea’s grandfather. Yes, Baker regretted the door slamming He had slurred speech and a southern accent. But why did the officers interview Baker as a possible
offender rather than Hartsfield? Why did they not consider the possibility of self-defense? While he was in jail, Baker had no way of knowing about Hartsfield’s injuries so that he would want to increase their number to be consistent with the visual evidence. There is no significance to his later using the term “jab” to describe how his face was injured.
The Brooklyn Park police made an error in not considering self-defense. The injuries on Baker’s arm were more consistent with having been bitten than falling on the ground. Detective Banks did say that Baker’s injuries looked like bite marks. There is no evidence other than Hartsfield’s testimony that anything happened in the bedroom.
Mr. Baker is claiming that Hartsfield struck him while he was sitting in the living room chair. She then picked up a bottle in the kitchen and jabbed him. With respect to whether or not a bottle is a dangerous weapon, remember physician Duyer’s testimony that a severe injury could happen. His testimony suggests that a bottle was not used to inflict injury upon Ms. Hartsfield. The injury is more consistent with her having been struck with a fist. The jury cannot find Baker guilty of assault in the second degree if no bottle was used.
Prosecutor Hilleren needs to disprove self-defense. Baker chose to take the witness stand when he did not have to do that. There is always gender prejudice when a male alleges self-defense against attack by a female. Yes, Baker used swear words, reinforcing gender stereotypes. Hartsfield admitted knocking off Baker’s glasses when she swung at him with a bottle. Striking her with fists were a reasonable use of force to prevent being hit by a bottle. That bottle was made of thick glass.
Ms. Hilleren, an articulate prosecutor, read the statement about “stand your ground” with respect to the self-defense argument. To deny this, she would have to prove that Baker started the fight in the bedroom, but she did no such thing. For 5th degree assault, the state needs to prove only that an assault took place.
In summary, the state has not proven its case.
The prosecutor was allowed rebuttal. The defense attorney wants the jury to believe there are inconsistencies in Ms. Hartsfield’s story with respect to whether or not she was drinking. This is what we in the trade call “using distraction”. Focus on the investigation rather than the evidence. Mr. Baker refused to be photographed or talk with the officers. He tries to suggest that the officers were biased. No, Baker is guilty as charged.
Now the judge handed out final instructions. The court would also give jurors copies of exhibits. They could not take transcripts into the jury room, however. If there are problems, address such questions to the judge who will then consult with the two attorneys. Asking questions about the law takes time, especially if the court is involved with other cases.
The jury needs to select a foreperson. It needs a unanimous verdict to convict Mr. Baker on any count. Don’t be reluctant to change your mind when confronted by evidence but do not be stampeded into doing that, either.
The court will give the jury six verdict forms - an innocent and a guilty form for each of the three counts. This is case 27 CR 15-5158. When a verdict is reached, the foreperson will fill out and sign the appropriate forms. The verdicts will later be read out loud in open court. The jury should not consider penalties when reaching its verdicts. Just see that justice is done. So ended the judge’s final instructions.
With that, the jury went into a room off the court room to begin deliberations. The court room was then locked. I could see Ricky Glenn Baker and his attorney, Mr. Connor, conferring for a few minutes before both took the elevator to the ground floor. I called Judge Fraser’s office to ask if there was any way I could know when the jury reached a decision. The only way was to hang around the court room, I was told. I might have done this had I not needed to get my car out of the Impound lot as soon as possible. so I decided to go home by bus.
Down in the lobby of the Government Center, I spotted Ricky Glenn Baker Sr. walking by himself. I said “good luck” to him near the escalator and he thanked me. I later spotted him near a counter to buy coffee and thought of engaging him in conversation about the trial but then thought that would be too pushy. Baker had his own issues to deal with then.
A number of people might have been suspicious of me, a rejected juror, hanging around for the entire trial. Yes, I did have an agenda, which was to write as complete an account of the juror experience as fate would allow me.
On the following day, Friday, I called Judge Fraser’s office to ask if the jury had reached a verdict in this case. Yes, it had on the previous afternoon. The jury found Ricky Glenn Baker innocent of 2nd degree assault but guilty of the two lesser charges, 3rd degree assault and 5th degree assault. This is much as I had imagined the outcome would be when three separate charges are brought for the same offense. Mr. Connor’s suspicions of possible “horse trading” may well have applied to this case. But I will never know since I was not privy to the jury deliberations.
Jade, Judge Fraser’s clerk, said that Baker’s sentencing would take place on Friday, September 25, 2015, at 9:00 a.m.
It is presumed that people hate jury duty because it messes up successful people’s schedules. For instance, in the same week that I was summoned to jury duty in Minneapolis, Donald Trump, the GOP front runner for President, was summoned to serve on a jury in Manhattan. (Maybe there is a conspiracy here.) So was former U.S. President George W. Bush summoned to jury duty on this week. But I was not displeased to receive the summons because I have taken an interest in the legal process ever since being mauled in Family Court four years ago. I wanted a peek behind the jury scene. Even if I did not actually serve on a jury, the time off from other pursuits would allow me to catch up on my reading.
If someone who is summoned does not want to serve on a jury, I can share a formula with you. A tenant of mine, a young African American woman with three children, told me that she was put on five jury panels but rejected from all of them. Her secret? When asked about her attitudes, she simply said that she was uncomfortable with being asked to judge court cases since God alone should judge. Attorneys do not like to hear this sort of thing. Naturally she was given the boot in the jury-selection process. So much the better for her knitting if she was into that pastime.
Now for the business at hand. Unlike other experiences with the law, I have no criticisms whatsoever with the judges, attorneys, or other legal professionals whom I encountered during my few days of jury duty or witnessing trials. They were all courteous, competent, and professional so far as I could tell. However, I do have a few criticisms of the process as an outsider who paid close attention to what was happening.
First let me say that the Hennepin County judicial system is too cheap when it comes to jury service. Jurors are paid $10.00 a day - it used to be $30.00 a day - plus 27 cents a mile for transportation but they have to pay for downtown parking and their own meals. I loved the coffee on Monday morning in the jury room, but nothing was available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Fridays. Could not the courts cough up some money for coffee on those days as well? It should not make too much of a dent in their budget.
I would also question the use of manpower. I was summoned for two weeks of jury duty but was dismissed after two days. Were the estimates of manpower requirements that far off? If people are required to change their vacation schedules in August to fulfill their civic duty, one would think that the planners would make a greater effort to match juror availability with need.
The same is true of impaneling juries. I was twice called to serve on the first jury assembled in the morning. Twice I did not serve. On the first day, five prospective jurors including me were called up to the court room but sat in the visitor’s section, not even being questioned. Additionally, four others were booted from the jury after being questioned. By my count, that left seven persons who actually served on this jury. Why the court did not try to seat some of us five extras to replace the booted jurors is a mystery to me.
On the second day, twenty four persons were sent up to the court room as prospective jurors. The jury itself would consist of twelve jurors plus an alternate. Was such redundancy necessary? Two of the twenty-four prospects initially sat in the visitor’s section. One was seated as an alternate juror when others were booted. But that left nine people, including myself, who had to leave the jury when the attorneys made their selection of who should leave. I can see no good reason why one or two extras would not be suitable for a jury of twelve. From a selfish perspective, my time would have been better served being left in the jury room where I could read my book if the odds were against my serving.
The most serious objection I have with the process of jury selection is that it taints the outcome of the trial. Jurors are supposed to be representative of the people in a community but attorneys are allowed to pick jurors to be removed. There is probably an art or science to finding jurors favorably disposed to an attorney’s case. But does that process not tilt the jury to vote in a certain way? From the standpoint of justice, I can see no good reason why attorneys should be allowed to unseat jurors at all except for one or two obviously crazy persons, perhaps.
Seated jurors should represent a random sample of the community, not the outcome of an artfully devised unseating process. The composition of juries should not depend on the skill of individual attorneys in sensing juror attitudes if we want justice to be fair and impartial. It’s as if we allowed the Democratic or Republican parties each to disqualify a certain number of voters based upon how they would likely cast their votes in an election.
My gut feeling is that attorneys disqualify jurors who are too close to the subject of the trial. They may also disqualify persons who have an inquiring or independent spirit. That leaves persons ignorant of what is being discussed who are more susceptible to being persuaded by oratorical tricks. Is justice served by this process? Not exactly.
Speaking of oratorical tricks, I have already commented upon how the defense attorney might have put a burden on jurors to adopt certain attitudes in their decision making if they made public statements saying that they could disregard prejudices of one sort or another.
The prosecution also used an oratorical trick in using three or four examples of something in quick succession while raising her voice so that the argument would stick in jurors’ minds. I first became aware of this tendency in the murder trial of Jermaine Stansberry when the prosecuting attorney referred again and again to the “throwing motion” by which Stansberry allegedly transferred the murder weapon to a place near another suspect fifty feet away. Juries can be persuaded by repetition and tone of voice especially if they have weak opinions about the subject matter.
I also believe that the practice of bringing two or three charges for the same offense helps to increase the rate of conviction. The defense attorney referred to the danger of “horse trading” within the jury room to vote for one charge if another would be dropped. If a juror is undecided whether to convict a defendant, it might ease his sense of guilt in voting to convict the person on a lesser charge while finding him innocent on a more serious charge. I saw that dynamic at play in the murder trial of Anthony Foresta. He, too, was acquitted on the most serious charge but convicted of two lesser charges. No, the vote should be either guilty or not guilty on a single charge if it applies to a single offense.
The case of state of Minnesota vs. Ricky Glenn Baker, Sr. was a difficult one to decide because it was basically his word against hers. Yet, the jury had to reach a decision and, hopefully, be home by supper time.
to: legalchallenges back to: home page
Click for a translation into:
French - Spanish - German - Portuguese - Italian
COPYRIGHT 2015 THISTLEROSE PUBLICATIONS -
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED