Jury Duty

I’ve just finished a week of jury duty, and now that it’s over, I can talk about it.  The case and proceedings are in the public record.

Jury duty is one of those things – I didn’t really want to do it because like everyone else, I’m busy.  And right now in particular, I’m a contractor, so when I’m not working, I’m not getting paid.  Furthermore, the county courthouse is over an hour from my house, each way.  But I’ve never served on a jury before and was interested in the process.

I should have known right away that I was going to get selected. My juror number was the first number required to even show up on that day.  Then once there, there was the usual snafus that happen only when I’m involved – we had to wait outside for 30 minutes to enter the building, and it was 15 degrees outside.  Once inside, we discovered the computers were down, the copiers were broken, there was problem after problem with the courthouse’s normal procedures, causing us to wait further.  Finally around 3:30 we were called into the courtroom, and of course I was called first to the jury box.

Through the counsels’ questioning of the jury, we learned that the case would be a sexual assault case and would take a minimum of 5 days.  Great I thought, I’ll get out of this given I’m pregnant (emotionally unpredictable, right?), a contractor (undue hardship on me), and in college I used to volunteer for a rape victim’s support group.  After all, no means no.  Period.  No exceptions, none whatsoever.  Turns out I was the only female on the jury that wasn’t dismissed by counsel, and one of the few people that wasn’t dismissed.  What did I say right?

In this case, we had to determine whether Larry Flippo had sexually assaulted this young woman, Dawn.  Here’s the quick background:  They meet on a phone-dating line; she lives in Denver, has 2 children under the age of 2, has no car, no money, is married but separated, and is 21 years old.  He lives in Greeley and is 30.  They spend a few weeks having phone sex.  He invites her up for a week-long “vacation” – she accepts under the pretense that it’s only as friends, since it would be the first time they met.  Given she doesn’t have a car, she has a friend drive her, her two children, and a week’s worth of clothes up to Larry’s house in Greeley.  Her friend actually recruits a cousin to do the driving since they are short on gas money.  They drop Dawn, her children, and stuff off in Greeley and head home to Denver.  Dawn has no money, has no car, doesn’t know where she is in Greeley, doesn’t know where ANYTHING is in Greeley.  This story is already fraught with bad decisions on Dawn’s part, but that doesn’t change the fact that No means No, right?

Apparently, Larry gets frisky with her right off the bat.  He grabs her ass, she moves out of the way.  He invites some friends over for dinner, and they witness him being inappropriate with her and her mildly rebuking him.  Things like rubbing her shoulders, and she scoots over out of his reach.  He tries to untie her shoes, she doesn’t let him.  He sticks his head up her skirt, she pushes him off.  His friends tell him to back off, that he’s freaking her out, and he doesn’t.  He kicks them out of the house, claiming they are interfering with his ‘relationship’.  At some point in the evening when Dawn’s 18 month old son is sitting at the table eating dinner, Larry begins to masturbate in the chair right next to him, outside of his pants, by rubbing himself.  Dawn says nothing, but does call her son to her and just averts her eyes.  If that were me, I’d run.  She remains, but does call her friend to see if she can’t return to Greeley to pick her up.

At this point in the story I should mention that Larry is mentally retarded.  He is developmentally disabled, in addition to having a frontal lobe injury from a premature birth, and has the mental capacity of a 12-13 year old.  He has been living on his own for the last 4 months for the first time in his whole life – prior to that he was living in institutions or with his mother.  I should also mention here that Larry has been married, twice, both times to women with developmental disabilities.  He’s not totally clueless about sex and relationships.  Larry has also written love letters to Dawn at this point, saying that he wants to be with her, that he loves her, he wants to hold her.  He even draws her pictures of little hearts and helicopters.  I read these letters, they aren’t the letters of a man just seeking to get some, they are from a young boy who is trying to express a feeling of love.

Anyway, the night progresses and Dawn somehow, stupidly, finds herself in Larry’s bedroom, with her daughter asleep in a car seat on the floor and her son asleep at the foot of the bed.  Larry begins to masturbate again, Dawn ignores him, not wanting to wake the children, hoping her friend will be there soon.  At some point, Larry pushes her down on to the bed and holds her arms with one hand.  He tears at her panties and bra, then proceeds to violate her.  She claims her first concern is not waking her sleeping children – which I buy.  What is not clear is how much protesting she did here.  It is physically impossible for him to effectively hold her down the way he was if she was struggling hard.  She admitted not using her legs to push him off.  So it’s clear she didn’t put up much of a physical fight, but how much verbal protesting did she do?  I’m still not clear.

So here’s my question to you.  If there are 2 backpacks on the ground and you take one without permission, is that stealing?  Yes, right?  But what happens if you thought the backpack was yours?  Then no, it was a simple mistake, right?  My point here is the law is very clear on intention – your mental state.  If you intend to steal the backpack, then it’s stealing.  If you accidentally took it, its not stealing.  Same with sexual assault in Colorado’s eyes.  Sexual assault in Colorado (18-3-402) is a crime when:

Any actor who knowingly:

  • causes submission
  • by means of consequence
  • against a persons will

So what this means is that Larry had to be aware that he was doing something against her will, that he was causing her to submit, by means of consequence (threats, intimidation, fear, whatever).  Given his diminished mental capabilities, how aware was he?  Given he had a couple of weeks of phone sex with her, given she lead him to believe she might have sex with him, given his love letters to her, given her lack of effective communication and struggle, given he has the mental capacity of a 12 year old – did he knowingly cause her to submit?

The law also states that the jury has to be unanimous on its decision.  And that we are to find him not guilty unless we are sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he is guilty.

It took us, the jury 7 hours of deliberation, up to about 7:30pm on Friday night.  It’s not clear how long we would have stayed there had we not come to a decision.  For most of the deliberation, the jury was split 10/2 guilty/not guilty.  I was one of the 2.  Its not that I thought he was innocent.  I just had reasonable doubt that he knew what he was doing.  The guy is mentally retarded.  And he has a frontal lobe injury, making it difficult for him to process messages, especially in a heightened state.  I’m not saying a guy like this should be allowed to walk the streets if he can’t process a “NO” when he hears one.  I’m just saying I had a small doubt that he was deliberately forcing himself on her.

I ended up voting guilty.  Why did I vote guilty when I had reasonable doubt?  There is one thing in my head that didn’t add up.  Larry is ‘highly suggestible’ given his mental disability.  He confessed to the rape to the police, but in a way that suggested he was being ‘agreeable’.  He answered yes to almost every question he was asked.  He apologized for things.  I think he was just being agreeable as he knew he was in trouble.  Just like a child would.  But if he was so agreeable, and Dawn was saying NO all night long, and Larry thought he loved her, then one would think he would be extra-agreeable to Dawn.  He would want to do everything he could to please her, including heeding her sparce “NO’s”.  But since he clearly ignored every clue thrown at him, it lends me to believe he knew what he was doing.

The sick part is that either vote is yukky.  Larry now goes to prison.  And I don’t think the mentally retarded belong in prison.  But not-guilty would allow him to walk the streets – which I also don’t think is the right option for him.  If he can’t understand a basic NO, he shouldn’t be able to operate unsupervised in society.  I can only hope that the courts give him an appropriate sentencing.

This case was not as cut and dry as one would think a sexual assault case might be.  We had a retarded man’s life in our hands.  I can only hope we did the right thing…

15 thoughts on “Jury Duty

  1. Ben Stucki

    Throughout this article it is abundantly apparent and plainly stated that you have reasonable doubts as to this man's guilt as defined by law. After briefly meeting you, your strait forward honesty is something I truly respect, but I'm concerned that your peers insistence allowed you to vote against your own will in this case – and because of a reasonable doubt as to his innocence. Regardless of where this man belongs or how his sentencing is handled, that's what concerns me the most. That's not how I want the judicial system to work.

    Regardless, I understand that the burden of being a juror is hard, and especially so in cases like this.

    Like

    1. I struggled with it too Ben. It’s actually why it took so long to come to a conclusion. In my head it came down to this – how do I quantify a reasonable doubt? I was about 80% sure I thought he was guilty with all the evidence. After I factor in his ‘agreeability’ argument which wasn’t totally holding water, I was closer to 90% sure. Is 10% a “reasonable” doubt? No clue. But having 10 other jurors that felt VERY strongly about a guilty verdict, and given that a hung jury would result in a mistrial, which would result in the case being heard again, with no additional evidence, I felt that 10% was not justifiable in this instance.

      Its one of the reasons it was so sickening. You think these things will be cut and dry, and truth is that nothing is cut and dry when a man’s life is in your hands.

      Like

      1. Jo Stack

        Nicole, this comment/reply is overdue. I want to commend you on your perception
        of the case and my son Larry. Do you have experience working with the Developmentally Disabled?? In my opinion, your article/blog was very accurate
        with the exception of two things. 1) your interpretation of Larry's suggestibility
        2) a hung jury would result in a mistrial, but the case wouldn't have been heard
        again. He was 40 minutes away from freedom, never to live on his own again!!
        I'm extremely grateful for your understanding yet regretful you didn't hold strong
        as to "reasonable doubt." Believe me, I do understand what it is like to stand alone. It is my
        understanding, one juror was going out of the country on Saturday and the
        Alternate juror was leaving town on Monday so with this dilemma, it appears
        the jury rushed to answer the 7pm deadline for a verdict?? As a Mother, I described
        it as a "stay of execution" in the reverse. The fatal phone call. Sincerely, Jo Stack

        Like

    2. Jo Stack

      Just curious, are you an attorney, legal experience? If not, I appreciate your understanding of "reasonable doubt?" Getting down to the basics, Larry wasn't convicted by a jury of his peers, because a jury of his peers wouldn't be able to
      comprehend the jury process!! Both trials, much room for reasonable doubt, both
      juries,(with the exception of Nicole) naive, oblivious, and gullible. I feel in general,
      with a charge of sexual assault, people tend to side with the female. (unfortunately)

      Like

      1. Hi Jo, I'm not an attorney. I just followed the judge's instructions to the letter. But I do think that "jury of peers" does mean the average person. any one of the jury members could be developmentally disabled, and that would be legit. It doesn't mean that all of the people on the jury have to be developmentally disabled.

        Like

      2. Larry's Mother

        Nicole, my mistake, the attorney question was for Ben Stucki. I appreciate your
        reply. I realize I'm very absolute on the "jury of his peers" statement. Definition
        of peer= one of the same rank or ability. Key word "ability." Larry isn't the
        average person. To my knowledge there wasn't a DD juror?? Even so, I still feel one DD juror wouldn't make it right?? The judicial system doesn't have provisions for the DD society. (it should) Bottom line, I'm very OCD on this subject and protective of the DD society. Proof, I'm writing this on Easter Sunday. It doesn't take away from my appreciation of your understanding of the case. Happy Easter to you and your family. Sincerely, Jo Stack

        Like

  2. Charlie

    Wow, that is a hard one. I got called for jury duty recently too, but was not selected.

    I find myself agreeing with your reasoning and your decision though.

    Like

  3. Dan

    This man was released in January of 2010 and now lives 2 blocks from my house. I know this becuase he is a registered Sexually Violent Predator (SVP). I have a 2 year old son at home, what am I supposed to think about this? If he’s dangerous enough that we need to label him an SVP and monitor him for 10 years, then WHY IS HE ON THE STREETS! If he served his time, he served his time, but I really question how this guy is free if he is not capable of making good decisions. I would have had a hard time with this case if I was on the jury as well. It would be hard for me not to place some of the blame on Dawn, who showed terrible judgement in bringing her children into a stranger’s house. If there’s any justice those kids are in a better home.

    Like

    1. It WAS hard to not assign some blame to Dawn – but we had to separate out those feelings. She made numerous stupid decisions, and she might not be the smartest person on the block, but it doesn't mean she deserves what she got.

      I don't know if this makes you feel any better, but he didn't seem like a violent predator to me. I don't think he wasn't PREYING on Dawn. I think he just wasn't thinking and didn't fully understand what was going on. So just keep your son away from him and I think you're fine.

      I also know this doesn't make you feel any better, but I'm happy to hear he got out. He did serve his time. I hope he gets help and doesn't live on his own any more.

      Like

      1. Dan

        No, Dawn doesn't deserve what happened to her, nobody deserves that. I really struggle wtih what to do with these people. Seems you either have to let them go an not slap a SVP tag on them, or keep them in jail longer. I am not convinced that in general SVPs can be rehabilitated. I don't know if he is living alone or not, he's renting a house, but I don't know who else lives there.

        I know we can't just ban these people from living in certain places, but I intend on looking into what the law is in Westminster about an SVP being able to be in a park or near a school. Those places should be off limits, period. What's to prevent this guy from misinterpreting another situation and doing the same thing?

        Like

      2. Larry's mother

        Part 3 Added to this was the Probation Dept. (in my opinion) made it impossible
        for Larry to find a SOMB approved therapist to serve him. (outpatient) which then
        put him in violation of probation.(thru no fault of his) Larry was more then willing
        to attend therapy and any other treatment helpful to him. Did you attend the
        SVP Notification Requirement meeting?? If so, did anyone explain to you the
        circumstances of Larry's case/conviction?? or simply that a SVP was living in
        your neighborhood? Again, I do understand your position and those of
        the neighbors. Everyone is frightened and justly so without TRUE KNOWLEDGE
        OF THE CIRMCUMSTANCES. Cont'd

        Like

      3. Larry's mother

        Part 4 It's unfortunate, there appears to be only black or white and no gray area.
        When I read a sex offender notification in my local newspaper, my concern
        is with pedofiles. I don't feel threatened by a 28 yr old that had sex with a 16 yr
        old, though this is against the law. You ask, "why is he on the streets?"
        It is his constitutional right to be on the streets. You figure, but this is another
        subject, one that I've been fighting for 38 yrs. See my reply to Nicole

        Like

      4. Larry's Mother

        Please correct Part 4, Larry's Mother to read: I don't feel threatened by a 28yr
        old that had CONSENSUAL sex with a 16 yr old, though it is against the law.

        Like

    2. Larry's mother

      Dan, I understand your feelings having a 2yr old son and notification of a SVP living
      in the neighborhood. You said it best "label him an SVP" THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT
      IT IS, a label. Larry isn't a sexual predator and would pose NO THREAT to the
      neighbors. An assesment is done by a SOMB approved therapist (chosen by the
      Probation Dept) and a standard Colorado Sex Offender Form is completed by
      a very bias Probation Dept. Boxes checked off by said Probation Dept and if these
      checked off boxes fall in the range of a SVP, you are labeled an SVP. Cont'd

      Like

  4. Larry's mother

    Part 2 so I ask myself, I wonder just how many people are labeled SVP that don't really
    deserve this label. Regarding Larry's living arrangements, he was in a home with constant supervision, never allowed out by himself, never to be left alone at anytime. He
    would never be allowed near children/schools etc… This is far better than prision as
    he has all ready served 8 l/2 yrs. Because of the SVP NOTIFICATION REQUIREMENT/
    LABEL and neighbors petition, this made it impossible for him to live there. Cont'd

    Like

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