Aug. 13, 2013
LEBANON, Ind. (WDRB) – The folks at the courthouse in Boone County, Ind. have a daily ritual.
It happens sometime around 8:45 a.m., a few minutes before court is gaveled into session. I've seen it happen twice now. Both times I was getting ready to empty my pockets of anything metallic before going through the metal detector and signing out a media pass, when suddenly, sheriff's deputies told me and others waiting in line to stop what we were doing and back up against the far wall.
There's no panic or commotion, but their demeanor has changed. The tone of their voices is different – they're not joking with you about the weather anymore. They're tense. They're whispering quietly on their radios. And that clerk who's walking up the steps to drop off some documents? A polite but stern warning from a deputy tells him he's going to have to wait.
A few moments pass, and then, bizarrely, everything is back to normal. They relax. A deputy motions for the line to resume – and manages to crack a joke.
It's a little strange until you realize what just happened: David Camm was just brought into the courtroom.
We don't even see it happen. He doesn't pass by us: he's brought in through a back door. But that doesn't give the security staff at the Boone County courthouse metal detectors any cause to relax. David Camm was, after all, an Indiana State Police trooper. He is accused of murdering his wife and two children. And he was a trained marksman on the ISP's Emergency Rescue Team.
Court was gaveled into session at 9:06 a.m.
"This isn't fun."
That was the exasperated statement made by one nervous prospective juror as she was being questioned by attorneys Tuesday afternoon. And you can't blame her, really. I wrote a little about the jury selection process yesterday, but I'd like to give you a clearer idea about what these guys and gals have to go through before they're assigned to this case, or rejected.
For the past couple of days (and presumably on Wednesday and Thursday), a group of about 20-30 prospective jurors are assembled and ushered into the courtroom first thing in the morning. A smiling Judge Jonathan Dartt gives them a brief pep talk about what it means to be a juror, swears them in, and then has them ushered back out of the courtroom.
For the rest of the day, each member of that group is brought in one at a time and interviewed individually.
Now imagine you're one of those prospective jurors (or 'PJs,' as they've become known in my notes). You're brought into an enormous courtroom filled with complete strangers, and seated in a chair in the center of the room. Towering above you is a pleasant but imposing judge. On your right are two attorneys and a man accused of murdering three people. On your left are two prosecutors. Behind you are about half a dozen folks from newspapers, local television stations and network crime shows, jotting down your every word.
Now imagine that the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys start asking you questions about your life. About your finances. Health problems and transfusions you have to receive. That messy divorce you were involved in. The spouse you turned in for shoplifting. The time you were a victim of a bank robbery and had to testify against the suspect. The shotgun wedding. Your family vacation. (All of which have come up in the past couple of days, usually in an attempt to identify juror biases and determine whether at six-10 week trial would be too much of a hardship for these individuals.)
The questions unexpectedly brought one PJ to tears.
By the way: that accused murderer we told you about? The one sitting a few feet away from you? Do you think he did it? Is he guilty? How guilty? Why would you think that? Oh, you don't think he's guilty? But you would think he's guilty if you had the evidence, right? You wouldn't have a problem finding him guilty, would you? Why would you have a problem finding him guilty?
Be truthful. I mean, he's only sitting right here.
It's not that the questions are unfair or overly intrusive. And both the judge and attorneys are extremely gracious, sensitive and apologetic about the questions they have to ask. And make no mistake about it: they have to ask them. But you can't help feeling sorry for the folks sitting "in the hotseat," as an apologetic Judge Dartt calls it.
More prospective jurors were interviewed today. Here are some of the ones that stood out:
Prospective Juror #36: Female. Divorced, with five children and currently living with a partner. She tells Boone County Prosecutor Todd Meyer that she knows of the two prior convictions in the David Camm case.
She said, "My biggest question would be, 'How did that happen twice in two trials?'"
"That will be a question that will remain unanswered," Meyer said.
When defense attorney Stacy Uliana probes her about what she knows about the past cases, #36 replies, "I just thought it was the wife who was deceased – I didn't know about the two children."
Just then, a child can be heard screaming outside the courtroom in the hallway, where juvenile court is also taking place.
"That's not my kid!" #36 volunteers. The court laughs.
Prospective Juror #61: A perky young woman with long blonde hair. She's a single Mom living with her boyfriend who works at a dental office. She says she has a vacation planned for October and admits, "I'd be disappointed to miss my vacation, obviously," but says it would be "pretty exciting" to be on the jury.
"I kind of want to," she said.
When she's told that she'll survive the first round of cuts, she smiles and says, "Yay!" And she wasn't being sarcastic.
Prospective Juror #62: By my reckoning, he was the most striking of the day. An elderly man with gray hair and a bald spot, #62 served in Vietnam. He's also worked at racetracks and serves at an institute for higher learning that focuses on engineering. When he's escorted into the courtroom, the judge apologizes for the long wait.
"I've been in the military," he replied. "I've been down that road."
He denies having any opinion on the case, but admits that he did see an article on the investigation last week. What can he remember from it? He recalls that there was "another gentleman" arrested in the case, and that his name is "Mr. Boney" (pronounced "BAH-nee"). He knows David Camm was with the ISP. He knows he left the police force three months before the crime was committed. And he knows that several witnesses put him at a basketball court at the time of the murders.
He doesn't want to serve on the jury.
"If I had my preference, I would prefer not to," he said. "But I understand my civic duty."
He claims he doesn't have an opinion on the case, but after some questioning by the defense, he does admit that his conscience is weighted slightly toward believing Camm is guilty – but he doesn't begrudge Camm this third trial.
"I don't believe it's wasting our time if the Court of Appeals says he's entitled to a third trial," he said.
He adds that, regardless of what the next jury finds, "ultimately, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will judge the defendant."
Over time, #62 admits that he is biased against Camm. He wants to give Camm a fair trial, but he can't shake the nagging suspicion that he's guilty. When asked if he thinks this is the right jury for him to sit on, he replies, "Probably not."
But just as he's ushered out of the courtroom, #62 does something no other prospective juror has done. He deliberately steps out from in front of the deputy, and walks right in front of Camm -- to the man he believes is likely responsible for the deaths of a woman and two children. Then he does something else no other prospective juror has done.
He speaks to him.
"I wish you all the best," #62 said to David Camm.
"Thank you," Camm replied.
They are the first words I have heard Camm say in the courtroom.
Travis K. Kircher is a Web Producer for WDRB.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.