Summer thunderstorms blackened the sky outside of the Atlanta courthouse. The thunder and driving rain were a stark contrast to the quiet hall in which Paol Joonter was found pacing back and forth. The defendant, his wife, and attorney were all speechless as they waited for the second day of deliberations to finish. He looked at his watch. It now said 4:38 PM, just four minutes past the last time he glanced. He turned on his heels and began pacing the opposite direction. As his anxiety level was increasing, his lawyer looked more and more comfortable.
“I’m telling you, Paol,” the lawyer broke the tense silence with a cool voice, “the longer this jury hashes it over, the more likely they are to acquit.”
“Or hang,” sighed Paol as he stopped to face the man who had given it his all to help his cause. “And then, we’d just have to start all over again. Warron, I don’t think I can go through this again.”
“Even if they hang, Paol, it gives us great confidence. Then we know that we can inject doubt into jury members. If we can do it once, we can do it better the next time around, because it buys us more time to create an even better case.”
“Warron,” Paol broke a faint smile onto his pale face. “I’m sure glad you’re here. Thanks for believing in me. It’s just that this is torture, waiting around to hear the verdict.”
They heard footsteps rapidly approaching down the hall. As a lady in a gray skirt and white blouse turned the corner hurriedly, she looked at the lawyer and panted.
“Warron,” she gulped for more air. “They’re ready.”
“Thanks, Monay,” responded the lawyer. “Please inform the clerk that we’ll be present in two minutes.”
She vanished down the hall as quickly as she arrived, echoes of footsteps trailing off quickly.
“If the worst happens, Paol… we’ll appeal, you know.” Warron assured confidently.
Paol did not return an answer. Instead, he faced his wife, grabbed her hand, and began the walk towards his fate.
The courtroom was empty, except for the district attorney, who was pacing in front of his table with his hands clasped behind his back, and the court clerk, looking through a stack of papers on her desk just beside the judge’s bench.
They took their seats and other court participants and spectators began to file in. Paol watched the jury enter intent on picking up body language that might indicate the decision which was reached. Warron was less interested in this technique, because he’d been wrong on these clues too many times—usually in his favor. In the end, Paol wasn’t sure what to make of any facial expressions or other body movements as each of the twelve jurors took their seat. He suspected that most were eager to finish up this ordeal and get back to their normal lives. He only hoped that they were going to afford him the same privilege.
“All rise. The honorable judge Walldar J. Etherton presiding.”
“You may be seated,” Etherton offered just before taking his seat. At Warron’s request, Paol always remained standing until the judge was comfortably seated in his own chair—a sign of respect for the authority who presided over Paol’s future. Warron noted that defendants typically received lighter sentences than might otherwise be the case, when his clients followed all of his courtroom instructions perfectly.
The judge looked over to the jury stand. “Ms. Foreperson, has the jury reached a verdict?”
A middle-aged woman dressed in a tan business suit stood and faced the judge. “We have, your Honor.”
“Will you please read your verdict to this court?” asked the judge.
“We will, your Honor,” she paused as she unfolded the verdict form she had filled out just moments before. “On count number one, we find the defendant, Paol R. Joonter… guilty of first degree murder against Rawson Becker. On count number two, we find the defendant, Paol R. Joonter… guilty of first degree murder against Shannyl Cox.”
Joonter bowed his head and stared at the table. While he managed to maintain his composure emotionally in spite of the quiet sobbing of his wife that word guilty echoed violently through his head. It was the last word he would hear before he was nudged by Warron.
“Mr. Joonter,” the judge addressed him. “Do you understand the verdict which have been given by this jury of your peers?”
Paol stood and faced the judge. He could not blame this man whose life service was in the performance of justice. In fact, he did not know who to blame for the failure in justice being delivered to him. “Yes, your Honor.”
“Ladies and gentlemen of the court, I thank you for your patience and service here in this courtroom. Jury members, I thank you and release you from the service of this court. My clerk will provide you with instructions upon your return to the jury office downstairs. This court is adjourned until a date for sentencing can be arranged.”
With that, the gavel came crashing down onto the judge’s desk, and the sharp noise made Paol flinch. With wide eyes, Paol watched the jury file out of the courtroom, but nobody returned his gaze. As the door closed behind the last juror, he knew that this day would be a tremendous turning point in his life and in the life of his family. However, even he could not begin to comprehend how tremendous that change would be.