When someone pops their head in the door and announces that there’s a verdict, everything changes.
You can kind of handle the trial, hearing details of your friend’s death that you didn’t know before and wondering if you have the right person on trial. There’s a lot to think about, a lot of emotion.
Even when the closing arguments are done and the judge is giving final instructions to the jury, you’re calm. You speculate about testimony, whether the arguments put forth by the defense will hold water. Whether the people on the jury will find some reasonable doubt.
But then, a bit over an hour later, you’re hustling to the elevator bay with the prosecutors, assistants and other members of your group. Your heart is pounding, your hands sweating. They hold off telling the family of the accused – they get one side situated in the courtroom first. They call in extra deputies. They secure the area.
You try to reassure each other – even if it doesn’t work out now there’s still Mark’s murder to prosecute.
Then you’re in the courtroom, sitting in the front row. I now know what writers mean when they describe feeling your heart pounding in your chest. When it feels like it might burst.
And in the moments before the jury comes in, while you’re waiting for everyone to file in and sit down, you have a chance to think. What do you pray for at this time? What words would be appropriate to use? What could I ask god for in this moment? And I couldn’t – I found I couldn’t wish the worst outcome of this trial on someone who right now is my worst enemy. I didn’t wish it on him, I didn’t want this. But it had to happen.
Then the jury files in, and maybe people experienced in court proceedings can read their faces, but I could not. They were quiet, solemn and serious. It was when they handed the verdict papers over to the judge that I realized I could see what their verdict was.
One piece of paper and the verdict was innocent. Two meant conviction – first degree murder and use of a gun in the crime. The judge looked them over, removed some sheets and handed two pieces of paper back to the jury.
Guilty. The jury foreman read the two verdicts. The defense requested that the jury be polled and each person affirmed the decision.
Afterwards, there’s not what I would call relief. Because nothing good happened here. Your body calms down, you contact friends and family. They contact you. It’s hard to figure out what to say, except that a very big thing finally happened. After three years, you know that a murderer is off the streets.
The next court date is August 5th, when Pena may be sentenced. He will likely appeal everything and anything, every step of the way. Because that is all he has left, for at least the next 45 years.