On Friday morning last week, I wrote a blog about the odd goings-on during the jury deliberations at John Edwards’ criminal trial, specifically about the four alternate jurors and their demeanor in the courtroom.
The working title was “A Gaggle of Giggling Alternates.”
For several days, I had been paying close attention to the interaction between one particular female alternate juror and the defendant. She had been nodding — in apparent agreement — during the closing arguments of Edwards’ attorney, Abbe Lowell.
I saw her look directly at Edwards, flashing a broad friendly smile as she and the other alternates were led out of the main jury box, past the defense table to the other side of the courtroom. I thought that was something worth watching. And I did watch — closely.
As the week of deliberations went on, she and her three fellow alternates became something of a side-show for the courtroom crowd. They giggled during their brief appearances in the courtroom. Late in the week, they started dressing in matching colors, first yellow, then red. Their antics were suddenly the talk of the courtroom.
The woman exchanged smiles with Edwards regularly over several days. She’s the only juror, alternate or otherwise, who makes consistent eye contact with the defendant. She has to turn her head to see him, so this was not happening by accident.
As Edwards sat quietly at the defense table, he had returned her smiles, politely, and at times held her gaze for a few seconds before she turned away. On the day she wore yellow, she looked at him long enough that I saw Edwards blushing.
It was then, only after observing this for several days, that I decided it was worth writing about. But in the last couple of paragraphs of the blog I wrote I used a word that I shouldn’t have to describe her behavior. Flirtation.
Naturally that became the headline and the story went zooming around the web at lightning speed. And, as often happens when a story is widely disseminate, it was misconstrued in some cases to suggest that it was Edwards who initiated the exchanges.
After some time to think about it and after talking with my colleagues and others who have witnessed nearly every moment of these proceedings, I came to realize that I had inappropriately jumped to a conclusion that the alternate juror was flirting, or attempting to flirt with Edwards. Maybe she was, maybe she is, but I didn’t then and don’t now have enough information to make that judgment.
Don’t get me wrong. The clowning around by the alternate jurors, the giggling and smiling had become a significant distraction, and it was all happening in full view of the main panel of jurors, who appear weary and somber as they work through the very serious task of determining their verdicts — upon which Edwards’ future depends. On Tuesday, after two closed-door sessions to discuss jury matters, the alternates as a group appeared much more sedate.
This alternate juror could simply be a friendly person. She could be trying to send Edwards a message about what she thinks about the case, or she could be going stir crazy after being locked in a room with three others for several days, unable to talk about the evidence they heard over four weeks of testimony.
She has most certainly gone out of her way to look at Edwards, to smile at him, but I should not have assigned her a motive.
It was not a deliberate mistake, but I think it’s just best now to man-up and admit an error.