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EAST CHICAGO | Six former jurors shared thoughts on their experiences in the criminal court system during a Constitution Day program in the East Chicago court building.

The Wednesday event was co-hosted by the Women Lawyers Association “to better understand what jurors think about the process,” association president Melissa Cohen said.

As part of the program, the past jurors shared their trial and tribulations with about 75 attorneys gathered in the courtroom of Lake Superior Court Judge Calvin Hawkins.

“We don’t know what’s happening in (the jury room),” Cohen noted. “Today, that veil is going to be dropped.”

Hawkins led a discussion on a range of topics focusing on the jurors’ perspectives of the trial process.

Panelist Gregory Rodriguez, of East Chicago, said he served as jury foreman on a trial for which the defendant was found guilty on two charges and not guilty on two others. He said jury members entered their deliberations with different ideas about whether the case had been proven by the prosecution.

“I could tell right away there was a divide,” he said.

Rodriguez said the jury had issues with the way police handled the incident, and some jurors came in pro-defendant and others pro-law enforcement.

“Either we’re going to be there for months … or we had to come to some understanding,” Rodriguez said.

He said it took the jury about six hours to arrive at its verdict. Jurors backgrounds and life experiences impact their approach, he said, and some jurors can be “very, very stubborn.”

Hawkins wondered about what jurors might conclude when defendants choose not to testify.

Former juror Jamie Gill, of St. John, said the defendant in her case chose not to testify.

“I was disappointed about that,” she said.

Gill said she would have liked to have heard his perspective.

“When you find someone guilty, you’re affecting them for the rest of their lives,” Rodriguez said.

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Local News Editor

Marc Chase is a veteran investigative reporter, columnist and editor of more than two decades. He currently leads The Times news staff as local news editor. He can be reached at 219-933-3327.