Join the jury and see the world's darkness.

On any given week, a dozen men and women in state courts in Crown Point and Valparaiso or federal courts in Hammond view gruesome photos and listen to harrowing victims testimony before deciding whether to convict a criminal defendant maintaining their innocence.

There are plenty of other things for jurors to complain about, too: the interruption of their lives, puzzling evidence that raises more questions than answers, uninviting food and a paycheck for jury service that is slender and slow in coming.

Nevertheless, Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper said, "I've been talking to jurors for more than 30 years now and almost without exception jurors are happy to have had the opportunity to serve and found it to be a fascinating experience.

"Everybody else coming into the courtroom wanting something. Lawyers want this or that verdict. The jurors are the only ones who are givers. They come from different walks of life, different parts of the county and they find a way to work as a team with six to 13 strangers," Harper said.

Lake Criminal Court Judge Clarence Murry said some want to avoid service because they would rather not live with the idea of having convicted someone of a heinous crime resulting in serious prison time.

"I explain to them that its the judge, not the jury who punishes. All we want them to do is decide whether or not they are guilty," he said.

A few jurors have had second thoughts after finding someone guilty and going home. Murray said, "They may say they were pressured by their fellow jurors, but we don't go behind the verdict unless there is real misconduct."

He said the blood and guts of a homicide's forensic evidence "just rips people apart," but even more troubling are the child molestation cases.

"A lot of jurors see a child come in and tell this horrible story and they immediately feel like somebody needs to be punished for this. But they really scrutinize these cases to make certain they don't make a bad call," Murray said.

Being called to serve

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There are more than 2,000 trials a year in Indiana, according to the Indiana Supreme Court website. State courts draw names from state tax and vehicle registration rolls. The U.S. District of Northern Indiana uses voter registration lists.

Martin Goldman, Lake County court administrator, said his office sends an average of 250 jury summons a week, more than 90 percent appear for service and about one in four can expect to be seated in the jury box. He said the length of service is now one day or one trial.

"This morning we summoned jurors for a case, in which a guilty plea was accepted, so those were all excused and their term of service was complete. If it had gone to trial and 14 people seated, once they complete their trial, then their term of service is completed.

Two decades ago, prospective jurors could expect to be called to the courthouse every Monday for six weeks and could volunteer for an additional six weeks.

Thomas Vanes, a former deputy prosecutor, former town judge and veteran defense attorney, recalled, "You had jurors who had consistently been on two or three trials. They tended to be hard bitten. Generally juror feedback was positive and if you had jurors re-enlisting, the experience couldn't have been too bad."

Goldman said, "We used to get that complaint all the time they were very upset their names were being spoken in court in front of a defendant. It just made them uncomfortable. Now they are assigned a number and the attorneys are instructed to use those numbers and not the names."

Vanes said jurors were once sequestered in a motel when they couldn't reach a verdict in one day. "They would run up some fairly serious hotel bills. They are a now little more loose these days about letting jurors go home during deliberations.

"There is no rhyme or reason to the lengthy of deliberation. There was a murder trial a few years back that was hung 9 to 3 for acquittal and then they had a retrial and it was guilty in five minutes. Same evidence, same lawyers. We tell clients going to trial is a gamble," Vanes said.

Judge Harper said jurors now have the advantage of submitting written questions after a witness has testified, but many of those questions remain unasked because other, better placed witness will later address that issue or the question comes from research on the internet.

"What the jury makes its determination on is what they see and hear in the courtroom, not something on the internet the lawyers cannot verify or cross examine he information. Generally, jurors get it. If they had trouble, it's because the lawyers didn't do their job well enough feeding them information and giving them a path to follow," she said.

The U.S. Courts federal website features post trial comments from some jurors. One concludes, "Being in a courtroom, for what may be the first time, can be a bit intimidating. But as long as you know and believe in your sense of right and wrong, then it is your right to be there. It is your right, and your duty as a citizen, to serve and help the justice system."

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Lake County Reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.