The Hemy Neuman murder trial will go to the jury this week, and reporters covering the trial will have to brace themselves. This is the part of the trial where anxious and perhaps inexperienced newsroom personnel will ask them unanswerable questions regarding the verdict and the coverage thereof. Fortunately, nobody in my newsroom will ask these questions. They know better. But as a public service, let me spare the rest of you the embarrassment by answering the unanswerable right now.
How long do you think the jury will deliberate? This question gets asked with greater frequency the longer the deliberations take place. In the Neuman trial, the facts of the crime are undisputed. The question is whether Hemy Neuman was legally insane. It’s easy to expect a quick verdict in this case, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The jury will have three options: Guilty, not guilty by reason of insanity — or, a compromise: Guilty but insane. This may muddle the deliberations for hours or even days.
On the other hand, they could reach a verdict within minutes. The answer to this unanswerable question: Nobody knows. Quit asking.
What do you think the verdict will be? This isn’t a completely silly question. It’s fair game, if you’ve got time to kill and wish to speculate. After covering the murder trials of Melvin Ramsey and David Walker in DeKalb County in 2002, I thought a verdict of “guilty” was a slam dunk. The jury completely fooled me, and acquitted the men charged with killing Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown.
So the question is speculative and largely irrelevant, but you can ask. Go ahead.
Will the attorneys talk to us after the verdict? Probably. It’s almost guaranteed that whichever side wins the case will talk to the news media afterward, probably in a cluster on the courthouse steps about 45 minutes after the verdict is returned. In this case, both the prosecution and defense are staffed by experienced, media-savvy adults. They’ll talk. They’ll even take turns.
Will members of the jury talk to us after the verdict? This is the most intriguing question of the day, and it’s unanswerable until the jurors are actually asked. The media cannot approach jurors prior to the conclusion of the trial, so there’s no way to know until after they’re dismissed.
Sometimes, savvy judges will give jurors a heads-up that the media would like to talk with them after a trial. Sometimes, those jurors willing to discuss the evidence and their deliberations will, with the blessing of the judge, appear in the courtroom after the trial is over and take questions in front of the pool camera that’s set up in the courtroom. This is the most civilized approach. But it usually requires the help of a media-savvy judge who knows that the alternative is for his jurors to get chased out of the courthouse by a gaggle of cameras.
Some jurors want to put the trial behind them immediately once they reach a verdict, and clam up. Others view an encounter with the news media as somewhat cleansing (really), where they get to vent publicly about this-or-that piece of evidence or witness. Juror comments are almost always the most enlightening postgame analyses of trials.
That said, call the judge’s office if you want. You can hear the answer first hand.