September 26, 2008 was a busy day for Dr. Glen Alden. On a short break from his physician's duties at St. Joseph's Hospital, he drove his 2008 Chrysler 300 to the Kroger grocery store on Ogeechee Road, to pick up a gift card as a refund for spoiled crab legs purchased by his wife a few days earlier. According to Dr. Alden, he (or maybe his wife) called the store and spoke to a Kroger manager, who said there was no need to bring in the damaged product, or the receipt.
An hour later, Dr. Alden stopped by the Kroger near Savannah Mall to pick up a gift card in exchange some crab legs his wife had purchased there the previous weekend. The crab turned out to be spoiled.
And an hour after that, Dr. Alden stopped by the Kroger on Mall Boulevard, to pick up one more gift card, in compensation for a purchase of spoiled crab legs.
Too bad for Dr. Alden, those folks at Kroger smelled something fishy about his crab legs story. After being alerted by the Savannah Mall store manager, the staff at the Mall Boulevard store stalled the Crab Legs Gift Card Bandit until the police came.
Dr. Alden never bought any crab legs. He's not affiliated with St. Joseph's.
The Chrysler 300? He stole it, in August, from Dallas Dodge in Texas. He's not a doctor. And, his real name is Glen Alden Painter.
Painter is not an attorney, either, although he represented himself in his fraud trial last Tuesday in Chatham County Superior Court. I was on the jury.
Compared to most weeks, my schedule last week included several "can't miss" activities. A family funeral on Monday and its aftermath consumed time, attention, and emotional energy.
When my juror number came up for Tuesday, mandating an 8:15 a.m. arrival at the courthouse, I wasn't looking forward to jury service. I was willing to do it, but was hoping that I wouldn't be chosen for a trial. I figured that a better way to spend the day would include time with my half-sister the day after her mother's funeral, or finalizing the syllabus for a class I'm leading.
Then, in her friendly-yet-no-nonsense manner, Jury Coordinator Jane Hodge reminded the 200 or so potential jurors that a right to a jury trial was included in the Constitution. She noted that most countries only guarantee a right to a trial by a magistrate, and that along with our right to a jury comes the responsibility of serving on a jury when asked.
Good point, Mrs. Hodge.
As we were divided into potential juror groups, handed juror numbers, lined up numerically and escorted into a courtroom, I realized that I was afraid. I rarely miss a chance to watch a Law and Order rerun, but the possibility of sitting on the jury of a murder trial or a shooting woke me to the serious nature of what I was being asked to do.
What a relief to learn, during the juror quizzing session known as voir dire, that our case didn't involve direct harm or physical intimidation toward anyone.
And, once Painter began his attempt at lawyering, it dawned on me that our real life Law and Order episode was turning into a skit from Saturday Night Live.
At least twice Painter emphatically pushed lines of detailed questioning that resulted in his making points for the prosecution. Once it took Painter so long to rummage through the evidence files for a particular document that Judge Perry Brannen sent our jury on a break.
I almost laughed out loud when Painter revealed that he was on probation at the time of his arrest, while trying to discredit a police officer's testimony during cross examination.
There were other TV-style elements to the day. A stolen wallet found in the stolen car disappeared from the evidence. The Dallas car salesman who testified about Painter's theft of the Chrysler was a casting director's idea of a Texan-a big guy with a big belly, in pressed jeans and carrying a black hat.
After all the testimony and closing arguments, it took us 38 minutes to convict on two felony and two misdemeanor charges. It would have taken even less time, but one juror (one of two attorneys in our group) brought up several good questions for closer examination.
In light of his multiple felony convictions, Painter received a ten year sentence for possessing the stolen car, along with three shorter concurrent sentences for the other charges. Painter asked for a lawyer to help him with his appeal.
I have no qualms with the outcome of my day as a juror. But, in Saturday's edition of the daily newspaper, I read that in a local murder trial last week, the shooter received a three year sentence after charges were reduced to involuntary manslaughter.
I thought about those two cases on Saturday night. Then I turned on the tube, just in time for Law and Order.