Jewish World Review April 1, 2004 / 11 Nissan, 5764
One angry Tyco juror does not make twelve angry men
The now-famous Juror No. 4 in the Tyco case in New York has made headlines
for her steadfast refusal to convict on any count, bringing to mind the
inspirational character of Henry Fonda in "Twelve Angry Men" a lone
citizen standing firm against 11 often-hostile jurors with only logic and
principle on his side. The holdout juror is nothing short of an American
In the end, however, the Tyco juror is more likely to challenge than uphold
this romantic image: Her antics reveal the real vulnerability of the jury
system to the will and whim of a single juror.
Suddenly, a single juror deliberating in a case of alleged corporate
corruption has become the object of public debate. Her character and her
willingness to yield after press pummeling is water-cooler fodder. She has
been labeled "Ms. Mistrial" and a "batty blueblood" by the New York Post.
The New York Times told the world that the concierge where she lives says
that she tips badly and didn't give a Christmas bonus.
All of this is the inverse of "Twelve Angry Men," in which jurors were
defined only by their jury numbers. It is not until the final scene that we
actually learn the name of Juror 8 (Davis), played by Fonda, or that of his
ally, Juror 9 (McCardle). They then disappear into the streets rejoining
society as individuals. The film captured the ideal of service; the yielding
of one's personal bias and interests and even identity to achieve a higher
That Tyco Juror No. 4 can no longer uphold the ideal of anonymous service is hardly her fault. However, in other ways, No. 4 has proved on her own to be half the measure of No. 8. She has shown the same courage to hold out, but she appears to share few of the Fonda character's other traits. He scrupulously sought dialogue among his fellow jurors and avoided dogmatic opposition. In the Tyco case, one alternate juror has complained that No. 4 was overtly biased toward the defense from the start, nodding in approval of defense arguments and arguing with her fellow jurors during the trial. Other jurors complained that she refused to even discuss guilt. It is hard to imagine the Fonda character giving either side the OK sign during the trial but that's what Juror No. 4 is alleged to have signaled to the defense at one point.
The fact is that in the nearly 8,000 instances of hung juries each year in
this country, single holdouts are often not inspired but irrational; not
catalysts of justice but obstacles to it. In a Texas case, murderer Marcus
Cotton was spared by a single holdout juror in his first trial despite
overwhelming evidence that he killed a young Texas prosecutor, Gil Epstein.
Cotton was fingered by his accomplice and other witnesses, including a
security guard who saw Cotton shoot Epstein in the parking lot of a Jewish
Community Center in 1996. Cotton confessed to the killing to a friend. Yet a
single juror refused to even consider his guilt. According to the other
jurors, he was insulting, swore in deliberations and insisted that Jews were
rich enough to fund CrimeStoppers to solve crimes. It took a second jury
less than an hour to convict Cotton.
If the heroic ideal in "Twelve Angry Men" often fails to exactly match
typical holdout jurors, the movie did succeed in capturing other elements of
the type. Classic holdouts tend to be not so much self-obsessed as extremely
self-confident. They are often professionals or entrepreneurs, sole business
The Fonda character fitted this mold; he was a self-assured architect. Juror
Number 4 in the Tyco trial is similar: She is a retired lawyer and former
schoolteacher. In one recent grand larceny case in New York City, a jury
deadlocked 11-1: The holdout was Wall Street Journal reporter Danielle Reed.
Reed also possessed the same confidence that allowed her to withstand what
she described as intense pressures to conform.
The fact that Juror No. 4 was an attorney raises some serious concerns about
her approach to the deliberations. In some states, lawyers are wisely barred
from service on juries. The reason is obvious. A lawyer on a jury can unduly
influence the other members of the panel. Conversely, when a jury is not
impressed with the conclusions of a lawyer in its midst, there is a high
risk of confrontation and obstruction.
New York once banned lawyers but did away with such occupational exemptions
in 1995. This case may prove the folly of that reform.
It is, of course, possible that Juror No. 4 will prove to be a modern Fonda
character, a heroic figure brought to life, but I doubt it. Ultimately, she
may prove more like Juror No. 10 (the Ed Begley character) in "Twelve Angry
Men," not just thoroughly boorish but hopelessly biased.
What is clear is that a mistrial should have been declared when the jury impasse became a public controversy over the role of a single identified juror. Rather than the triumph of the American jury system found in "Twelve Angry Men," the Tyco trial shows its ultimate trivialization.
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03/23/04: When choice becomes tyranny