The word ‘jury’ has been derived from ‘jurer’ that means ‘to swear.’ A jury is so called because it is comprised of sworn judges. A trial jury, also called a petit jury, from ‘petit’ meaning ‘small’ in French, is notably distinguished from the grand jury whose primary objective is to investigate if sufficient evidence exists to bring someone to trial. The trial jury, on the contrary, hears the evidence presented both by the petitioner and the respondent or defendant. After hearing the evidence and after deliberations, the jury considers the verdict which may be in the form of ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty.’ Depending upon the gravity and severity of the case, the size of the jury may vary. Conventionally, it is 12, but it is 15 jurors in Scotland which is considered the largest in the world. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the case of Williams vs. Florida, 399 U.S.78 (1970), that a jury of 6 was sufficient, and that the 12-man panel is not a necessary ingredient of a trial by jury.
1. The O. J. Simpson Jury Trial
The O. J. Simpson jury trial is officially known as People of the State of California vs. Orenthal James Simpson. O. J. Simpson, the former football celebrity and actor, was tried for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman on the still disputed date of June 12, 1994. It was called the Trial of the Century. The 12-member jury was comprised of a cross-section of society and was composed of 8 black jurors, 2 Hispanics, 1 half-Caucasian half-Native American, and 1 Caucasian female. The trial spanned 133 days and cost $15 million. Margaret Thatcher and the Russian president took interest in the trial. Simpson appeared on the covers of Life and Newsweek. When asked, ‘How do you Plead?’ on July 22, 1994, Simpson replied ‘Absolutely, one hundred percent not guilty, Your Honor.’ After deliberations of three hours, the jury gave the verdict ‘We the jury in the above-entitled action find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty of the crime of murder.’
2. The Trial of Socrates
The trial of Socrates is the earliest and the most discussed jury trial in recorded history. In 399 B.C., Socrates was charged with disregarding the then prevalent gods and goddesses and polluting the minds of the youth. The grand jury was comprised of 500 citizens from society. The available two accounts of defense, Apology, came from his two pupils Plato and Xenophon. In the verdict, 360 jurors voted for death while 140 voted for a fine. The 70-year-old renowned philosopher, Socrates, was ultimately put to death by drinking a cup of poisonous hemlock drink. The verdict is debated even until today.
3. Trial of Galileo Galilei
In 1633 Galileo Galilei was tried for supporting the Copernican theory that the Sun was the center of the universe and the Earth orbited around it once a year. It was taken contrary to the teachings of Scriptures and the Church. Galilei was admonished for his views when summoned by Lord Cardinal Bellarmine under the directions of the Pope. Galilei was hopeful that with the replacement of Pope Paul V by the new Pope Urban VIII, things would go in his favor which was not the case. He was tried and dressed in a white shirt of penitence on June 22, 1633 and was given the verdict comprised of 17 paragraphs: ‘Whereas you, Galileo, the son of the late Vincenzo Galilei, Florentine, aged 70 years, were in the year 1615 denounced to this Holy Office for holding as true the false doctrine’¦’ According to Niccolini, Galileo was ‘extremely downcast over his punishment.’
4. The Salem Witch Trials
The Salem Witch Trials are perhaps the darkest trials in the history of justice. They were conducted from June to September, 1692. Confessions were extracted from innocent people just on the testimony of the stated afflicted girls. Governor Phips set up a court called Court of Oyer and Terminer, under Chief Justice William Stoughton. Five judges convicted 19 men and women on the charges of witchcraft. They were hanged in Gallow Hill which was a barren slope near the Salem village. When he refused to submit to the trial, an old man over 80 years of age was crushed to death under heavy stones. Hundreds faced accusations, and hundreds were jailed without trial.
5. The Nuremberg Trial
The Nuremberg Trial is known for the indictments for crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity as in the case of the Holocaust. The military tribunal was opened on October 20, 1945. The Soviet judge Nikitchenko presided at its first session. The prosecution was against 24 major war criminals and 7 organizations including: Nazi party, the Reich Cabinet, the Schutzstaffel (SS), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung (SA), and the General Staff and High Command.’ Martin Borman, secretary of the Nazi Party, Karl Donitz, leader of the Kriegsmarine, Hans Frank, Reich Law Leader were sentenced to death. Karl Donitz, leader of the Kriegsmarine, was awarded ten years’ imprisonment.
6. The Trial of Joan of Arc
The trial of Joan of Arc, also known as the Maid of Orleans, was in France. She claimed to have had divine guidance and led the French Army during the 100 Years War which caused the coronation of Charles VII of France. The Burgundians made her a prisoner and sold her to the English. The Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon, put her on trial for the charges of unorthodoxy and insubordination. She was burnt at the stake at the young age of 19 years. Pope Callixtus III authorized a reinvestigation 25 years after her execution. The Inquisition Court declared her innocent and a martyr. She is one of the patron saints of France.
7. Trial of Zacarias Moussaoui
Following the 9/11 attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui was formally accused of having committed 6 crimes including: terrorism, aircraft piracy, aircraft destruction, destruction of property, use of weapons of mass destruction, and murder of U.S. employees. He was indicted for his role in the attack killing thousands of innocent people in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Moussaoui admitted his involvement with Al-Qaeda but denied involvement in 9/11. On May 3, 2006, the foreman, the head of the 12-member jury, reached the verdict that ‘Moussaoui be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.’ Moussaoui was sentenced to six, consecutive, life terms.
8. The Dingo Trial
On August 17, 1980, a mother was heard crying ‘My God, my God, the dingo’s got my baby!” The event occurred at a campsite in the vicinity of Australia’s famous Ayer’s Rock. Whereas many were shaken by the heart-wrenching distress call of the mother, there were others who considered the cry as a fabrication to cover the crime of murder. A 12-member jury comprised of 9 men and 3 women reached the verdict that ‘The mother, Lindsay Chamberlain, had murdered her ten-week-old daughter Azaria’ and was imprisoned. Three years later, while she was in prison, Azaria’s blood-stained jacket was found in a dingo’s den, and the mother was found innocent.
9. Melamine Case Trial
Melamine is a chemical which was illegally used by the Chinese Dairy Industry to give an allusion of high protein in milk and related dairy products. The toxic substance caused the death of 6 children, and also caused kidney stones and other diseases in more than 300,000 children. All of the Chinese dairy products had to be recalled from international market shelves. The Intermediate People’s Court in Shijiazhuang sentenced Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinpin to death. Tia Wenhua, the former chairwoman of the largest Chinese dairy concern, Sanlu Group, was sentenced to life imprisonment.
10. La Bestia Trial
Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos, known as ‘La Bestia,’ ‘the Beast,’ was born in Genova, Quindo, Columbia. He is considered the worst serial killer. He was captured on April 22, 1999 and admitted raping and murdering 140 children. He was sentenced to the maximum of 30 years’ imprisonment that was permissible under Columbian law. Even that was reduced to 22 years on account of his cooperating with the law enforcement agencies.
The majority required for a verdict differs, depending upon the nature and magnitude of the case. Verdicts in some cases must be unanimous, while it may be a majority or large majority in other cases. The verdict of a jury trial is considered the ultimate justice done, but it may not be always the case. It may prove wrong as in the case of the dingo trial, or the sentence may be too insufficient to render justice as in the case of La Bestia.