Kilpatrick Jurors: Race, Responsibility, and Doing it Right

Kilpatrick Jurors: Race, Responsibility, and Doing it Right

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Part II of a Fox 2 exclusive report by M. L. Elrick

DETROIT (WJBK) -- The Jurors in the Kilpatrick Incorporated trial knew that all eyes would be on them.  They were the most scrutinized, studied, and talked about group of people in Southeast Michigan.  They also knew the decision they would have to make was going to be studied and dissected and that three men's lives would hang in the balance.

TONYA: You were just constantly thinking about it no matter what was going on. Christmas you were thinking about it. Thanksgiving you were thinking about it. New Year's eve you were thinking about it.

JENNIFER: We were in the courtroom in our minds all the time

Thousands of jurors have passed through the Federal Courthouse in downtown Detroit. Few have faced the scrutiny and the pressure that awaited the people asked to sit in judgment of Kwame Kilpatrick.

MIKE RATAJ: If you live in southeastern Michigan within what you know a 5-iron of Detroit and you say you don't know anything about Kwame Kilpatrick I say you're lyin'.

Making the grade meant surviving withering questioning from a team of crack federal prosecutors and some of the best criminal defense attorneys in Detroit.

In the end, it took eight days to whittle a pool of nearly 100 people down to one of the most diverse juries this town has ever seen. Jennifer, Tonya, Shawn and Lisa not only passed muster, they won the admiration of the lawyers. 

JIM THOMAS: This is a very, very, consciences group and uh as you've seen it you know they're watching and listening and taking notes.

Looking back, the jurors now say that making the cut was the easy part.

ML: Did you guys feel that you were part of something bigger than the actual trial. Did you feel the burden of history on your shoulders? That his was going to be something that was going to be bigger than what was going on in the courtroom?

TONYA: We knew that this would be a part of history. You're talking about the mayor of Detroit... yeah, it was hard.

SHAWN: It took a lot out of us… physically draining, mentally draining. um, you know, families were arguing because you're trying to do your duty there, when you're supposed to be at home.

ML: Anybody every pump you for information? I assume that before long, people knew where you were in the morning. That it wasn't a big secret that you were on the Kilpatrick juror. (JURORS LAUGH)

LISA: Yes I was pumped for information. My family never bothered me about it. But my job constantly would say which way are you going? What are you thinking?

TONYA: You couldn't talk about it

JENNIFER: And that made it more difficult

TONYA: We couldn't talk amongst each other, we couldn't talk about it with our husbands, wives, friends, kids, you couldn't talk, you couldn't doodle it down. It just had to stay in your head, so you were consistently thinking about it.

With nearly a hundred witnesses to remember and a mountain of evidence to evaluate, no one was eager to lead the deliberations. The choice came down to Jennifer and one of the three men on the jury.

ML: Did you feel when you were elected foreperson like, hey, I won a prize. and the prize sucks.

JENNIFER: Yeah.

ML: Congratulations? What?

JENNIFER: There was no congratulations. I looked over at the other guy and he was like (wipes brow, laughs).

ML: Did anybody come in and say: You know what, I don't know what we just sat through six months for because this is baloney. Let's let these guys go.

JURORS: Oh, no, no. oh, no, no.

Still, they studied the evidence so meticulously it took 11 days to vote to convict Kilpatrick and Ferguson of racketeering, bribery and extortion.

TONYA: For us, I think that was the hardest days of our lives, no matter what, when all is said and done, these men are possibly going to spend the rest of their lives in jail…we had to make sure for us and for them that we had to get it right

JENNIFER: We even said a prayer for the defendants in the jury room. We took this extremely seriously

ML: There's no question the people who worked in this jury box felt tremendous strain, and stress, but for some, after the verdict, they found there was more pressure waiting for them away from the courthouse.

ML: How have people reacted to the verdict? What did you hear from people?

TONYA: I had some people say that it was as though the black people were intimidated. The white people were racist. My comment is the court was open, so the same conclusion that I came to, you possibly could have come to that conclusion had you shown up

LISA: I feel that when it comes to black people we feel that we, because I'm partly black, we should stick together at all costs. This just wasn't the time for it.

TONYA: I was even told, 'you're black. How could you convict a black man?' (she continues) My race has nothing to do with my verdict.

ML: It sounds like some people think it should have affected your verdict.

TONYA;  Yea. a lot of people did.

ML: How does that make you feel?

TONYA: I'm going to say this as clear as possible. It doesn't make me feel any way. because I sleep well every night. Every night, in bed with my husband. So if you're spending time thinking, I'm black so I should have voted for the black man, you have a problem.

ML: That could flip around. You're white, so maybe you were out to get him. Did you ever hear that from people? Did anyone reach out to you that way?

TONYA: No I've never heard that at all.

ML: Any white folks come up to you and say, right on, way to put him in his place?

TONYA: No.

ML: So you heard more about race (to Jennifer) than you did? (to Tonya).

JENNIFER: I never heard anything at all. Does that surprise anyone?

LISA: No it doesn't.

JENNIFER: It had nothing to do with race, it had nothing to do with personal feelings

TONYA: I think that the Kilpatrick jury is probably the best jury in the history of juries. We were diverse. When we had to debate an issue back and forth, that's what we did, and we still left out as a family, and we love each other. Genuinely.

ML: Would you guys do this again?

TONYA: In a heartbeat.

LISA: Absolutely.

JENNIFER: Yeah, I would do it again.

SHAWN: No.

TONYA: You wouldn't meet me again?

SHAWN: Yeah. with these guys.

TONYA: I can truly say that the justice system does work, if it's allowed to work.

Click here to view part I of this three part report, in which the jurors explain what is was like to sit in judgment of the former mayor of Detroit.  Part three debut's in Thursday night's 10:00 p.m newscast and will be posted to this site at the same time.

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