With their eyes and heads held low, the jury walked in and somberly took their assigned seats. The majority of the female jurors starred downward with a blank expression upon their rigid faces. Three of the four male jurors gazed straight ahead. Just as Jones asked the jury foreman if the jury had reached a verdict, Cecil Smith arched his head in my direction and looked squarely at me, as if to let me know that I was getting what I deserved. I didn’t have to hear the jury’s verdict being read. I already knew what the outcome was going to be—just as I had known from day one of the trial.
“Mr. Sanders, would you please hand the papers to the bailiff, please?”
“Read the verdict, please,” requested Jones.
“Verdict Criminal, State of Oklahoma, Country of Pontotoc in District Court, the State of Oklahoma versus Dennis L. Fritz, Defendant, Case Number CRF-87-90. We the jury drawn, impaneled and sworn in the above entitled cause do upon our oaths find the defendant guilty of Murder in the First Degree. Signed, Wayne Sanders, Foreman.”
Though I had mentally prepared myself for a guilty verdict, I wasn’t prepared for the torrent of feelings that swept through me. I lowered my head and remained seated, feeling for the first time a sense of paralysis as I listened to the muffled sobs of Mom and Aunt Wilma behind me. The lights in the courtroom swirled and spun as I grew weak and numb with the reality that I had just been found guilty of a murder that I knew nothing about. I had no reserve of energy or passion left to stand and shout to the jury that they had made a terrible mistake. Instead, my thoughts shifted to more immediate questions: How would Elizabeth react after hearing this news, how would Mom and Aunt Wilma deal with this decision physically and emotionally, and finally, how would I face this same panel of strangers as they decided whether I lived or died? I didn’t look at Greg. I couldn’t.
Jones’s voice brought me back to the present. He read down through the roster of jurors and polled their verdicts one by one. Greg had said this would happen as a matter of procedure. No one faltered as they each stated their verdict: “Guilty.” “Guilty.” “Guilty....” Their words of finality pounded against my eardrums. — Page 294
Excerpt from "Journey Toward Justice" by Dennis Fritz
Copyright © 2006 by Seven Locks Press. Excerpted by permission of Seven Locks Press All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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