Yesterday, closing arguments were held in the criminal trial of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The trial, which took significantly less time than the attorneys had originally projected that it would, ended without the former coach testifying, a move that was certainly risky, but likely necessary due to several prior statements by Sandusky that were bizarre, if not downright incriminating.
In a high profile case like Sandusky’s the Judge and lawyers worry about the risk of taint from outside sources — people not involved in the trial, family members of the jurors, and media reports among them. In an effort to minimize the chance that one of those sources would interfere with the deliberations, judges may order that a jury be sequestered and, indeed, Judge John M. Cleland ordered just that in the Sandusky case.
The word, the use of which arose in the 14th Century, derives from the Latin sequestrare, meaning ‘to place in safe keeping’ and is related to sequi which means ‘to follow’ (and is the root of our English word ‘sequel.’) The judge is literally placing the jury in a safe place where they can deliberate in peace and not be influenced by outside sources or information. The classic example of the need for sequestration comes from the legendary legal movie “12 Angry Men” in which one of the jurors, played by Henry Fonda, goes to the neighborhood where the crime was committed, buys a knife identical to the murder weapon and then brings it into jury deliberations.
Generally, a sequestered jury is given reasonable accommodations at a local hotel and their meals are provided. They are allowed some contact with family but instructed not to discuss the case. Jury deliberations don’t tend to go on for more than a few days or a week and so the sequestration is self-limiting. One of the longest jury sequestrations in history occurred in the criminal trial of O.J. Simpson.
Though some states have mandatory sequestration provisions in certain kinds of cases, most leave the decision on whether or not to sequester the jury up to the judge in each individual case.
I had decided last week to use this week’s Case Study column to cover the topic of jury sequestration but have intentionally shortened that column in order to leave some space to say goodbye.
Last Friday the criminal justice community in Delaware County was rocked by the death of Delaware County Sheriff’s Detective Dan Otto. It wasn’t just the surprise and shock of how he died that brought tears to so many, but the way he led his life and the way he completed his duties.
I had the pleasure of working with Detective Otto on several cases in the three and a half years that I worked as an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney. He quickly demonstrated that he was not only a highly qualified and determined investigator but also that he cared personally about the victims in his cases and about the way in which law enforcement work was carried out. As an assistant prosecutor, I came to know that in his cases no stone would go unturned, no piece of evidence unexamined, no witness uninterviewed. His work with the Delaware County Coalition of Victim Services was extensive.
As this newspaper is hitting your doorsteps, much of the law enforcement community will be gathering at Genoa Baptist Church to say goodbye. Indeed, law enforcement officers will be coming from around Ohio and around the country. Officers from the California Highway Patrol, who responded to the accident that claimed his life, are flying in to attend the service.
Media reports stated that he was thrown from the vehicle he was riding in because he was not wearing his seat belt. I have absolutely no doubt that he died the way he lived — protecting those around him — and that he had only taken his seat belt off to try to get to the front of the vehicle and bring it under control to save the lives of family members and other motorists.
I will miss his hard work finding the truth in investigations. I will miss his efforts on behalf of those who have been the victims of crime. On a very personal and selfish level, though, I will miss his playful sense of humor and the chance conversations that we had. My walk to and from work takes me past the Sheriff’s administrative offices and I frequently ran into Dan in the parking lot behind the building. We’re roughly the same age and his son, whom he loved dearly, is about the same age as my daughter. I will sorely miss our conversations about work, life, family, and our solutions to all the world’s problems.
Dan’s obituary concluded with lyrics from Vince Gill, and I can think of no better farewell message; “Go rest high on that Mountain Son, your work on Earth is done, Go to heaven shouting Before the Father and the Son.”