Seth Cousins: I was a juror in Roger Stone's trial. We took his rights seriously. November 25, 2019
During the first half of November, I traveled a brief journey with 14 fellow Americans, all of them strangers to me. Together we were the 12 jurors (and two alternates) sitting in judgment of longtime political consultant Roger Stone. We sat through five days of testimony and half a day of closing arguments. After eight hours of deliberation, we returned guilty verdicts on each of the seven counts we were charged to consider.
Since we delivered that verdict, I have been taken aback by the accounts of pundits and politicians that our decision was somehow the product of a deeply polarized, partisan divide. Let me be clear: We did not convict Stone based on his political beliefs or his expression of those beliefs. We did not convict him of being intemperate or acting boorishly. We convicted him of obstructing a congressional investigation, of lying in five specific ways during his sworn congressional testimony and of tampering with a witness in that investigation.
Our jury was diverse in age, gender, race, ethnicity, income, education and occupation. I'm a 51-year-old white man from New England. My favorite person on the jury was an African American woman from Tennessee. Given that the trial took place in the District, the likelihood of having government employees in the jury pool was high, and indeed we had such individuals. Like jurors everywhere, none of us asked for this responsibility but each of us accepted it willingly. We served the proposition that everyone is entitled to a fair trial and that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
Interest in this case was high, and the court took special steps to prevent us from being harassed or improperly influenced. Each morning, we assembled at a building several blocks away and made our way to the parking garage, where federal marshals would load us into vans with tinted windows for the trip to court. On arrival, we moved through the building via a freight elevator and back corridors.
The evidence in this case was substantial and it was almost entirely uncontested. Stone's testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in September 2017 was a matter of record; both the prosecution and defense agreed on the facts. The real dispute was whether Stone had lied under oath and whether that mattered. Stone's attorney's defense can be summed up in to two words: So what?
Our unanimous conclusion was this: The truth matters. Telling the truth under oath matters. At a time when so much of our public discourse is based on deception or just lies, it is more important than ever that we still have places where the truth can be presented, examined and discerned. Congress is one of those places. That's what the case was about.
I believe I speak for my fellow jurors when I say we are proud of our decision. We listened carefully to the testimony of a series of witnesses and carefully examined every element of every charge and its defense and we unanimously agreed that each had been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. We came close to rejecting one charge that we believed was written ambiguously; our question was whether Stone had actually made a particular statement. In the end, we were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Stone had in fact made that statement. Almost half of our day-long deliberation was devoted to this single question.
After the trial was over, Judge Amy Berman Jackson came to the jury room to thank us for our service. This was the only time any of us had any contact with her outside of the courtroom. We talked as a group for several minutes. One of my fellow jurors expressed the following sentiment, which sums up my feelings and, I believe, those of my fellow jurors: I love America and this experience has made me love it even more. At the end of our jury service, the marshals drove us back to our meeting point one more time and the jury went out for lunch as a group.
I am proud of our democratic institutions; their value was reaffirmed for me because of the process that we went through and the respect we accorded it. I am proud that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. I am proud that we took Stone's rights seriously and that we treated the government's assertions skeptically. I am proud of my fellow jurors for respecting each other and for challenging each other until we were all convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.
At a time when Americans are increasingly distrustful of their institutions, I am thankful that our legal system affords a fair and open process by which one's peers critically examine the facts. To denigrate that process is undemocratic and dangerous. While I know not everyone will respect the outcomes that I played a part in, I also know that does not matter. What matters is the truth and the process for discovering it. What matters is the power held by a randomly selected group of citizens fulfilling a duty that goes back centuries.