Saturday, December 6, 2008

Murder Trial Takes a Toll on Jurors

Dunn Daily Record

David Anderson, Jr.
Reporter for The Daily Record

Thursday, December 04, 2008

"This is something that no one should ever have to go through," Jenifer McLamb said after she, along with 11 other Sampson County citizens, sentenced Kenneth Mark Hartley to a life in prison.

Nearly seven weeks after the first jurors were picked, the 12 people pushed head first into an unbelievable tragedy can now get back to living normal lives. Being a critical part of a capital murder trial has left its mark on them, however.

"Everybody said it was a life-changing event when we first got in there," said another juror who asked to have his name withheld. "It made you wake up."

Mr. Hartley, 26, murdered his mother and his young brother before sexually molesting his 13-year-old sister and killing her in the family's home in Plain View on June 18, 2004. Jurors could have sentenced Mr. Hartley to death, but he will live out his life behind bars instead.

One juror said the trauma of seeing the victims' photos, coupled with the tug-of-war game prosecutors and defense attorneys played with his emotions was especially taxing.

"The defense, they're trying to make you cry. The state, they're trying to make you mad. You just have so many emotions going back and forth," he said. "Those first two weeks, they were real tough. That first night, I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. I kept waking up every night. It was tough."

Jurors said deciding that Mr. Hartley was guilty of his crimes was the easiest decision they made. During the first hour of deliberations, 11 of them had decided Mr. Hartley was guilty of first-degree murder, but one juror was pushing hard for innocence.

The first day, a Friday, only allowed them an hour to talk. When Judge D. Jack Hooks told the jurors to come back to court the next morning, the lone juror had changed his position.

"He put a little pressure on us when he told us to come in on that Saturday," said one juror who was originally set on a guilty verdict. "There was one guy that wanted him to be innocent. When we came back on Saturday, he said, "Let's get out of here.'"

Jurors agreed the most important testimony in the case came from Dr. Charles Vance, a psychiatrist at Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh. Dr. Vance testified at the request of prosecutors in the first stage of the trial. He told jurors Mr. Hartley knew what he was doing when he killed his family because he had a goal in mind and he made a plan to accomplish that goal.

"His final statement was so, pretty much damning," a juror said. "That's what did it."

During the sentencing phase of the trial, Dr. Vance came back to help defense attorneys save Mr. Hartley's life. Dr. Vance emphasized the fact that although Mr. Hartley should be held responsible for his crimes, there was no question that he was severely mentally ill.

"Dr. Vance was really our main person," Mrs. McLamb said. "It was just dramatic for all of us that he was able to testify for both sides. He had a lot of value to what he said."

Other witnesses may have done more harm than good, according to one of the jurors. Dr. Manish Fozdar, a neuropsychiatrist who testified that Mr. Hartley had no idea what he was doing when he killed his family, seemed like an arrogant "professional witness" to jurors, who were told Dr. Fozdar was being paid $400 an hour to testify on behalf of Mr. Hartley.

Another witness that had a big impact on jurors was Special Agent Shelia Quick of the SBI. Agent Quick conducted the initial interview with Mr. Hartley and transcribed his confession. Although she testified during the second day of the trial, she made an appearance in the courtroom nearly every day of the trial.

"She kind of hurt the state a little bit by coming here every day," a juror said. "It was like, how can the arresting officer be there every day after every day? Don't she have a job to do or something?"

Jurors carefully examined and reexamined evidence before making their decisions. During the trial, Mallie Tyndall, Mr. Hartley's maternal grandmother, testified her grandson had received a box of Huggies for a birthday gift when he was 7 - an embarrassing moment in the young man's life. When jurors took a closer look at the picture Ms. Tyndall offered to illustrate the story, they had some doubts about her testimony.

"In fact, it was not Huggies diapers, it was Huggies shoes. It clearly said sportswear on the box," Mrs. McLamb said. "That was something that kind of shocked us all."

Jurors, unable to speak to anyone about the trial during testimony, were finally able to relieve the tension of their emotions during deliberations. Mrs. McLamb said prayer was paramount to her wellbeing during the trial, as well as the decision-making process.

"It took a whole lot of prayer, and that was something that we did every time we went in to deliberate or when we went in for the penalty phase," she said.

One juror said participating in the trial opened his eyes to how important his family is. He asked himself, "Am I missing something in my life to make sure my son doesn't end up sitting over there?"

Every juror interviewed was glad the ordeal was over.

"I feel very sorry for the family," Mrs. McLamb said. "I'm glad that it's over and I hope that we gave them the justice that they were looking for."

Long Time Coming

District Attorney Dewey Hudson admitted it took the Sampson County Sheriff's Office less than a day to solve the brutal murder, but it was another four and a half years before the North Carolina Court System was able to convict Mr. Hartley.

"That something that's very embarrassing to me," Mr. Hudson said.

Mr. Hudson said laws passed over the last decade intended to protect the rights of defendants have gone too far and bogged down the court system. He said in this case, safeguards did more harm than good, dragging out a painful situation and preventing a broken family from healing.

"I think it's been cruel and unusual punishment for the victims' family," Mr. Hudson said.

Mr. Hudson said he was obligated to seek the death penalty in this case because of the brutality of the murders. If he hadn't, defense attorneys across the state would have been able to use it as an argument to exclude capital punishment from other, less severe murders.

"Seldom do you have a case where three people are murdered at one time by one person," Mr. Hudson said. "In fact, I've only had one other case like that in my 31 years."

"This is about as bad as bad gets," he added.

With an office strapped for resources - 18 prosecutors who handle everything from traffic tickets to capital murder trials in his four-county district, which includes nearly 300,000 people - Mr. Hudson said it's tough to plow through the thousands of pending felony cases his office deals with in a timely manner.

With Mr. Hartley's trial over, the district still has 54 pending first-degree murder cases awaiting trial.

While he is disappointed in the outcome of this case, Mr. Hudson said he wanted to let a jury decide Mr. Hartley's fate and they have spoken. While he hoped for a death sentence, Mr. Hudson doesn't think a life in prison is an easy way out.

"On death row he would have had his own private cell. Now he's going to be thrown among the general criminal population and I can assure you they're not going to care too much for him once they find out what he did to his entire family," Mr. Hudson said. "He might be happy right now, but when he gets to Central Prison ... I don't think he's going to be too happy with that."

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