This is something every editor has heard at least once, if not a hundred times, from the courthouse reporter. It comes as a call or a text:
The case has gone to the jury.
This time, though, the editor is on the jury. In fact, he’s the jury foreman.
In the concluding episode of the AJC’s podcast, “Breakdown: A Jury of His Peers,” AJC Editor Kevin Riley takes you inside the courtroom and then inside the jury room as he and 11 strangers deliberate the fate of an Atlanta man charged in a double murder.
Riley, joined on the podcast by AJC legal affairs writer Bill Rankin, talks about the tensions that simmer in a stuffy jury room at the height of an Atlanta summer. (The air-conditioning at the Fulton County courthouse wasn’t working well, of course.)
It’s clear in that room that no single piece of evidence or testimony affirms the guilt or innocence of defendant Nicholas Benton, who is charged in the killings of Reginald Coicou and Quincy “Fat” Wytche. (That’s Coicou’s mother, Florell Jean-Pierre, addressing the court in the video above.) Cellphone records provided compelling support for the prosecution’s case. But the lack of physical evidence (the murder weapon and getaway car were never found, and police recovered no fingerprints or DNA linking the crime to Benton) argued for the defense.
There’s nothing like the moment when the jury comes back. The entire courtroom, especially the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney, look for nonverbal cues from the jurors: guilty or not?
In an interview with Riley after the trial, his fellow juror Sangita Patel said she was watching the prosecutor just before Riley read the verdict to the court.
“She was praying,” Patel said. “Literally she was praying. Her lips were moving and her eyes were closed.”
Assistant District Attorney Cara Convery says that’s exactly right: “I always say a little prayer just to like calm myself,” she says. “And I’m not necessarily praying for a guilty verdict. I’m just praying that you all do the right thing.”
But the moment before the verdict is revealed is nerve-wracking, she said. “Your mind is just a scrambled egg. … You just feel like you’re going to faint, honestly. And maybe that’s just me. But before every verdict I feel like I’m going to faint.”
Episode 5, “The Verdict,” will go live early Monday morning. You can listen to it on Apple podcasts, Stitcher or your favorite podcast app. Or stream it from the AJC, right here, right now.
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