My Legal Cameo:
Why We Convicted
Behind Scenes as Juror
In Movie Star's Case
May 7, 2008; Page A1
I was a juror in the Uma Thurman trial.
For the past week and a half, I've sat in a courtroom in Manhattan, playing a walk-on role in a drama that transfixed New York. It's the story of Jack Jordan, the man who had been harassing the actress on and off for two years or so. At one point he lived in his car, which was parked near her New York City home.
Was Mr. Jordan simply a lovestruck fan with an odd sense of humor and no sense of boundaries, as the defense argued? Or was he a threat who should face jail time?
|Court officers secure a perimeter for actress Uma Thurman's arrival to Manhattan criminal court on Thursday.|
Tuesday around lunchtime, my fellow 11 jurors and I -- including two lawyers, a former editor for the TV show "Wife Swap" and a rock-show caterer -- convicted him on one count of stalking and one count of aggravated harassment. We acquitted on two aggravated-harassment counts. Mr. Jordan faces up to a year in prison.
Getting there took us about seven hours of deliberation, spread over two days, starting Monday afternoon. Our debate centered on a surprisingly complex question: Where is the line between obsession and menace?
Monday night, the characters in the trial seeped into my dreams. I was talking with Ms. Thurman, although -- as is the case with dreams -- I can't recall precisely what we were discussing. Walking down the street, in my dream, I saw Mr. Jordan stroll by.
Tuesday morning, when we reconvened, a couple of my fellow jurors said they woke up sick to their stomachs. Another burst into the room saying he'd seen the drawings sketched by the court artists, and that they'd done a good job depicting us.
We worked at a table scattered with Entenmann's donuts, Sun Chips and baked Cheetos. And red Twizzlers, which I brought.
When we had first assembled in the early days of the trial, which started a week ago Monday, I knew only a little bit about my fellow jurors. All of us had gone through the usual jury-selection process, in which we described our jobs, our neighborhoods and other personal details. We were New Yorkers, the people I sit next to on the subway and pass on the sidewalk.
By Thursday, the day Ms. Thurman testified, we began chatting about our jobs, our lives. But we couldn't talk about the case itself.
That changed Monday afternoon, after closing arguments, when we started deliberating after a lunch of sandwiches, Diet Cokes and orange juice from a nearby deli.
It began with awkward silence -- it was tough to know even where to begin. We focused on the first charge, stalking in the fourth degree.
To find Mr. Jordan guilty, the prosecution had to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that from May 1, 2005, to Aug. 17, 2007, Mr. Jordan intentionally engaged in behavior that a reasonable person should have known would threaten or frighten her.
Mr. Jordan had started contacting members of the Thurman family back in 2004. But we jurors generally agreed Ms. Thurman probably wasn't even aware of him until the next year.
That's because, on Nov. 8, 2005, he showed up on the set of "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," a movie she was filming in New York at the time, and hand-delivered a package of letters and other objects to her trailer. This action went right to the heart of the legal question: Was there a "legitimate purpose" for him to do this, other than to "hound" or scare her?
The package of stuff he had delivered was creepy, we agreed. There was a pastel card with a picture of a child praying on the front. There also was a letter professing his love for her, with nearly half the words crossed out; some of the remaining words were sexual in nature: "mouth," "kissing" and "my hands should be on your body at all times."
|Jack Jordan exits Manhattan criminal court during a recess in the trial.|
There was a sketch of a stick figure walking along the edge of a razor blade, toward an open grave. And a photo of a bride with her head cut off. Mr. Jordan also included his expired California driver's license.
This package generated one of the aggravated-harassment charges. That has a different legal standard than stalking. The judge told us we had to decide whether the package was intended to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm her.
We read through all of the package's contents again. We still couldn't agree.
The woman who worked as a rock-show caterer said the card was disturbing, and that Mr. Jordan was a smart, manipulative man who knew what he was doing. He had graduated with a degree in English literature from the University of Chicago. By marking out some words, she said, he indicated that he knew what he was sending was inappropriate.
A juror who works as a statistician compared the situation to writing emails to a woman at work: If I did that, he said -- even if I hoped it would make her like me -- it would be inappropriate and get me fired.
I didn't agree it was Mr. Jordan's intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm Ms. Thurman with that card. Sitting a few seats away from Mr. Jordan as he testified in his own defense, I saw him as a lovesick individual who was trying to prove himself to her with these cards and objects, which he described as artworks.
A very bad idea, but was it criminal?
One juror, who works at an art school in Brooklyn, brought up an example of a little boy pulling the ponytail of a little girl to get her attention. Even though the boy likes the girl, he's still trying to annoy her.
We talked about Ms. Thurman. She said on the stand that she was very frightened when she read the contents of the package. As she testified, I was struck by how she wouldn't look at Mr. Jordan. At one point, leaving the stand, she seemed to hide her head in the crook of her arm.
But was she genuinely afraid? While we believed her testimony, we discussed whether Ms. Thurman could have exaggerated her fear. The fact that she was a famous movie star made us partly charmed, partly suspicious. One juror jokingly said Ms. Thurman isn't that great an actress, but that her delivery on the witness stand was the most heartfelt performance he'd ever seen her give.
Another juror said that, because Ms. Thurman is a celebrity, she should be used to people following her every move. Still another juror reminded us that we shouldn't consider Ms. Thurman any different than an average citizen.
We also discussed Mr. Jordan's actions after he delivered the package. If he had backed off then, we felt he wouldn't have been guilty of stalking. He would have been an obsessed fan suffering from unrequited love.
In fact, he did back off: He stopped contacting the actress for nearly two years.
But then, in August 2007, he resurfaced in New York City. He walked the streets until he spotted her home, based on a photo of it he had found online. He strolled through the front gate and sat on her stoop. He rang the door bell from early in the morning to late at night.
Amid all this, Mr. Jordan also slipped a note through the mail slot, addressed to Ms. Thurman. In it, he wrote that he would want to kill himself if he saw Ms. Thurman out with another man. Mr. Jordan also wrote that he was giving Ms. Thurman his permission to spy on him.
This decision was easy for us: The nonstop doorbell-ringing, accompanied by a letter like this, clearly sounded like intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm. We decided on a guilty charge of one count of aggravated harassment.
We quickly acquitted on another charge of aggravated harassment. Then we went home for the day.
Tuesday morning, people came prepared for a long deliberation. We started by reviewing the two charges of aggravated harassment that we'd already come to a consensus on.
Then we returned to the stalking charge. Our discussions began to circle again around the same points. We broke the law down into pieces.
The first point was obvious: Were Mr. Jordan's actions clearly directed at Ms. Thurman? Obviously, they were. But did he have a legitimate purpose -- other than to hound or intimidate her -- to come to her movie set, knock on her door and send her note after note?
Eleven jurors agreed that he didn't have any business contacting her. But we had to reach a unanimous decision.
Again, we turned to the law. One juror maintained a dissenting view. He felt that while Mr. Jordan's actions were inappropriate, they didn't seem to cross the line into criminal behavior. However, after reading the judge's instructions again, he finally agreed: Mr. Jordan had no legitimate purpose in his relentless pursuit of Ms. Thurman.
But I had a question. The charge was for the period from May 1, 2005, until Aug. 17, 2007, but Mr. Jordan's obsession wasn't pushed over the edge until August last year. Could we say he was guilty of the stalking charge, if he wasn't stalking her for that entire period?
One of the lawyers on the jury said that his behavior wasn't to be interpreted in a vacuum. Each of his actions during that period -- from the praying-girl card Mr. Jordan delivered at the movie set to the notes he pushed through her door -- was to be interpreted as one criminal act.
If that was the case, then I could say he was guilty.
That brought us to the final aggravated-harassment charge, which was related to the night Mr. Jordan showed up on the movie set. We ultimately determined that because there was enough reasonable doubt in the jury room -- nearly two-thirds of the jurors said the purpose of the card was to express his love -- we couldn't decide that he was guilty.
We reached our decision at 11:36 a.m. and walked into the court room a few minutes later to give our verdict.
As I left the building with a few fellow jurors, we rode in an elevator with reporters grilling us for quotes. Their first question: What did it feel like to be a juror in the trial of Ms. Thurman's stalker?