When it’s way, way too late to just say no…
Meridian, Bosque County, Texas – It’s been a long war.
Even at home, the iron fist in the velvet glove is in all ways both seen and heard, as 220th District Judge Phil Robertson instructs the veniremen called for jury duty on a frosty Monday morning.
They are so-called because the Latin elliptical, venire, recalls the antiquated opening phrase of a writ to a Sheriff ordering a jury summons, to cause you to come. He is light-hearted and cheerful as he explains the large number of no-shows and just why it takes so much time to call the roll of a throng that completely packs a ceremonial courtroom covering the entire second floor of the towered Italianate palace of justice.
Formerly, the jury wheel was composed of registered voters. “As you may imagine,” he tells the standing room only crowd, “those who bother to register to vote will likely bother to show up.”
But all that is thing of the past, the judge declares. Now, one need only hold a driver’s license to be placed on the list of those who are summoned. Due to the long stretches between license renewals, many of those who are summoned are no longer receiving mail at their former address. Others just can’t be bothered. To qualify for jury service, one must be a legal resident of the jurisdiction, that is, Bosque County, be of lawful age, and a non-felon.
“You will notice there is not an exemption for being too rich, or too poor, or for having your own business – or too old, or too young – or because you just don’t care.”
He shrugs, grins, adds the information that those who did not show up will be obliged to return the following Monday with $200 in cash or certified money order in order to avoid becoming a guest of the Sheriff and his able staff.
Jury duty – cast iron
There is a ripple of uneasy laughter, a little something to assure one self that it was wise to decide to show up, after all, and accept $6 in pay for services that are vital to the cause of justice. Judge Robertson explains, again, that it’s important – a very big deal – that there were more than a half-dozen felony cases scheduled for the session, and all but two of them elected to plead out and accept the judgment of the Court. “They did that because of you.” The statement hangs in the air.
In the instant case, guilt is conceded by a defendant accused of an unattractive offense involving non-forcible sexual assault of a female juvenile, a child, a girl who is aged less than 17. The defense attorney says the offense is “what was commonly called statutory rape,” a case of an individual being younger than the “age of consent” which the Legislature considers valid in such a dalliance. The prosecution need only show that sexual intercourse involving genital or anal penetration did occur, a moot point conceded by the defendant.
The Court will pronounce the man guilty, but the defendant has elected that a panel of 12 jurors must then hear evidence and testimony regarding his punishment for a second degree felony punishable by not less than two years confinement or more than 20, a $10,000 fine, or both. The full range of punishment, prosecuting and defense attorneys tell the venire, can include anything from probation to doing hard time. In any case, the defendant must for the rest of his life register as a sex offender. That is given.
A number of ladies answering questions during the voir dire – Latin, again, for “to speak the truth” – declare they can in no way render a fair and impartial verdict; they are unable to consider the full range of punishment indicated by the black and white statutes of the Texas Penal Code. They don’t wait for Judge Robertson to dismiss them; they are already walking away, their heels striking the floor with the imperiously syncopated clack, Clack, CLACK affected by women who are expressing their rage as they vote with their feet, their shoulders squared, the rear view of their stomping gait clearly signaling their anger.
Has anyone on the fourth row of veniremen been involved in criminal litigation involving sexual offenses?
A man dressed in a brown horse-hide flight jacket raises his hand. He is identified as Col. Tommy Williams, USAF, by a name patch sewed over his heart.
He tells the defense attorney that as a Commanding Officer, he once presided over the Court Martial Board in a case of a female subordinate, a woman involved in air/sea rescue work attached to a tactical readiness command. He has twice in his career led men and women into war, in Bosnia-Herzogovinia, and in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a fighter jock, an F-15 “Tomcat” pilot, someone with “the right stuff,” an occupant of the tier very near the top of the fabled ziggurat described by Tom Wolfe in his non-fiction novel about the NASA Mercury Program.
“She raped a female child at a church camp,” he declares. Would he have any problem considering the full range of punishment, based on evidence and testimony presented?
“No.” He bites the word off as if it is half leather and all gristle. His demeanor is militant, stoic; there is a command presence suddenly felt throughout this crowded, palatial, dimly lit room with a ceiling at least 30 feet above the peoples’ heads.
The lawyer, a thin-faced blonde from the Norwegian enclave community of Clifton, bends to make a notation on her jury selection form, then straightens up to say, “By the way, sir. Since it’s near Veterans Day, I would like to thank you for your service.”
The moment passes, but once dismissed, Williams turns to shake hands with the journalist, and we chat on our way out of the building.
He listens with interest to a description of the testimony given by victims of the senseless attack on helpless, unarmed soldiers at Ft. Hood in November, 2009, by the U.S. Army psychiatrist, Maj. Abu Nidal Malik Hasan, M.D., so targeted simply because they were slated for deployment to Afghanistan and wearing the Army Combat Uniform of multi-hued green camouflaged fatigues.
He is visibly shaken when he learns that Hasan was during his enlisted career an actor who dressed in Arab costume and played the role of an insurgent at Fort Irwin, California, the National Training Center, where combat-bound troopers are subjected to the sights, sounds, smells and sensations of actual combat in terrain and simulated urban settings that leave no novel or unique impressions to be experienced in real time assaults and gun fights of a future yet to be passed.
His complexion turns from the ruddy and weathered visage of a warrior to a shocked, nearly-whitened pallor when he learns that every wounded veteran of that bloody assault that left 12 persons dead, one of them a pregnant woman dressed in combat fatigues who died screaming, “My baby! My baby!” told the prosecutor that, at first, they just assumed that what was taking place was merely a training exercise.
“My God,” said Major General Tommy Williams, the Mobilization Assistant to the Commander, First Air Force (Air Forces Northern), Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. “That’s just like something I did.”
He explains that he took over a combat unit that had rotated stateside following a series of overseas disasters involving loss of rescue personnel, helicopter crashes, and fiery death.
“I was there to fix that unit,” he recalled. “I wanted to make an impression. To do it, I had to rent an auditorium. There wasn’t one available on-base.”
Dressed in his combat uniform, a tactical .44 magnum revolver loaded with blanks in a shoulder holster, the same weapon Parachute-Jumpers carry into battle, he stood at a podium on-stage and declared that the Global War On Terror involves a resolute and implacably hostile enemy bent on jihad, a man or woman who lives amongst us all…
At that moment, a superbly conditioned combat jumper, a special ops warrior who specializes in extractions and rescues, assaults and insertions, on his cue rushed the stage dressed in the clothing of the mujahideen, the muzzle of an AK-47 blazing away, as he, then-Colonel Tommy Williams raised the revolver and fired point blank at his simulated attacker.
“It made an impression,” he recalled, ruefully. He couldn’t hide the thousand-yard stare typical of a combat veteran, as the color returned to his complexion. He added that his number two, the executive officer on the command, was standing behind him with a weapon loaded with live rounds, “Just in case I did something crazy.”
Drawn further into the conversation, he expressed despair at the readiness of our Armed Forces for the battle to come.
“Ten years ago, I thought I had a grasp of affairs, the way things are. I thought the Saudis were in control, that Israel was safe, the Communists were beat – that it was a stable world situation.
“In no time at all, the conditions have changed. ” He shakes his head. It is a moment, and as it passes, somehow you just know that this man is telling the truth.
To read his resume, follow this link:
To read a Presidential press release announcing his appointment as a Major General, follow this link:
To read a presentation white paper Gen. Williams authored about the combat readiness of American troops to fight a war on terror on American soil, follow this link:
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