November 19, 2010

Shocked by evidence, jurors in Northeast cases offered counseling

A Connecticut home invasion case is among several recent trials where jurors' mental responses demanded professional help.

By MICHAEL MELIA The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Maico Cardona
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Connecticut juror Maico Cardona: “I wasn’t prepared mentally for what I was going to see.”

The Associated Press

Counseling is available in a few other states including Minnesota, Ohio and Texas, according to Greg Hurley of the National Center for State Courts.

In Connecticut, jurors from the two-month-long Hayes trial were invited back to the courthouse for a debriefing by a therapist after the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys suggested it could help them process the ordeal, according to Melissa Farley, a Judicial Branch spokeswoman.

Nine of the 12 jurors attended the session Nov. 10, two days after handing down the death sentence. The therapist offered suggestions on handling post-traumatic stress and provided the names of counselors willing to help them further.

Cardona, a 31-year-old trainer for Verizon Wireless from Hamden, said the therapist explained what to expect and encouraged them to discuss their emotions with loved ones.

"It's definitely not a situation where you want to go it alone," said Cardona, who has had the nightmare about the burning girl six or seven times.

Paula Calzetta, of Guilford, said the session was a welcome opportunity to discuss the experience with fellow jurors. Although the trial itself made her feel ill, she said, talking about the case has made her feel better.

"I think I'm past the point of it being intrusive, but it's something I'll never forget," she said.

The debriefing was apparently the first of its kind in Connecticut, Farley said. The state had already been considering such services and may expand them, depending on the response from jurors.

They are worth the investment, Hurley said.

"We know it's a relatively small amount of jurors that will have a strong reaction," Hurley said. "For those jurors that need them, these programs do seem to work and help."

Even jurors who skipped the debriefing said serving on the panel had a powerful effect.

Herbert Gram, of Madison, Conn., said he saw no need for counseling because he has no reservations about the jury's decisions. But he still thinks frequently of the case and of William Petit, the husband and father of the victims, who had an emotional meeting with the jurors after the trial.

"I'm well into my 70s and I haven't cried in a lot of years," Gram said. "But when the doctor put his arm around me and gave me a big hug, I make no bones about it; I came apart."

Hans, the Cornell professor, said jurors who serve on such difficult cases should be entitled to counseling, much like military veterans returning from service overseas.

"Jury duty isn't combat, but to the extent they are working on our behalf to resolve difficult issues, if they encounter problems, I would like to see them get the support they need," Hans said.


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