Hi, friends! Browneyedjude here, after a mini sabbatical, I’m back from my adventures to distant lands oceans away. I’ve missed you!
I am obsessed with true crime stories. 48 hours, Forensic Files, Cold Case, pretty much the entire Investigation Discovery network lineup. It’s a really good thing I don’t have cable because I would probably never get anything done. One of my best friends, Edna, is also obsessed with true crime stories, and sometimes we ask each other about specific episodes or crimes.
When Serial came out, I was all about it and would have debates with anyone who would listen about Adnan’s verdict and whether or not he did it. For the record, I don’t think he did it, and you can’t convince me otherwise. I mean he was seen in the library around the time of the murder. And what about those cell phone records? Sketch! But one thing that we should all agree on is Sarah Koenig’s awful hosting job of the podcast. The waffling back and forth. No true crime story addict would be so doubtful and unsure of who the murderer is. That’s the thing about me, I don’t have any legal or criminal justice background, but I can give my best opinion of a case because I have played Clue about 100 times.
Since I’m too lazy to go through law school or study for the bar, I have always dreamed of serving on a jury of a high-profile case. I’ve only been called once but it was an outdated address and I had already moved out of state. To think – I could have totally been 12 Angry Men!
Speaking of jurors and a baker’s dozen of angry men, I recently came across this interesting story about a woman named Gwendolyn Hoyt in the book My Own Words which is a collection of speeches, writings, and stories of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Let’s set the scene, shall we? It’s 1957 in northern Florida. Gwendolyn Hoyt is married to a man named Clarence Hoyt. One summer evening Gwendolyn confronts Clarence about his skirt chasin’ ways. I don’t know exactly what he said, but it’s pretty clear he offered a half-assed apology. Gwendolyn is madder than a wampus cat in a rainstorm because her husband just admitted his lyin’, cheatin’ ways and he also wasn’t groveling for forgiveness either. Gwendolyn grabbed a baseball bat to poor Clarence’s noggin’ and well in plain southern speak – Clarence was deader than a doornail.
When Gwendolyn’s case went to trial, as you might suspect in the late 50’s in the south, the defense, prosecutor, and judge were male. Shocker. Right? What is interesting about this case, however, is that according to Florida state law at that time, women were not required to be part of the jury pool. In fact, it was entirely up to women in the state of Florida, if they wanted to register to be on a jury pool at all, so a very small fraction of women were even able to be selected for the trial. As a result, Gwendolyn was tried by an all-male jury. It took them exactly 25 minutes to hand down their guilty verdict. Other key facts brought to this trial were the fact that Gwendolyn had been physically and emotionally abused by Clarence (to which the prosecution summarized as an “unsuccessful marriage” during the trial), that Gwendolyn had hired a baby-sitter previously (was she an unfit mother some juror members thought because she outsourced help?), and the inclusion of damaging testimony from a baby-sitter that claimed Gwendolyn was sleeping with another man. Gwendolyn was handed a 30-year sentence with hard labor by her “peers” and by her peers I mean 6
Gwendolyn argued that had she had a jury that included even some females, she would not have been convicted guilty. She pled temporary insanity. With the help of the ACLU and a motley crew of inexperienced lawyers – her new defense team took the case all the way up to the Supreme Court. The case was argued in 1961. Because women were primarily responsible for household duties and were given the option should they ever choose to register for a jury pool – the Supreme Court upheld the Florida decision and women were not required to have jury duty. At that time, the sentiment was not that women were being prevented from serving on a jury, but that women had the best of both worlds because they could work in the home or be a public servant. But of course, it was not possible or expected to be both.
In 1975, Taylor v Louisiana (which is another story for another time) overturned Hoyt v Florida and it was decided that women could not be excluded from a jury pool on the basis of having to register for a jury pool. Huzzah! Finally, juries would be filled with women and representative of the population. No more 12,000,000 Angry Men juries!
You might be wondering what happened to Gwendolyn. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to find any mention of her outside of her trial and the Supreme Court Case. I was only barely able to find a footnote of her life in a 1993 Washington Post article which stated Gwendolyn was eventually released and she returned to live a quiet life in her hometown.
So, ladies, the next time you get called for jury duty think of where it all began.
P.S. Despite what it may seem, I actually recommend watching 12 Angry Men if you haven’t seen it yet.