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About one year ago, York County, S.C., Clerk of Court David Hamilton received a letter that he never forgot. It was from a young woman who wrote that her mother had been a juror in a grisly murder trial and needed counseling to deal with the images that still haunted her. “It hit home,” said Hamilton. “I made a commitment in my own mind to offer counseling to the jurors the next time we had a trial with a lot of exhibits and pictures that the average person would not want to look at.” Hamilton got his opportunity last week. It came at the close of a trial for the murder of Amanda Cope, a 12-year-old victim who was raped and sodomized by two men, one of whom was her father. The jury of six men and six women, as well as two alternates, ranged in age from their early 20s to senior citizens. They were shown autopsy and crime scene images that depicted injuries to the young girl’s genitals. State v. Cope, No. 2002 GS 4603232; 33; 34 (York Co. Ct., S.C.). “The jurors are now victims of the trial,” said Hamilton who has made an offer to make counseling available to the Cope jurors. Although several expressed interest, none as yet has accepted, said Hamilton. If they do, it will be a first for York County, and the clerk’s office is trying to determine how to proceed. “Right now I’m winging it,” Hamilton admits. Jury ‘debriefing’ grows It may be a first for Hamilton, but providing psychological counseling to jurors started in earnest in the early 1990s, after several highly publicized trials highlighted the sadistic material that jurors are sometimes exposed to. The service, commonly referred to as “debriefing,” has become more common in recent trials, like the Oklahoma City bombing, that require the presentation of graphic evidence to jurors. Voluntary mental health experts are being called on by a growing number of judges who recognize the need to debrief juries after a traumatic trial. Janiver Slick, an Oregon-based debriefing expert and director of the state’s division of child protective services, has been called on to work with juries after murder or sexual abuse trials. But Oregon, like most states, has not created a formal debriefing service within its court system. “It’s an issue of funding,” Slick noted. Kings County Court in Washington State is the only court that has an ongoing contract with a local mental health center to provide free debriefing services, according to Paula Hannaford-Agor, the principal court research consultant at the Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts in Arlington, Va. No other states have implemented programs, although some, like the Ohio Supreme Court, are considering it. The emphasis on jury debriefing increased with the 1992 trial of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer for the sexual abuse and murder of at least 15 young boys, whose body parts he later devoured. State v. Dahmer, No. 1991CF912542 (Milwaukee Co. Ct., Wis.). Another trial that added to the momentum was the 1992 carjacking and murder trial for the death of Pam Basu, a Maryland woman who was dragged to her death after her car was hijacked by two men and her arm became entangled in the seatbelt. ( Solomon v. State, 646 A.2d 1064, 1065 (1994)). If ever there was a jury that needed to be debriefed, it was the Basu jury, asserted Joseph Murtha, a co-prosecutor in the Basu trial. Murtha of Miller Murtha & Psoras in Lutherville, Md., is now more well known as the defense attorney for Linda Tripp, a prime player in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. But he called the Basu trial the “most gruesome” of his career. Jurors in the Basu trial saw images of a woman whose unrecognizable body was dragged until her skull was exposed and body dislodged in a fence pole. “Those of us involved in the criminal justice system become numb to trauma . . . you have to set aside emotions to be effective in your job,” said Murtha. “Jurors do not get prepared to do that.” Slick, the mental health expert, noted that “[w]hat we know about post traumatic stress disorder fits with being on a jury and having to visualize extraordinary problematic material.” The debriefing session is voluntary for jurors, said Slick. It is sometimes offered immediately following the trial, or the jury is invited to come back on another day. The session might be with individual jurors or with the whole jury together. The goal is to help jurors talk about their experience and access more resources, if necessary, in future, according to Slick.

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