The jury of seven men and five women hearing a first-degree murder case last week in Prince William County Circuit Court represented a cross-section of the county: a CIA computer technician, an FBI building engineer, an animal rescue worker.
The School Board chairman, Lucy S. Beauchamp (At Large), also was empaneled, and, perhaps not surprisingly, chosen as the jury's foreman. Beauchamp, 55, offered her insight into the jury experience and said in an interview after the trial that she approached her court role in a way that was similar to what she does when students who face expulsion go before the School Board.
"In those cases, I turn to myself and ask, 'Would I want this student sitting next to one of my daughters in class?' " she said. "It's almost the same feeling I had [in the courtroom]. I asked, 'Has this man done something to another human being that makes it impossible for him to live in the general population?' "
On Tuesday, the jury Beauchamp served on convicted Woodbridge resident Craig Richardson, 34, of stabbing his friend, Shawn Williams, 34, in the throat this year after the two got into a fight.
Beauchamp does not have the same celebrity status as talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, whose presence on a jury in a Chicago murder trial last month lured a passel of media to an otherwise humdrum case. Still, the 13-year School Board veteran and United Way regional director is well known in Prince William.
Public officials rarely make it onto juries, simply because they might know too many people and therefore stand a greater chance of being biased. Public officials, in particular, could be viewed by a defendant as partial to prosecutors. Bob Marsh, the Prince William County Circuit Court administrator, said Virginia law automatically excuses police officers and legislators from jury duty.
"But if she approached me, we probably would have considered excusing her," Marsh said. "We would normally excuse a public official. For one reason, they're busy. The other thing is that judges look upon them and say, here's [somebody] who's well known, and he would be struck for that."
Jurors in Prince William are asked to come in on a certain day of the week for a month. The only rule-bending Beauchamp requested was that her day be moved from Wednesday to Monday. School Board meetings are Wednesday nights, and Beauchamp said she needed the day to prepare.
Although the murder trial began at a hectic time for Beauchamp -- it was the second week of the school year -- she said was able to keep focused.
The jury deliberated for about four hours. Beauchamp said she relied on the physical evidence and on the credibility of Prince William police officers who testified.
During the trial, DNA evidence was presented that contradicted Richardson's testimony that Williams began punching him early in the morning of Jan. 14 as they arrived at Williams's home. According to DNA evidence, Williams was the victim and Richardson the aggressor. Williams's blood was on the exterior door frame, and his fingernail clippings did not have any of Richardson's genetic material.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Richard A. Conway told jurors that Richardson got into a rage that morning after Williams refused to let him inside his home. After Richardson stabbed Williams, he fled the scene, threw the murder weapon in a trash container in the District and took a bus to New Jersey, where he later turned himself in.
"Constantly at the School Board, I am saying, 'Look at the data,' " Beauchamp said. "I am data-driven and very pragmatic."
She said Richardson's defense attorney, Ronald W. Fahy, could not have not said anything to convince her that his client deserved anything less than life in prison, because the prosecution introduced very damaging evidence: Richardson's four previous felony convictions on drug and weapons charges.
"Did we think this man could be rehabilitated? He was given four different breaks. Was he deserving of another one?" she asked. "We always came back to the fact that he took a life. He took a life of a father."
The jury recommended that Richardson be sentenced to life in prison. Judge Richard B. Potter will sentence him Jan. 6.
Beauchamp said she enjoyed the experience of being on a jury and would be willing to speak about it in a high school government class if asked. She said she was surprised by how much she bonded with fellow jurors over lunches and hearing about their various work experiences, or, for instance, where they were on the morning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Her month-long service in the jury pool, however, is not up. She still has to report for duty tomorrow.