The tears came as soon as she left the courtroom, she said. They quickly filled her eyes and ran down her cheeks. She said they were tears of sorrow for the victims--Reagan, Delahanty, McCarthy, and Brady--and tears of profound relief that the trial was finally over and that justice had been done.
Belinda Drake had been a juror in the case of the United States v. John W. Hinckley Jr. For 45 days, the 23-year-old secretary had quietly wrestled with emotions ranging from indecision to despair. In the moments after the verdict was announced--not guilty by reason of insanity on all 13 counts--she at last underwent her own catharsis, hoping when it was over to return quietly to a private life with the peace of mind that she had been true to her conscience.
So for 10 minutes she cried and trembled uncontrollably. And when the crying was over, she said, she felt ecstatic and free. She composed herself, hugged and shook hands with the 11 other jurors and then headed into the night for home.
Since then, fate has not been kind to Belinda Drake. What began in April as an exciting experience in which she was chosen to play a special part in American history has turned into a summer of bitterness and regret. "Never, ever," she says, "will I ever want to go through this again."
She went through living nightmares, she says. It was bad enough that reporters and television crewmen camped outside her home with microphones and bright lights and dogged her every footstep, prompting her mother, brothers and sisters to scream in frustration and rage.
But then two of her fellow jurors, Maryland Copelin and Nathalia Brown, went on television and complained angrily that they had been pressured into reaching the not guilty verdict by the other jurors and that they really felt Hinckley should have been found guilty. "I've never felt more hurt or betrayed by anything in my life. They made us all look bad," Drake said, shaking her head. "My heart fell, my eyes fell, my teeth fell."
Simultaneously, a flood of newspaper and television stories and spontaneous opinion polls appeared, indicating widespread public anger over the verdict reached by a jury of 11 blacks and one white. "It just seemed to make us all out to be such idiots. They kept showing that tape of the shooting and interviews of people saying, 'How could they do this?' " said Drake, a black woman. "The tone of some of the stuff was embarrassing. They made it seem like, here were a bunch of black people who didn't know what they were doing in there and couldn't be trusted to use their heads."
Finally, there was the worst nightmare of all, the terrible news that met Drake shortly after she returned home from the courtroom. She learned her fiance' had been seriously injured that same day in a traffic accident in St. Louis when the car he was driving was struck head-on by a truck. After spending the night in a hospital where he was treated for head injuries and a punctured lung, he returned to his home in St. Louis, where Drake visited him the next day. One of the first things they talked about was the verdict.
"Why didn't you hang him?" he asked abruptly.
Drake said she was stunned and remained quiet a moment. "He was shocked, you know, but I thought he'd understand. So I was quiet a bit, then explained to him very, very slowly all the stuff we went through. I told him all he ever saw--all America ever saw--was the tape of the shooting. He didn't see the mountains of evidence. He didn't have to deal with the sanity or insanity of the guy. He didn't have to deal with CAT scans and psychiatrists.
"When I was finished explaining everything to him he looked at me and finally said, 'Well, I guess your hands were tied. You did what you were supposed to do, huh?'
"All I could say was, 'Thank you.' "
For the Hinckley jurors the summer has been a tiresome season of explanation and defense, and Belinda Drake, for one, wishes the questions would simply stop. Many strangers, friends and acquaintances have been bewildered or outraged by the jury's decision and have not hesitated to let her know it.
What might have been a cherished and honored memory has become instead something similar to a scarlet letter. "We still talk on the phone a lot, telling each other depressing stories," she says of the other jurors. "Everyone talks about folks who've been rude to them. We were a kind of family during the trial, and for the most part we've stuck together afterward. We really needed each other's support bad."
Belinda Drake said she always wanted to be on jury duty, to see how the legal system works. On April 20, the day she left her government secretarial job after receiving the court summons, her coworkers were delighted for her. "They said, 'Well, Belinda, now you've got your chance. Do it,' " she said.
"At first, I thought it was going to be minor stuff, because the summons had the word petit on it. Then one day I was in court with the 94 other people in the pool of potential jurors and they brought Hinckley in. I didn't even know who he was. Then they said 'Hinckley' and all 94 of us started looking at each other and bumping our neighbors' elbows."
Drake, a 1978 graduate of McKinley High School where she was on the track team, said the day she was selected for the Hinckley jury was the most exciting in her life, but after a while that excitement was replaced by dread and tension. "Toward the end it just seemed unfair, that all the burden and pressure was on us. Throughout the trial everybody was giving us opinions and few facts. Nobody really knows whether that boy was sane or insane except him and the Lord."
So the emotions which that burden inspired began to grow in intensity. "During those last few days I couldn't sleep at all. My dreams were awful, so weird I'd wake up scared to death. One night, in the Ramada Inn when we were sequestered, I woke up thinking it was six in the morning, when we were supposed to get up. I went to the laundry room and started ironing my clothes. Then the marshals came in looking at me really funny. They said it was three, not six."
The judge had given the jury what many considered a difficult choice when he instructed them to presume that Hinckley was legally insane at the time of the incident unless they believed the prosecution could prove otherwise "beyond a reasonable doubt." Ultimately, Drake said, she relied on a saying her father always used. "He said, 'Follow your heart and you can be wrong, but use your mind and you're always right.' Basically, that's what we did. We aren't experts, so we used common sense."
Unfortunately, few people seemed to understand, Drake said. "Black people are basically fair and they use much more common sense. They have a better sense of justice, I think. In a way the trial was racist from the beginning because they [the defense and prosecution] knew what they were doing when they picked so many blacks. I think if it were a white jury they would have hung him. You can see that just by looking at the reaction around the country."
Eventually, Drake went back to work, bracing herself for a hefty backlog of typing and filing and an onslaught of questions from her coworkers. Her work place had been moved. When she finally arrived in the right office she surprisingly found her desk as it always was, with pens and pencils, date stamps and erasers, her cup and typewriter just as she left them. Even better was the greeting she got from her fellow workers. "Smiles and smiles and smiles," she said. "I kind of expected a lot of 'Why'd you do that?' but most everybody was great. I didn't think they'd miss me so much."
Terry Morse, 23, a mail clerk at the government agency where Drake works, and Drake's closest friend there, added, "Some people even came up to me wondering how Belinda decided to do what she did, so I tried to explain to them like she explained to me, but I'm not sure if they understood."
Now and then someone at work will "nick and pick" Drake directly about her experience, but Drake said she will talk no more about it--ever. "I'm proud of everything we did," she said softly, "but I'll never go through it again. You can say I'm disillusioned, yeah."
In this uneasy aftermath she is entirely content to lounge at dusk on the porch of her home on Monroe Street NE, just as she did on a recent Wednesday. In blue shorts and a matching blouse, her hair in tight braids, she waved to neighbors and passersby and listened to the birds sing from the treetops and telephone lines. She said she had felt emotionally well enough recently to resume her daily regimen of jogging through the shady streets of Northeast Washington, and despite that brief misunderstanding she had with her fiance' over the verdict, their wedding is still set for September.
Meantime, she is just beginning to pick up the scattered threads of her social life, which was for the most part voluntarily suspended during jury duty. She has a great deal to catch up on at the discos, of course--who's seeing whom at the Chapter II, what's the latest song at The Buck Stops Here, who's dancing what at the Classic III--but for now she wants to concentrate on the party she will soon give for nine other jurors, people who stuck together when they had to, she said, people who will remain lifelong friends.