We, the Jury, Find the . . .

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That irksome, boring, vital, rewarding, democratic experience

It was a great big mystery that had to be solved," said Ruth Yudkoff, 57, a white-haired woman who works as an assistant principal of an elementary school in Gaithersburg, Md. "It would have been perfect for the movies, only it was real, and we had to solve it."

The great big mystery was: Who seized the Grand Marnier bottle, smashed it against the wall, and then used the jagged remnant to tear out Louise Pickering's throat? The police had charged Charles Day Terry, 17, who worked as a dishwasher at Pickering's restaurant and who had twice been confined to mental institutions. Terry claimed an unusual alibi: he had been buying marijuana in Annapolis on the night of the murder. He said he had been mugged in the process, and that was why there was blood on his shirt.

From a pool of 150 potential jurors, the lawyers took nine hours to pick Yudkoff plus another assistant principal, an adult-education director, a department-store manager, a government worker, a lawyer, a freelance writer, a ticket agent, two secretaries, a student and an electrician. After hearing 75 witnesses over the course of two weeks, the jurors filed out of court at 5:30 p.m. one day and took their seats around an old wooden table. For a long moment they just looked at one another. Then everybody started talking at once.

After an hour of arguing, the jurors took their first vote by a show of hands: four to acquit, two to convict, six undecided. The store manager suggested that they all write out their reasons on a blackboard. One by one, they stood up and explained their votes. "I kept hearing 'Beyond a reasonable doubt, beyond a reasonable doubt,' " said Suzanne Sheldon, the writer, who had originally voted for conviction. "And I kept seeing that kid Charles looking up at me from the defendant's table with his big blue eyes. It tore me apart." The jurors sent out for sandwiches, and took a written ballot at 8:30 p.m. No more undecideds. Eight votes to acquit, four to convict. One of the four, Pat Sweeney, the other assistant principal, said she had put a lot of weight on the youth's confinements in mental institutions. Pat Walshe, the lawyer, persuaded her that this was irrelevant, since they had never been told why Terry had been confined. Sweeney erased her reason from the blackboard, the first changed vote, an important turning point. A third ballot at 10 p.m. showed eleven to acquit, one to convict.

The holdout was the jury foreman, William Beebe, 25, the student. He thought the circumstantial evidence was convincing-the bloody shirt, for example. He did not believe the story about the mugging. Several other jurors kept arguing that there was reasonable doubt. Considering the victim's wound, was there really that much blood on Terry's shirt? At around midnight, Beebe gave in.

Terry was sobbing uncontrollably as the jurors filed back into the courtroom. When the foreman said, "Not guilty," there was a storm of applause. Sweeney ran to the women's room and burst into tears. "It was very stressful," she said later, "but I wouldn't trade that experience." Added Yudkoff, "It was all a little awesome, really."

There are many ways to tell right from wrong, the guilty from the

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