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They decided quickly the Capital Gazette gunman was criminally responsible. But the trial itself is taking a toll on some jurors

Alex Mann, Capital Gazette on

Published in News & Features

The six survivors testified where they hid — under desks, between filing cabinets — and the sounds — reloading, explosions, last breaths — and what it was like seeing a laser attached to the gunman’s tactical shotgun flashing by. Two testified to escaping, one as a shotgun blast breezed past his head. All said they thought they were going to die.

“Their testimony was heartbreaking,” Smith said. “You know, the ones that were there, that didn’t get killed, and to see the reactions on the faces of the families. It was horrible and I continue to this day to think about it.”

State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said in an interview this week that she considered the effect of graphic evidence and tough testimony and held back some things. But she believed the emotional element of the case was critical: jurors needed to hear what it was like to be in that newsroom.

“Nobody would know that the laser sights were pointed on different people or different things unless the survivors testified about it,” she said.

After the verdict, the jurors filed out into a corridor where people affected by the shooting had gathered. Some jurors embraced family members. Swope said he wanted to do the same, but changed his mind when he saw another juror shake hands with a survivor.

“I had to get out of there,” Swope said, “because I was going to lose it.”

Jurors left quietly to try to make sense of the last three weeks — and how less than two hours of deliberations hardly answered all the questions they had for each other.

 

One of the jurors who wished to remain anonymous turned on the television news that evening. She watched coverage of the verdict and said she took some comfort from hearing the families describe some sense of closure.

“I feel the exact opposite,” she said. “I’m so happy that we were able to provide that closure to them and they feel better because of the decision we made. That’s awesome. But to me, this is a brand-new, open wound.”

Smith, who woke up shortly after midnight every night during the trial, then lay awake until morning with everything he’d heard the day before replaying in his mind, took the day after the verdict off from work for his mental health. So did another juror.

By chance, they crossed paths at the Guardians of the First Amendment Memorial near City Dock in Annapolis, its five granite pillars recognizing the lives stolen by the man they’d just effectively sent to prison.

They thought it would bring them some closure, but Smith said the case weighs on him. Others who were in the jury box agreed.

“I dreamt about it every single night,” an alternate said. “How do you stop it? How do you stop those dreams and be able to move on?”

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