Lone Holdout

By Linda Cox


I stared into the accused man's dark eyes one more time. Carlos Montilla, charged with cocaine trafficking and carrying an illegal firearm, sat at the defendant's table between his pudgy, middle-aged lawyer and the dark-haired young woman who was translating into his ear. He met my eyes for several seconds, as he often had before, and then looked away. I was one of the jurors who would determine his fate.

Police Officer Albert LaFontaine, the sole material witness against Montilla, sat at the prosecutor's table next to the young female district attorney. He turned his head toward the jury box and smiled.

After three days of testimony in the stifling oak-paneled courtroom, the gray-haired judge was reading us our instructions. Our verdict must be unanimous.

"The jury may retire to deliberate," announced the clerk. It was ten minutes to eleven on a Friday morning in July. The twelve of us trooped up a back staircase from the courtroom to the floor above and walked into jury room 860.

At four o'clock that afternoon, after five hours of bitter wrangling, we were sent home by the judge and told to return on Monday with open minds. All of the jurors but one had agreed on a verdict. I was the one.

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