Earlier this year I had the honor to serve on the second jury of the 2016 Jungle murder trial at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.
During the long weeks of testimony, I was captivated by the lives laid bare in the courtroom. As Juror No. 13, I left my fellow jurors before they declared that, as in the first trial, this second jury was hung.
After two mistrials, a new jury is currently hearing evidence against James and Jerome Taafulisia at the King County Courthouse in Seattle.
The Jungle case victims and accused killers are all homeless. I was no stranger to homelessness, having worked with the unsheltered at my church. And still, what I learned during the trial process, I held close to my heart. I could not have envisioned two men who share neither ethnicity, blood or legal bonds, and yet one calling the other his son. I would not have thought that people we might regard as occupying the lowest rank of society would speak of the importance of respect.
Caring, helping and watching out for each other is conduct we attribute to family and friends, to church members and neighbors, to law abiding and tax-paying citizens. But these many instances of extraordinary acts of kindness was given by addicts, crooks, thugs and snitches. I learned that no matter who you are and what your circumstances are, the human need for love, respect and connection never goes away.
And I learned that we can look away or pretend not to see the homeless, but they are our neighbors. The unsheltered live in the alleyways and streets where we walk, shop, work and worship. They hear our cars bump over the bridges and freeways that serve as roofs of their makeshift homes.
After my jury ended up hung, I met with some of my fellow jurors. No matter if we had been on the side of guilty or not able to bring in a verdict, many of us had been personally affected by the experience.
Because the voices of these witnesses stayed with me long after I left the jury urging me not to forget them, I felt compelled to craft a life for them in the form of a fictional short story called “The Hawk’s Nest.”
While following this third Jungle murder trial I’m watching for possible new evidence to come to light in a case that left two earlier juries hung.
My thoughts are with the jurors as they begin the hard work of trying to bring a just end to this three-year-long case. My prayers are with the families of the two victims, the three survivors, and the two accused brothers, as they’re again reliving this trauma. And my wish is that this third trial will bring closure to all concerned.
Irma Fritz is a fiction writer living in Auburn and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)