Originally created 05/11/02

Jurors discuss emotion of trial



Odds are that Thomas Zwemer will never forget the names Mary Colley Stewart and Robert Eugene Fielding.

Dr. Zwemer was part of the jury that convicted Mr. Fielding of the 1994 murder and robbery of Ms. Stewart, a Richmond County Department of Family and Children Services employee.

On Friday, Dr. Zwemer was part of a panel at the Georgia Jury Summit Program that discussed the emotional impact of jury service.

"It was an emotional experience," he said. "For me, the sentencing was the most emotional part. Having to sit in the courtroom and hear her family and the defendant's family talk about them was excruciating."

The purpose of the summit is to explore changes to the jury system. The event features panels composed of the state's most knowledgeable legal minds and judicial scholars and experts from other states. It includes discussions of such issues as jury selection new practices and procedures, and juror decision making.

Friday's discussion was moderated by Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller, of the Stone Mountain (Ga.) Judicial Circuit.

"Most jurors come into the court kicking and screaming," Judge Fuller said. "We want to make sure that when they leave, they are on sort of an emotional high - that they have a good feeling about their service after the experience is over. We know it has an impact, but we want to make sure that it's positive."

Experts, including licensed clinical social worker Mac Wilcox, offered suggestions to help make the experience of jury duty, particularly on traumatic cases, more bearable.

"(Jurors) can experience anything from a mild depressive reaction to something that changes their life," Mr. Wilcox said. "They need to have an opportunity to bring that out in the open and talk about it with someone."

Emotional stress is not limited to jurors, Judge Fuller said.

"Everybody who sits through one of these (trials) is affected by it," he said.

The summit will continue today with discussions on jurors' decision making and notorious jury trials. It is free and open to the public.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: The Georgia Jury Summit Program

WHEN: 8:30 a.m. to noon today

WHERE: Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta, 2 10th St.

Reach Jennifer Hilliard at (706) 823-3220 or jennifer.hilliard@augustachronicle.com.



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