Only two of the six jurors in the controversial George Zimmerman trial have spoken out so far about their experience, despite intense public interest in how and why they declared the neighborhood watchman not guilty in the death of unarmed, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. But jury experts say the panelists' hesitance to step forward makes sense, given the intense emotions kicked up by the racially charged case and the risks associated with going public as a juror.
"It's hard for me to sleep, it's hard for me to eat because I feel I was forcefully included in Trayvon Martin's death," Maddie, a mother of eight, said.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 86 percent of African-Americans disapproved of the not guilty verdict, with 31 percent of whites disapproving.
Studies have shown that some jurors, particularly in death-penalty cases and those involving more gruesome crimes, can suffer from symptoms that resemble post-traumatic stress disorder long after the trial is over.
Seven of the jurors who declared Scott Peterson guilty in the murder of his wife, Laci, and their unborn son in 2005 disclosed in a book about the case, "We the Jury," that some of them went on antidepressants and one contemplated suicide because of the stress of deliberations. Two of the 18 jurors in the Charles Manson trial had an affair during their nine-month sequestration. Another had a heart attack, and one juror got divorced.
"The therapeutic value comes from talking to friends, families, colleagues," Chopra said. "You can expose yourself to more stressors by going public, because there's the court of public opinion. That could just introduce a whole other layer of stress, which is disappointing because the public wants to know what happened."
There's also the risk of facing harassment from angry trial obsessives. "When they open that door, they're opening a Pandora's box to be scrutinized and harassed," said Susan Constantine, a Florida-based jury expert.
Constantine recalled that in Orlando, Fla., where Casey Anthony faced first-degree murder charges in the killing of her young daughter, local businesses put up signs saying "jurors not welcome here" after the jury acquitted Anthony in 2011.
Constantine said the Zimmerman case demonstrated that the decision to go public ultimately rests with each individual juror.
"The other juror already came forward, and we can see how she's been lambasted. Regardless of what (Maddie) says, it's not going to be the right answer for everybody," Constantine said.
But the juror testimonials after high-profile cases can offer a valuable glimpse into the criminal justice system, which average citizens tend to ignore absent a sensational trial.
"I understand their reluctance to put themselves out there, given how polarizing their decision has been," Chopra said of the Zimmerman panel. "I think it's unfortunate in some ways because it could make people not want to be on juries. We already have a hard time getting people to serve on juries. It's unfortunate that the public vilifies jurors who really did give up a lot of time of their lives."
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