If you’re lucky enough to have a few days off during the week, why not head down to see justice being administered in public? Most court cases are held in public (family hearings are usually In Camera), and a quick look at the legal diary will let you know what’s coming up. ‘The Thirteenth Juror’ was a man I met recently who was a fan of going to court.
Former tailor Jerry has watched live murder trials in court every day since 1997. He started his career measuring the arms and legs of judges and barristers as an apprentice tailor aged 12. “That’s how I know all of the legal jargon; from hearing them discuss cases in the shop,” he says.
Speaking to strange men outside a courthouse was a plan that could have gone awry, but Jerry approached me, introducing himself as the Thirteenth Juror. Court has adjourned for lunch, so he is happy to be ushered into the courthouse café.
Jerry is an unassuming man with a goatee, wearing a cream windbreaker and jeans. I listen for alarm bells, but none sound. Married at 24, he had three children and lived a non-descript life, fitting-out the barristers and judges of Dublin. If the cards fell differently, would he have liked to be a barrister, I venture. “Regrets don’t do us any good. I lived my life and now I have court. Regrets are something the accused has, not me. I never killed my wife.”
I’m more surprised she hasn’t killed him. This is Jerry’s seventeenth year coming to court, and he has never missed a day “apart from one week we went to Tenerife for my son’s wedding”. She has never come with him – she gardens roses at home. “She thinks something is wrong with me that I want to come every day. I just like the drama and the stories. Some people watch Judge Judy but this is real life,” he tells me.
He refuses a sandwich saying: “when court breaks for lunch I go to five-past-one mass in the church around the corner. Eating lunch is a waste of money. Then when I go home I can enjoy my bowl of tomato soup.”
A sharply dressed man spots Jerry. Shooting back his double espresso, he introduces himself as the spokesperson for the Court Service. “Jerry is our version of Madame Defarge and Les Tricoteuses,” he laughs, comparing him to the women who sat knitting as heads rolled off the guillotine in the French Revolution.
This morning Jerry has come from a cold case, reopened in light of new DNA evidence. A dedicated murder-peeper, Jerry fills his evening with CSI and Law and Order. “The advances in DNA are stunning, absolutely stunning,” eyes widening as he finished the cold tea. Our suited friend bounces out the door on a bubble of caffeine. Are there any others like Jerry? “A lot of law and journalism students, some other old guys, but none has the staying power,” he says proudly.
“Someone forgot a pair of Louboutins last week and came back looking for them during the victim impact statement,” he says, checking his watch and standing up, panicked.
Court is about to sit. He invites me in to watch, but I decline, and leave the Thirteenth Juror at the courtroom door.
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