“Post-Jury Stress Syndrome” Studied In Gory Cases


Nightmares are common for jurors who sit through particularly gory trials, symptoms of a kind of post-jury stress syndrome, the Washington Post says. Symptoms range from trouble sleeping and irritability to anxiety and depression. Some jurors find themselves on the verge of tears for no reason. Symptoms usually ease after two or three months, but some people remain disturbed years later.

The syndrome may affect jurors hearing the cases of sniper defendants John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo in Virginia. For the past month, a panel of 10 women and five men has sat in a cramped courthouse in Virginia Beach to decide Muhammad’s fate. The jurors have viewed a montage of mayhem with almost 500 pieces of evidence and nearly 200 witnesses.

The Post describes some of the scenes jurors have seen: Linda Franklin, sprawled on her back, half her face blown away, the other half intact with her eye open like a Halloween mask, her white shirt drenched in blood. Hong Im Ballenger on a coroner’s table, the left side of her jaw missing. Sarah Ramos in a pink T-shirt, the back of her head blown open. Jurors saw multiple photos of splattered brain matter. Perhaps more agonizing were the tapes of 911 calls.

Psychologists call this secondary trauma, the reliving of someone else’s catastrophe. It is similar to what police officers and firefighters experience on the job, but jurors have no training or support system to deal with it.

Says Leigh B. Bienen of Northwestern University’s Center for Legal Studies: “It’s an extremely difficult, emotional thing to sit through a capital trial. . . . You’re dealing with people who died in horrible ways, the families of the victims, a defendant who is accused of doing very bad things . . . It’s like humanity at its worst.”

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A1962-2003Nov20.html

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