Janesville51.9°

Jury stands together in Jensen trial

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Mike Heine
February 23, 2008
— Caroline Stromich thought jury duty was supposed to be for two weeks.

Instead, it was nearly two months.


“It affected my family. I spent my birthday as a juror. I spent my wedding anniversary as a juror,” Stromich said.


She was among 11 women and eight men on the Walworth County jury panel for the seven-week trial of Mark Jensen, the Kenosha County man accused of poisoning his wife with anti-freeze and smothering her.


The 19 were allowed to go home every night, but they were instructed by the judge to not discuss the case with each other or with their friends or family.


Twelve of the 19 were chosen to deliberate, and on Thursday they returned a guilty verdict against Jensen. They rejected the defense claim that Julie Jensen, 40, killed herself and tried to frame her husband.


The 19 started as strangers with only a few things in common—they lived in the same county, they all were being paid $20 a day and all were charged with deciding if Jensen was guilty of murder.


Few wanted to be there.


But jury foreman Matthew Smith, 41, of Darien, said he and his fellow jurors soon realized they had a job to do.


“Nobody was sitting there going, ‘You know, having to do this is an inconvenience, and I don’t know why I have to do it,’” Smith said.


“Everyone on the panel was: OK, this is what we were doing. If we needed a panel, we hoped whoever had to serve on it would be fair and impartial. It was a common-sense group.”


They didn’t take long to bond.


“We became a family,” said Sandi Schott, 56, of East Troy. “We were able to find commonalities between us. Some of us played cards. Some of us read books. We’d stand around and talk about our own personal lives.


“We started right off the bat. No sense in waiting. You’re going to be with these people for a long period of time. They tell you that up front. You might as well get to know them.”


Jurors had potluck lunches. They wore red for St. Valentine’s Day and Packers gear before playoffs weekends. After the gavel fell, many of them socialized at a local tavern. They’re planning a reunion.


“It was a civic duty thing,” Smith said. “If I were to be accused of a crime, I would hope that I could find a fair and impartial jury.”


And the 12 who decided Jensen’s fate stand united.


“It was a serious thing,” Schott said. “The right decision was made.”



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