Marcia Pereira is one of those people who seem to get called for jury duty, like clockwork, every three years. So when she received a notice to appear for duty on June 1, the only thing unusual about it was that it was her first jury summons to federal court.
Then she heard on the radio that the trial of alleged gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was to begin on that date. After that came three calls from the court making sure she would be on time that day. “It didn’t take a brain surgeon to put two and two together,” Pereira.
She was not alone in figuring it out. “There were a lot of people chewing on fingernails, a lot of tension,” Pereira said of that first day of jury selection, when she and more than 200 potential jurors were informed that they were in fact there for the Bulger trial.
Pereira, a 50-year-old property manager from Medway, described a tense atmosphere in the courtroom as the potential jurors grappled with the gravity of the trial, the length of the commitment — the trial is expected to last as long as four months — and the impact it would have on their lives, during the trial and beyond.
“You’re thinking, ‘How do I balance my kids, my job, a vacation that’s already planned?’ And you’re doing this while looking at a person in front of you who has been charged with very serious crimes,” Pereira said. “And then you start thinking, ‘Is there an active mob presence? Do I need to be worried about my safety? Do I watch too many movies?’ Whether it’s warranted or not, it’s human nature to be nervous about something like this. If you’ve read any Mario Puzo, if you’ve seen ‘The Godfather,’ your imagination can take off.”
When Bulger was first brought in front of the potential jurors, Pereira said that some of the jurors gasped. The woman sitting next to her let out an expletive.
Pereira said her own reaction was more of pity. “I looked at him and thought, ‘He’s an old man.’ My dad passed away when he was the same age, and I looked at [Bulger] and I felt sad for him. It’s a terrible life that he’s lived, and a terrible way to end it. He’s done no good in his life, and I have pity for anyone who suffered at his hands,” said Pereira.
Despite her obvious opinions of Bulger, Pereira said she had great respect for the concept of being innocent until proven guilty and felt she could remain impartial and judge the case based on the evidence.
When she heard that the jury selection for the Bulger trial was to begin on the same day she had been summoned to federal jury duty, she said she intentionally tried to ignore any news on the case.
But ultimately, something in her answers to the lengthy questionnaire all jurors had to fill out led to her being dismissed early in the winnowing process, she said.
Now that the final jury has been picked — eight men and four women, plus four alternates — Pereira said she has mixed feelings about being dismissed.
“It’s a dual-edged sword. It would be fascinating to be part of the process, but the thought of giving up so much time and how it would directly impact my life is something I couldn’t abide by.”Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.