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ABC series ultra-serious

The first two hours of 'In the Jury Room,' at least, are less than captivating.

August 10, 2004|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

ABC is devoting more hours to "In the Jury Room," a seven-part documentary series from the network's news division that begins tonight at 10, than it did to the entire Democratic National Convention.

I'm not sure what this means, but I have a hunch: Homicide cases and murder trials sell; politicians giving speeches don't.

And yet, in describing "In the Jury Room," the ABC press materials boldly emphasize "the historic nature of the broadcast and its tremendous educational potential." And what are the once-every-four-year political conventions -- summer reality filler?

To be sure, there is something unusual being presented by "In the Jury Room." That is, jurors. (Still not excited? Sorry, it's August in TV land.)

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 11, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Jury shows -- A television review in Tuesday's Calendar section of the documentary series "In the Jury Room" said the drama "The Jury" airs on ABC. "The Jury" is on Fox.

While Court TV has turned televised trials into a niche cable enterprise, cameras have rarely been allowed in a jury room to show deliberations, unless you count fictional juries, like the recent ABC drama "The Jury." The jury room, in other words, might be one of the last sacred, and private, places yet to be invaded by the ever-probing eye of our TV world.

ABC -- a Disney property -- was granted access to these cases via special orders from the Arizona, Colorado and Ohio supreme courts. As a public affairs piece, "In the Jury Room" is straight documentary; it screams serious business. Maybe that's why the first two hours, while no-nonsense, left me cold, and Greta van Susteren wasn't anywhere near the thing.

"In the Jury Room" strives to be compelling cinema verite, offering an unadulterated glimpse of the criminal justice system through the eyes of the people who inhabit this world. In this respect, it's rather emulating "This American Life," a documentary radio series narrated by Ira Glass.

The series begins with the capital murder trial of Mark Ducic, an Ohio man accused of giving a lethal cocktail of drugs to his girlfriend and another man who allegedly threatened to rat him out to the cops.

As criminal trials go, there are few apparent complexities in Ducic's case: The D.A. has him on tape bragging about how he did the crimes, Ducic defense lawyers argue that, while he's a career braggart, con artist and low-level drug dealer, their client is hardly a mass murderer. What is curious is that for all that we're shown -- opening and closing arguments, defense lawyers meeting with the accused, the prosecution's star witness, a jailhouse informant, being coached -- we don't see jury selection, to get an idea of what attorneys on both sides of a case look for in a potential juror.

If convicted, Ducic could face the death penalty, and it is this that gives his trial its dramatic tension, if you can call it that. Once we get into the jury room, the narrative picks up. One juror finds herself at odds with the 11 others and goes to the judge to be excused from duty. How she is then brought back into the fold and coaxed into a verdict tells us something about how deliberations work. Further, as jurors debate Ducic's sentencing, we see regular people honestly grappling with the power to confer life or death on a fellow human being. It's a thin line.

"Life, I guess," one juror replies, clearly struggling when asked for her sentencing verdict. "No," she says, changing her mind in one chilling moment.

"Put me under 'death.' "


'In the Jury Room'

When: 10 p.m. on ABC, Tuesday and Wednesday this week, then subsequent Tuesdays.

Host: Cynthia McFadden

Executive producer: Michael Bicks

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