Unrelenting anger is not a narrative I would be keen to watch on stage. But when it comes within the context of a trial to determine someone’s fate, it might make sense to check it out.
A juried trial normally involves collective decision-making, especially when there is a jury of peers whose role it is, to ensure that the one charged receives a verdict that is just.
It is within such a deliberating process that we meet ’12 Angry Jurors’, the play produced by Igiza Productions last weekend at the Kenya Cultural Centre.
Unfortunately, I found the incessant outrage of two jurors in the play tedious and over the top. It was unnecessarily rude, crude, malicious and at times, even physically threatening. All of those emotions can have their place in a production, but not when they are nearly nonstop as they were in 12 Angry Jurors.
The two jurors who were the chief disruptors of the deliberating process were Juror 3 (Jeff Obonyo) and Juror 10 (Samuel Ouma).
Otherwise, there were six women and four men on the jury, including one strong female foreman. She (Lisa Odhiambo) was impressive in her ability to command and curtail the egotistical show-offs who tried to bully anyone who even hinted at the innocence of the young man charged with murder.
Whether the motive of the bullies was simply to save time by voting to reach a unanimous verdict of guilty so they could go home early, wasn’t clear.
We couldn’t know except initially, the first round of voting elicited 11 votes of guilty against the young man, age 19, who was charged with stabbing his father to death.
There was just one, Juror 8 (Linda Kamuni) who voted against his guilt because the final verdict had to be determined “beyond reasonable doubt’, and she didn’t believe the evidence presented in court had met that high standard.
Juror 9, the old man of the 12, said he admired the courage of the hold-out position that Juror 8 had taken. It was the reason he was the first juror to change his vote and side with her.
The bullies were all set to beat up Juror 5 (Allan Sifuna), since he too had expressed a hint of a second thought. But Juror 5 hadn’t ‘changed his vote. The wise old man had.
Apparently, in most juried cases, the jurors are left to deliberate on their own. They can set their own rules, and come to their conclusions using a secret ballot or open deliberations. But in this case, decision-making often felt like a battleground since the bullies kept trying to take charge.
The other key factor that Juror 8 observed was related to the lad’s defence. Since he had no funds to pay for a high-powered lawyer who could ensure he got a fair trial, the State gave him an inexperienced young advocate who she felt had left so many questions unanswered, which wasn’t good. Her points were so well taken by fellow jurors that ultimately, all 12 came around to her point of view.
But surprisingly, it wasn’t a point that she raised that finally turned the tide. It was one made by the ever-so-delicate Juror 6 (Eve Kiragu), the one sometimes described as the ‘crybaby’ of the crew.
Juror 6 was sensitively portrayed as someone physically pained by the violence embodied in men like jurors 3 and 19. But she must have gained some courage when she realised no one else had her concerns so she would have to speak up or else the boy would probably be convicted of murder.
So, Juror 6 finally spoke up. She asked how the little old lady who was near-sighted and living across the street had seen the boy stab his dad.
She had been wakened just before the incident occurred, but where did she find the time to locate her glasses? Put them on, and then witness the murder across the street?
“All she must have seen was a big blur,” Juror 6 finally got up her nerve to say. The actor got her timing just right. There were several times before when she had tried to speak but did not have the strength or courage to stand up for the truth. When she finally did, all the rest quickly agreed with her perspective.
And voi la! A unanimous vote for ‘not guilty’ was reached. So, apart from the two terrorists among the 12, Igiza also won the day.