- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) — They played board games, read and made small talk rather than endure silence. To break the tension, they would hold hands or hug. Life at home didn’t get much better for jurors during the six-week trial of convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad.

“It felt like a funeral every day,” said Rebecca Bee, one of the jurors who convicted Muhammad of capital murder and later recommended execution.

Forbidden to talk about the trial, the jurors said they sat through often wrenching testimony and evidence with no outlet for what they had seen or heard — in the jury room or at home.

Muhammad, 42, was sentenced to death Monday for the slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, one of 10 persons slain in sniper attacks last year in the Washington area. Lee Boyd Malvo, his teenage companion, is on trial in Chesapeake, Va.

In the jury room, talk would turn to vacations, sports, their families. Usually, after sitting in a tense silence punctuated by an occasional sigh, someone would crack a joke and lighten the mood, Miss Bee said.

For sustenance, they consumed fruit, bagels, candy, crumpets, Hot Pockets, burritos, sodas, Gatorade, orange juice, milk, doughnuts, nachos and Halloween candy.

It was when the jurors got home that the day usually hit them.

“My poor wife has had to support most of the conversation,” juror Lloyd Brantley told the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, which contacted several jurors.

“I don’t think we expected it to be that bad,” said fellow juror Nancy Rodriguez. “It got deep down.”

Her family would help with chores, and her teenage daughter would shield her from the television news. Still, Mrs. Rodriguez felt the burden.

The stress was compounded by the fact that, as she said, “You can’t discuss this major thing that’s going on in your life with anybody.”

In her household, Miss Bee would come home, slip upstairs to lie down and replay images of the victims in her head. “I found myself thinking about them at night and when I woke up in the morning.”

Miss Bee spent the better part of some weekends in her pajamas. “It was like I was in mourning,” she said.

Mr. Brantley took a different tack, clearing his head with walks around his neighborhood and a glass of white wine as he watched the ducks in his back yard.

“I’d turned off a lot of life,” he said.

As the case wore on, the stress grew worse, and each dealt with it in their own way. One, for instance, turned to the Bible.

In Mr. Brantley’s case, his wife packed their bags and they drove to Dover, Del., for a weekend of dinners out, slot machines and, most important, a different bed.

“When you can’t talk about it and keep it all bundled up inside, your mind’s constantly in motion,” he said. “It’s tough to sleep.”

With the trial over, the jurors are each restarting their lives. They are cleaning the house and rescheduling the doctors’ appointments and getting back to work.

Mrs. Rodriguez is a nurse once more, taking comfort in helping others. She plans to talk with her pastor soon about the trial.

“I just want to get everything out of my head,” she said.

Miss Bee is considering counseling and taking some time off work to ease her mind.

“It’ll always be there, but it will get better,” she said.

Mr. Brantley looks forward to getting out of town to spend Thanksgiving with his daughter’s family. After that, the numerous projects awaiting him at his engineering office should help clear his head of the past six weeks.

“I’ll go back Monday,” he said, “and be so overwhelmed with work that it will go away.”

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