MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - More juries are sequestered in Memphis than Nashville, Houston or even Detroit or Los Angeles. Is it a good use of taxpayer money or a waste?
Taxpayers pick up the tab for the jury's hotel bills, three meals a day, and the overtime paid deputies who watch over jurors while they are prevented from reading or watching the news and kept in hotels away from outside influences.
In Shelby County jurors are sequestered if the prosecutor, defendant's lawyer or judge thinks there might be intense media coverage. But the truth is many juries are sequestered, not because of potential news coverage, but because judges and lawyers don't trust Shelby County jurors.
Remember the OJ Simpson trial? 1995 was the last time Los Angeles sequestered a jury. But at Shelby County's Criminal Justice Center it happens all the time.
According to Shelby County District Attorney, Amy Wierich, "We don't want jurors to be influenced by reading the paper or watching the news or whatever the situation might be."
Shelby County Judge Chris Craft said, "If you were on a murder trial and you weren't sequestered you would read the paper, you would go on the internet and you would blog."
So fear of blogging is enough for judge craft to order a jury shut off from the world. When asked why trusting the jury to not watch TV or read the paper wasn't enough, Craft replied, "We don't have to trust them if we sequester the jury."
That lack of trust costs taxpayers plenty. In about a one year, Shelby County spent almost half a million dollars on hotel rooms and meals for sequestered jurors. Jurors were paid about $100,000.
More than a million dollars was spent on overtime for the sheriff's deputies assigned to courts, which includes the expense of sequestered juries.
It's a lot of money, and the truth is, it's a gamble.
Judge Craft told us, "I've sequestered juries and then it turns out there was no pretrial publicity."
Those in charge don't think there's a problem spending all this money.
"No, I don't think we are sequestering too much," Weirich said.
They say you can't put a price on justice, but the truth is you can add up how much it costs.
Speaking of costs, taxpayers are picking up the tab on a lot of fancy free meals for the jurors and deputies. We'll show you what they are eating and where as our investigation continues in part 3.
If you want Jeni DiPrizio to find out the truth for you, send an email to email@example.com