BOOKS JULY 16, 2013
The news that juror B37 from the Zimmerman trial was signed by a literary agent—Sharlene Martin, persuasively described on her website as “the Jerry Maguire of literary agents” and tied to books written about the trials of Jodi Arias, O.J. Simpson, and Amanda Knox—was hardly surprising. But within hours the rumblings of outrage began. A petition appeared on Change.org, “Drop Juror B37 From Martin Literary Management.” One Twitter user named Cocky McSwagsalot shared Martin’s phone number and address, urging the public to bombard her. And then, before 48 hours had lapsed, came the announcement that B37 had changed her mind about the book, and Martin had dropped her. “I realize it was necessary for our jury to be sequestered in order to protest [sic] our verdict from unfair outside influence, but that isolation shielded me from the depth of pain that exists among the general public over every aspect of this case,” B37 declared. “After careful consideration of the book project with Zimmeran #JurorB37, I have decided to rescind my offer of representation,” Martin tweeted. At least she went out with a hashtag.
Such is the pace of today’s publishing world: Many literary agents devote considerable energy to monitoring the cultural pulse via social media, tracking feedback, seeking out personalities with big followings, which can make for a shape-shifting, fragile grasp of public opinion. For Martin to drop B37 over a social media outcry seems to contradict the very premise she was originally banking on—that the book would be sure to pique or rankle, that a morbid fascination with its murky ethics would be enough to persuade people to buy it. Granted, Anderson Cooper’s interview with juror B37 last night, while fascinating and strange, did not exactly bode well for a vivid meditation of the judicial system. “Was there a particular witness that stands out to you? Who did you find to be the most credible?” Cooper asked the darkened silhouette across from him. “The doctor—I don't know his name,” she replied. This was, after all, a person selected at least in part because she had told attorneys during her jury selection questioning that newspapers are mostly “used in the parrot’s cage. Not even read. It’s been so long since I even read one. The only time I see them is when I’m putting them down on the floor.”
But B37, needless to say, would not have been the first juror from a prominent criminal case to write a book. Browsing Amazon’s offerings makes juror accounts seem like something of a cultural obsession, or at least a cottage industry, that has cropped up over the past decade. (A New York Times writer once called the O.J. jury “the most loquacious jury in history.”) A dubious e-publishing company titled “True Jury Stories Publishing” even released a very purple fake account of the Casey Anthony trial, written from the imagined perspective of a nonexistent juror. Now that B37’s literary ambitions have been quashed, the good news is the juror-memoir canon is full of books that are mostly either histrionic or boring and generally have minimal impact on the public discourse.
Take the Gothamist e-book Confessions of a Rape Cop Juror by Patrick Kirkland, self-described “middle-class white guy” and juror in the 2011 trial of the two New York police officers, Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata, accused of raping a drunk woman. Kirkland’s story can be gripping, but more often preposterous in the way it tries to juice up the drama of jury duty. “Moreno’s short black hair, tough frown, and blank countenance made him look like a man with a dark secret,” he writes. “For the next eight weeks, he’d glare straight ahead, cold and silent. His demeanor begged for a label, and so I give him one: rapist.” Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menendez Juror by Hazel Thornton, published in 1995, makes for a pretty tedious play-by-play rather than a dramatic narrative reconstruction. For instance: “They never directly mentioned self defense or abuse on the tape, but it could be construed (and was construed by Ms. Abramson and Dr. Burgess) that there were many allusions to both.” The 1995 book The Private Diary of an O.J. Juror was co-written by a National Enquirer writer and a juror, Michael Knox, who was dismissed from the jury panel after the judge discovered that he had once been arrested for kidnapping his girlfriend. His book, at least, has a bouncy voice and a refreshingly transparent commercialism. “This murder had passion and frenzy written all over it,” Knox offers. Also: “Writing a book is the most complete way to tell the story of the O.J. jury from the inside—and so what if I make a few bucks?” As a measure of their lasting influence, used copies of both Thornton and Knox’s books are currently available on Amazon for exactly one cent.