The Greene County Circuit Court. (Photo by Dean Curtis)

This week I’ve been in a courtroom observing not only a murder trial but also one of the bedrocks of why, even in these wearying times, our country is strong and resilient.

Jury service.

We ask a lot of our fellow citizens, especially in a case like the one I’m covering — the murder trial of Elizabeth McKeown.

On Wednesday morning, it was the civic duty of the 12 women and two men in the jury box to look closely at photos of the body of Barbara Foster, who was run over and killed on Nov. 20, 2018.

(Fourteen are in the box because only the judge knows who the two alternates are.)

Deiter Duff, the Greene County medical examiner, calmly used words to describe the pictures, which revealed far more than could ever be said in even a 1,000 grisly words.

It is sad, but I believe true, that some of these jurors will remember a few of the photos for the rest of their lives.

Years ago, when I was a reporter in Southern California, I wrote a story that had the headline: The Jurors’ Trial.

I went back in old court records and found the names of jurors who had served in three or four of the most grisly and/or disturbing murder trials in our coverage area over the past 25 years.

One of the murder victims was a little girl who was assaulted and then strangled with the shoe laces from her tennis shoes. That’s how she was found. That’s the photo the jurors saw.

I wanted to know: Did they still remember the details of the trial? Ten years later? Twenty years later? Would they remember it for the rest of their lives?

Unanimously, of course, they did remember.

They remembered the photos. And the nights they couldn’t sleep because of those photos.

They remembered how random violence and depravity can be.

To me, in that moment, they are patriots

On Monday morning, I witnessed two hours of jury selection.

For some reason, I felt proud.

Seventy people from our community were called to serve and they were doing just that. They marched in, numbered 1 through 70. I didn’t know who was a Republican or who was a Democrat.

In my eyes, at that moment, they were patriots. Real patriots.

Some had jobs they would rather have been at and some were retired and not particularly comfortable sitting for hours on the wooden benches of the courtroom.

The judge in the case, Michael Cordonnier, jokingly told them that the select 14 would advance to the exalted level of the cushioned chairs in the jury box.

Jurors must promise to do the job. They promise to follow the law and set aside prejudices and preconceived notions.

What they do is so fundamentally important to our justice system and our nation.

In covering this trial, something else hit me. It was how everyday people, witnesses to the event, responded when they saw McKeown try to drive off after she hit Foster.

They boxed her in at the intersection of South Campbell Avenue and West Sunshine until police arrived.

There was the Uber driver, who captured everything on video — a video which was shown to jurors.

He had just left Planet Fitness. The camera is rolling automatically; one angle looks back into the car.

We see his face. We hear an Irish ditty in the vehicle. He hums along, living his life.

Then, of all things, he sees a woman who is run over in the roadway and dragged under a car.

As he speeds after the person driving away, his camera — the one facing forward — catches a glimpse of someone lying in the road.

He chases after McKeown. He boxes her in on one side as other drivers do on other sides. McKeown hits his car, too, but he holds his ground.

McKeown’s vehicle is forced to halt; she’s blocked by a different vehicle stopped at a red light.

This courageous driver testified that she put her vehicle in park so it would not budge as McKeown slammed into it twice, the wheels burning rubber and asphalt. McKeown tried to push her way through, but failed.

The driver in front of McKeown, like the Uber driver, holds her ground.

There comes a time to hold your ground; it’s part of our civic contract. It is no small thing.

The jurors in the case I’m covering will be asked to decide if McKeown was in her right mind when she did all this. After three days of trial, this seems to be a far more difficult question than I expected at the start of the trial.

So here’s what I want say to you, the good citizens who boxed McKeown in and to the jurors — even though you jurors have been admonished not to read anything in the media until the trial ends.

Thank you. I’m proud of you. You make our nation strong.

This is Pokin Around column No. 45.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin