Basu trial aftermath: Counseling for jurors Haunting visions of grisly ordeal HOWARD COUNTY

August 20, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

Jurors in the second Pam Basu carjacking murder trial told court officials they are proud of their verdict, yet at least one described being haunted by visions of the barbed-wire fence that the scientist's body struck as she was dragged to her death.

To help the jurors cope with their feelings after the trial of Rodney Eugene Solomon, they were offered a unique counseling session yesterday at the Baltimore County Circuit Courthouse. The session may help researchers learn what courts nationwide can do to help jurors.

Just as emergency workers may experience sleeplessness, a loss of appetite and flashbacks after a grisly accident, so may jurors who must sit through graphic testimony in the courts.

"Although there are unique and individual differences . . . the potential reactions are actually very similar," said Ogden Rogers, a social work professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County.

Dr. Rogers was part of the team of counselors who helped the jury that convicted Solomon and sentenced him to life imprisonment for the murder of Dr. Basu late Wednesday.

The session -- the first of its kind in Baltimore County -- was offered by the National Center for State Courts as part of its study on juror stress in high-profile court cases.

"We want to get a sense of how pervasive the problem is," said Thomas Hafemeister, senior staff attorney for the center at William & Mary College in Williamsburg, Va.

Mr. Hafemeister said the center is looking at the Basu trials as a pilot test for what is hoped to be a national study to determine what courts can do to ease the jobs of jurors.

During the counseling sessions, the jurors are given questionnaires to rate on a scale of 1-to-5 the level of stress they experienced during different phases of the trial, he said. They are then asked to describe the stress.

The jury of nine women and three men spared Solomon, 27, of Washington, from the death penalty, but denied him parole after finding him guilty of first-degree murder for the Sept. 8, 1992, slaying of Dr. Basu.

The Howard County jurors who convicted Solomon's co-defendant, 17-year-old Bernard Eric Miller of Washington, were given the same kind of counseling by the center after a trial in April.

Baltimore County Judge Dana Mark Levitz said that he hopes to provide jurors with counseling in future cases. Howard Judge Dennis Sweeney, who presided over the Miller trial, said he also thinks courts should provide the service.

"Oftentimes [jurors] are told to go home and be on their way without any assistance or any one to talk to," he said. "That's not fair."

Dr. Basu, a 34-year-old scientist was dragged nearly two miles to her death after Solomon and Miller forced her from her BMW near her home in Savage, Howard County. Solomon's trial was moved to Baltimore County.

During six days of testimony, police officers and a medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Dr. Basu provided the jury with gruesome details of the injuries she received after her left arm became entangled in a seat belt and she was dragged alongside the car.

Prosecutors also showed the jurors a poster-size picture of Dr. Basu's bloodied body left lying on the road after it finally became separated from the car.

Debbie Krohn, Judge Levitz's law clerk, said one juror said she has visions of a road lined by a barbed-wire fence. Other jurors told Ms. Krohn that they are now more cautious when going to their cars, making sure that all the doors are locked once they are safely inside.

"The creaks in your house get louder now," Dr. Krohn said, quoting a juror.

Judge Levitz, who sat in on part of yesterday's session, said that the jurors were cautioned that they may suffer from emotional and physical problems, such as exhaustion, anxiety, nightmares and headaches.

Their relationships with relatives and close friends also may be affected after days of being ordered not to talk about the case, he said.

"Every one of these things is a normal reaction by normal people," Dr. Rogers said.

Judge Levitz said that the jurors were advised to talk about their feelings with their family, get back into the routine of daily life and seek more counseling if necessary.

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