Denver Post, Colorado.
Sunday, May 28, 2006.
"They are just as able to make sense of the (evidence) as a fully sighted person," said Dennis McKinney, jury commissioner for El Paso County, on people with vision disabilities such as Joe Kovach, above, serving on juries. (Post / Karl Gehring)
After several days of testimony, there was no doubt in Joe Kovach's mind that gang member Timothy Guy Kemp committed first-degree murder.
In the jury room, when some of his fellow jurors questioned just how long it took Kemp to pull a weapon from his pocket, Kovach stood and demonstrated how quickly it could be done.
>From his pocket he pulled out a tape recorder, which he used during the trial because his Braille machine would have been too loud and distracting to others.
"I stood up and said, 'This is how long it takes.' By the time I said 'takes,' I had the tape recorder out and pointed at them," Kovach recalled.
Kovach, 29, recently was seated on the jury that convicted Kemp of first- degree murder after a trial that lasted several days. Kovach was probably the first blind juror to sit on a Denver jury, said Miles Flesche, Denver district- court administrator who has been in the Denver courts 26 years.
For Kovach, serving on the jury tested his senses and tested the ability of prosecutors, defense attorneys and Denver District Judge Morris Hoffman to put aside any beliefs they might have about a blind person sitting on a serious court case.
Kovach said that during jury selection, Hoffman and the lawyers asked him how he'd "look" at evidence such as crime- scene maps and diagrams.
"I told them as long as it is described to me while it's going on or in the course of jury deliberations, I could go back and look at everything," he said.
Kovach also was familiar with the intersection - East Colfax Avenue and Logan Street - where Kemp was accused of killing a man who objected to Kemp wearing a cap that said "CK," which stands for "Crip Killer."
In addition to asking the lawyers to be descriptive, Kovach also requested that he be allowed to whisper comments of witnesses into the tape recorder.
Because Hoffman allowed the jury to take notes, the judge had no problem with Kovach using the recorder.
Three floors below Courtroom 23, where Kovach heard the Kemp case, is the courtroom of blind Denver juvenile Judge Dana Wakefield, who for more than two decades has worked as a judge.
"I sit as a trier of fact, and I'm a jury of one," Wakefield said. "And I've been doing it for 26 years."
There were times Kovach needed a bit of help. Jurors helped him through the maze of exhibits and boxes in the courtroom. And on at least one occasion, they helped him assess the demeanor of a witness, a police officer from the Denver gang unit.
Kovach said the officer sounded nervous as he testified. So he leaned over and asked a fellow juror if the officer appeared nervous. Was he squirming, wiggling in his chair?
The answer was "no."
"So I had to kind of step back and realize, 'OK, the guy has kind of an odd inflection to his voice and his speech pattern.' It sounds like he is nervous, but he wasn't fidgeting or anything like that," Kovach recalled.
Kovach said the only problem he encountered was when witnesses, standing at pictures of the scene, would say that someone was coming from "this way or that way" or from "up here" or "down there."
He said his fellow jurors helped him understand what directions were being described.
Kovach is not the first blind person to be seated on a Colorado jury.
Dennis McKinney, the jury commissioner for El Paso County, said three legally blind people have served there in the past eight years. Two had partial sight, and one, like Kovach, was totally blind.
"I think as long as everybody agrees that they can make (arrangements) to make it as easy as possible for that person, I think it is a great idea," McKinney said. "They are just as able to make sense of the (evidence) as a fully sighted person."
Kovach said the experience was a good one.
"I was glad to serve and do my part," he said.
Staff writer Howard Pankratz can be reached at 303-820-1939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
End of article.
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