Trials of faith

Sometimes we note stories about natural disasters or other catastrophes that are bizarre for how obviously they avoid discussion of religion. Meanwhile, in real life people talk about religion all the time, catastrophe or not. Heck, my daughter attends a completely secular playgroup and yesterday morning a very casual conversation between a couple of parents meandered into the religious.

But some reporters tend to view religious discussions as icky and sanitize them from news stories.

Since we complain when this happens, it's also worth noting when it doesn't. A reader sent us this CNN story about two members of the jury that deliberated the trial of Steven Hayes. He was convicted of three unbelievably brutal murders in a 2007 Connecticut home invasion. The jury earlier convicted him of murder, capital murder and kidnapping, charges that don't begin to capture how horrific the crime was. The men who committed the crime invaded the Petit family home, beat and tied up the father, raped and strangled the mother, molested one of the daughters and set the house on fire. The daughters died of smoke inhalation. The father rolled to a neighbor's house for help. All this was after the criminals kidnapped the mother and forced her to go to a bank to withdraw $15,000.

Anyway, this week the jury determined Hayes should die for his crimes. In a 20-minute interview on HLN, the host asks many questions and when religion is brought up by one of the jurors, she follows up on it. You can watch the interview or read a story that summarizes some of it here. The second paragraph of the story includes one of the comments that mentions religious faith. Later in the story we read:

Those outside the jury room wondered why jurors took their time to decide on the death penalty, Calzetta and [Maico] Cardona said -- their verdict came on the fourth day of deliberation. But "we wanted to make sure everybody was comfortable with the decision," Cardona said.

"This is a huge deal," Calzetta said. "Everybody needed their own time."

"I have a very spiritual background, and I thought that this would be the only opportunity for this man to ever make peace with his Supreme Being, if he even has one," or to accept responsibility, Calzetta said. She felt the death penalty was necessary for Hayes to accept responsibility or experience remorse.

Keim said the jurors had some trouble sorting out the paperwork and procedures, but likewise stressed the significance of their decision.

"All 12 of us tried to keep our emotions in check because we knew that we had to make a decision here on a man's life. And it was very very difficult for us," she said.

There's not much to point out journalistically -- it's just a Q&A of two jurors. But when they started discussing their participation in the murder trial using religious language, the host didn't reroute them.

The broadcast interview also had a segment about how the jurors came to a different understanding of the reality of evil. One of the jurors said, "If you ever disbelieved the existence of evil -- it's there. It's in the world."

I served on a federal trial with a jury where we convicted a man of various conspiracy charges. It was such a difficult process even though we knew that the man would face only limited jail time. I can't really imagine what a murder trial such as this would be like. I had a friend who served on the murder trial for the man who killed Polly Klass and he said it changed him deeply. These jurors also try to convey how much their life changed.

The interview also discusses another religious angle:

Cardona said he was struck by the Petit family telling jurors they were sorry the panel had to go through such an experience. "This family is so dignified, gracious, classy," he said. William Petit "held his head high throughout this entire case," he said. "... He was an inspiration to all of us."

The Petit family had said they were praying for the jurors. "It's amazing to me that in the midst of their horror and grief they are so generous to think about praying for us, there in the midst of this horror. It's heartwarming," Calzetta said. "... I can't even put it to words."

Again, this is simply how people talk and it's good and right to include quotes like this in a news story. The New York Post ran a snarky, derisive piece about jurors doing such national media. But the last part mentioned the big ghost I thought was lacking in the HLN interview mentioned above:

Among the most touching of the appearances was an interview of Hawke-Petit's father, the Rev. Richard Hawke.

"You're an ordained minister, certainly in your years of studying the Bible you would have to have real questions about a situation like this -- what's your feeling about this death penalty," The Early Show's Harry Smith asked Hawke

"We really felt like we were between a rock and a hard place, for we value life so much," the retired reverend answered. "But we have come to realize that there are some people who just do not deserve to live in God's world, and we feel that Steven was one of those."

I assume that the nature of this crime made such questions less likely, but they are still worth asking. And here's another interesting anecdote about the reverend here.

This quote from the man who lost his wife and daughter also includes religion. The Associated Press included it high in their story:

Dr. William Petit, the husband and father of the victims, said the verdict was not about revenge.

"Vengeance belongs to the Lord," Petit said. "This is about justice. We need to have some rules in a civilized society."

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