Editor's note: Lake Forest resident Jeff Bennett was selected for the jury that convicted Oscar D. Perez Perez of molesting five young boys in his Lake Forest apartment. Here, he shares his experience.
It was not the type of case you want to sit on as a juror.
During voir dire [jury selection] most of the potential jurors seemed to share shock and discomfort when the basics of the case were presented. The defense counsel, Case Barnett, even brought up the sinking feeling that most people felt during his questioning of jurors.
For me, it was the seriousness of the alleged crimes that initially hit me, and the potential for being tossed into the middle of it as a juror.
For others, the sexual nature of the crime brought up a lot of issues. I would say nearly 25 potential jurors were dismissed after going in and speaking privately with judge and counsel.
I was impressed by Judge [Steven] Bromberg. He presented the law and the constitutional requirements in a clear way and asked each of us if we could be fair by the definition he presented to follow the law using only the evidence, setting aside any personal feelings, and uphold the Constitution even if we disagreed with the law.
As a member of the National Guard, he definitely struck every civil bone in my body, and while I was still hoping I would be dismissed, it made me feel quite honored to be part of the judicial process.
That being said, this was anything but an easy jury to sit on.
Hearing children testify about this trusted mentor French-kissing them and touching their privates was something I will not soon forget.
You could see that Oscar D. Perez Perez had assumed a father role for many of these children.
In a recorded interview with one of the victims, we heard the interviewer explain available counseling services, that it was someone you could discuss personal or family matters with. The victim quickly rejected the offer explaining that was what the priest did.
Perez was held in a very high position by these children, so hearing testimony after testimony of how he abused that trust and scared these kids into submission with threats of the church collapsing and eternal damnation is something I wished only occurred in the minds of television writers.
This was the type of trial where you are hoping that the charges are not true because they are just that wrong. However, the victims' testimony was convincing and the genuine demeanor of all the boys.
I did not know what to expect from the deliberation process but wanted it to be fair, organized and efficient.
Since selected as the foreperson, I recommended discussing each victim individually at first and then discuss each charge as it related to that victim.
When examining the charge, we were instructed that we needed to determine if the boys were of the age indicated by the charge, if the alleged conduct willfully occurred and if the defendant had specific intent based on the charge.
We started off by agreeing on the victims' ages so we could focus on the other two elements of each crime. We moved through each allegation systematically, but when we reached charges 12-15 it was clear that we wanted to discuss the testimony and evidence further, so we tabled them until we finished working though the other allegations, at which point we discussed those charges.
We wanted to review one of the CAST interviews and do a careful comparison to the testimony and discuss those in more depth, so after splitting the transcript into 12 sections, we found all the relevant information and, after discussing, moved forward through those charges.
I was surprised at the process; it seemed that for every area I wanted to discuss a bit more, other jurors did too -- and the things I thought were very clear the other jurors had the similar impressions. All the jurors worked hard to ensure that we were being fair and discussing each topic and the relevant evidence before voting. It was one of the most civil meetings I have ever been involved in.
It was inconvenient having to go into my normal job before and after court.
It was uncomfortable dealing with the topics of the case.
It was enlightening as a look into our legal system and gave me a huge respect for our criminal justice system.
You hear reports on radio and TV about high-profile cases and many of them leave you with the impression the system is broken, but in courtroom C28 of the Central Justice Center Superior Court of California, County of Orange, there was justice, fairness, and constitutional due process.