Jurors Discuss Verdict
Brandenburg, Ky. — After reaching a verdict that could potentially cripple a major Klan group, some jurors slept with loaded guns next to their beds, while others hardly slept at all.
"For a lot of us, it was baptism by fire," one first-time juror told the Intelligence Report. "And, to be honest, I hope I never have sit to on anything like that again."
The 12-member jury deliberated for more than six hours before coming to a decision on Nov. 14, struggling with the question at the heart of the case brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center: whether to hold the leader of the Imperial Klans of America (IKA) accountable for a 2006 attack on a teenager perpetrated by members of his group. After a discussion that by several accounts was emotional and prolonged, the jury found that Ron Edwards, the head of the IKA, shared responsibility for the assault and awarded $2.5 million to the victim.
The jury that decided the case consisted of 11 whites and one Asian. One juror had a biracial niece. All other prospective jurors who said they had biracial relatives were eliminated by the defense during jury selection. The jurors, who ranged in age from 29 to 75, included two homemakers, a psychotherapist, a maintenance supervisor, a school bus driver, a college student, a federal law enforcement officer and an after-school director. Most identified their political views as conservative, while a few said they were moderates.
Five of the jurors later spoke about their deliberations in phone interviews with the Intelligence Report. Because the jurors feared reprisal from Klan members, the magazine agreed not to publish their names.
According to their accounts, none of the 12 jurors condoned the IKA's philosophy or disputed that a crime had taken place. Yet they were divided over whether Edwards — who claimed he never sent his Klansmen to the fair — was liable for the attack on Jordan Gruver.
For some, it was an easy decision.
"I look at him as being no different from a parent," said one juror. "He planted the seeds and sat back and watered them with every one of his Nordic Fests [annual white-power concerts hosted by IKA], every one of his preachings."
Another juror said she felt Edwards was culpable because he allowed convicted criminals to become members and preached nothing but hate. It didn't matter to her whether Edwards knew about his Klansmen's activities at the fair or even if it was an official recruiting event. "I think they live to recruit," she said.
Although a majority of jurors believed at the outset that Edwards was partly at fault in the attack, it took at least two hours of heated discussion before nine people — the minimum required for a verdict — agreed on that point. A few still felt that Edwards' influence did not play a substantial role in the assault on Gruver. "The individuals who committed this crime were not individuals who were easily persuaded," said one juror.
"Those boys were going to do it no matter what," said another. "You couldn't control them."
After the verdict announcement, some jurors said they loaded their firearms and placed them at their bedsides in case of trouble, while another spent the night at a friend's house.
One juror described how she had trouble sleeping at night during the trial and wondered if Klansmen were following her as she drove. A week after the trial ended, she was still checking in frequently with her children and feared something would happen to them or her husband.
"It's the scariest thing to look at someone and know what evil is," she said. "When I looked at Mr. Edwards, that's what I saw."
Yet she wasn't cowed and voted to hold Edwards responsible. "I wanted my children to know that even though I was scared, I still did what I thought was right."