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One last weird jury? No, just a careful one

Published May 11, 2003

Jack Alberto York, who is either 38 or 39 depending on whether you believe him or his court file, went to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office two days after he was questioned about a sexual battery case involving three girls (two 10-year-olds and a 9-year-old) - and confessed.

Later he wrote a letter to the mother of two of the girls and confessed again.

On Tuesday he got on the witness stand and confessed again.

York offered an excuse frequently given by child molesters, believe it or not, that it was the fault of one of the girls who started a game of "Truth or Dare," which resulted in all three girls' performing oral sex on him.

To York's defense that he is basically too stupid to resist the advances of elementary school kids, his attorney added that he was a wimp who was easily bullied by his ex-wife and a prosecutor into making three, count 'em, three, confessions.

Unfortunately for York neither stupidity nor wimpdom are exceptions to the law that says you spend the rest of your life in prison for having sex with girls not yet in the fourth grade.

And a jury saw it that way, too.


I was scratching my head Wednesday when the reporter covering the trial came back to the office and said the jury had been out for two hours. (In the end, they were out for four.)

"What am I missing?" I asked. "Is there anything that keeps this from being a slam-dunk for the state?"

"In the old days," I began - hearing sighs in the room from those who have probably heard more than enough stories beginning with that phrase - but I went forward anyhow, "it would have been different."

In the old Pasco County courthouse we all hung out in a place near enough to the jury room that you could hear the toilet flush, and some of us learned to read the flushes pretty well.

There was always an initial flurry, brought on by the fact jurors had just sat through a lengthy session of hearing jury instructions. Those were ignored. Then there was a pause followed by a flush when they would dispose of the ballots with which they had elected a foreperson. After that there would be one flush for every vote taken.

I had York's case figured for one of those two-flushers.

Keeping in mind that Pasco is a county where jurors sometimes do strange things, I was beginning to wonder.

I remembered the time a jury there once filled out the wrong form and accidentally convicted a guy of second-degree murder when they meant to convict him of first-degree murder. And I remember the juror who turned out to be a complete loony and proved it by claiming she was followed when she left the courthouse and sending the judge a lengthy letter explaining how (before the trial began) she knew the defendant was guilty because the whites of his eyes were yellow and it meant he had venereal disease and wanted to commit rapes to spread it.

Was there to be one final chapter of jury weirdness in my career?

It turned out that the jury in this case was simply doing its job.

Jurors had paid close attention to the judge's instructions, and, as instructed, had also carefully examined the possibility of finding York guilty of any one of several lesser included offenses, but in the end they came back with verdicts that will probably send him to prison for life without parole.

I also couldn't help noting that the prosecutor in the case was Stacey Sumner, daughter of the late Tom Muck, who was a highly esteemed detective for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office until his death in a 1993 traffic crash. I knew Muck for most of his career, and know he had a special softness in his heart for the victims of sex crimes against children, and a special enthusiasm for punishing those who committed them."

It turned out the verdict came in the day before what would have been his 67th birthday.

I am pretty sure that Tom Muck, somewhere, was smiling.

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