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The Verdict’s in—but What Happens When a Juror Changes Their Mind?

Uncovering the stories of remorseful jurors—and what it takes for them to take action.

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Texas Monthly

There’s nothing easy about the job assigned to a juror. The civic duty requires those selected to spend days listening to the sometimes mundane, sometimes horrific disputes of their fellow citizens, and then weigh in—often determining the fate and future of those involved in a case. Not to mention the stress and pressures placed on jurors during deliberation that can make openly speaking your mind a real test of will.

Juror Estella Ybarra never felt right about sending Carlos Jaile to jail. Year after year, as Jaile sat in prison, his fate and her role in deciding it haunted Ybarra. She had never been fully sold on the evidence used to portray him as a rapist of an eight-year-old girl. He had three alibi witnesses testify on his behalf, after all. But when Ybarra, who had only recently begun to feel comfortable speaking English, was faced with pushy fellow jurors during deliberation, she gave in, hanging her head while Jaile was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Ybarra would think of the case and Jaile often throughout the years, but it wasn’t until 2017—nearly thirty years after Jaile had been found guilty—that she decided to do something about it. Below, I’ve gathered some articles exploring situations similar to Ybarra’s and exploring the question, “What happens when a juror changes their mind?”

Image by ftwitty / Getty Images

The Juror Who Found Herself Guilty

Michael Hall
Texas Monthly

“This definitive telling of Ybarra and Jaile’s story by Texas Monthly writer Michael Hall maps both subjects’ lives before their paths crossed and the difficult decades that followed Jaile’s guilty verdict. Especially interesting, it also lays out who Ybarra called in 2017 when she resolved to do something about her 1990 decision, and which parties helped to make things right. It’s a long read, but it’s worth making it to the end for a poignant reunion between Ybarra and Jaile.” -Amanda O’Donnell

The Story: the Juror Who Found Herself Guilty

Texas Monthly

AD: “This short 2008 entry from the American Psychological Association delves briefly into the topic of unfair convictions as the result of pressures placed on members of a jury, and is not without a fitting 12 Angry Men reference, saying, ‘in reality, individuals who are tired and under social and time pressures are much more likely to lose willpower and give in.’ This entry stresses the importance of studying the effect pressure has on verdicts and urges jurisdictions to consider the issue when enacting jury reforms.”

A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Change

Plaintiff Magazine

AD: “This 2020 writeup for Plaintiff Magazine coaches lawyers on the importance of opening statements, claiming some 80 percent of jurors make up their minds after hearing a lawyer’s introductory statement. Something this article makes clear is how difficult it can be to sway a juror once a pivotal moment during a trial has led them to lean one way or another. Ybarra said that during deliberation, the pushier jurors repeatedly referenced a dramatic moment in Jaile’s trial when the victim took the stand and pointed to him in the courtroom, alleging he was her rapist—this was despite a lack of evidence that tied Jaile to the crime and three alibi witnesses saying he was elsewhere the day of the incident. Ybarra, who remained preoccupied with and unimpressed by the evidence against Jaile throughout his case, was facing a difficult time standing her ground during deliberations.”

I Was a Juror on a Murder Trial, and I Still Can’t Let It Go

Audrey Pischl
The Marshall Project

AD: “This account of serving as a juror on a murder trial offers a first-person look at how emotionally taxing the role can be—especially when you don’t fully align with the final verdict (or in this case, a future trial’s verdict after an initial mistrial). But this writer also touches on other surprising changes that serving on a jury brought about for her, including making her feel more invested in the lives of her fellow citizens and giving her a renewed sense of duty to her community.”

Missouri Jurors Sentenced Michael Tisius to Die for Killing Prison Guards. So Why Did They Change Their Mind?

Josh Marcus
The Independent

AD: “Michael Tisius’s story differs from Jaile’s in many ways, but when members of the jury who saw the Missouri man sentenced to death spoke out against their initial decision, they faced an uphill battle similar to what Ybarra navigated in communicating her concerns to the right people. Despite a handful of former jurors saying that they would support Tisius’s sentence being commuted to life in prison, he was put to death last year. This story highlights the difficulty a juror faces in speaking out after a verdict is reached.”

Amanda O’Donnell

Amanda O’Donnell is an editor at Texas Monthly magazine where she oversees digital promotion of the magazine’s stories on Texas news, politics, food, culture, and general yee-haw. She lives in Austin where she previously worked as an editor for the city’s daily newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman. She has a beloved and terrible little dog named Butter.