Post-traumatic stress disorder is a problem which plagues jurors, but it’s sparingly discussed in the news media or film. This is the case despite the fact that 1.5 million serve jury duty yearly to decide individuals’ fates, which include the issuance of life-crippling jail time, and in 11 states, the death penalty.
Director Florent Vassault’s Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2 explores how one such juror, Lindy Lou , tried to heal herself from the trauma caused by her election to sentence convicted murderer Bobby Wilcher to death at a 1994 sentencing hearing in Mississippi. Vassault has rendered a fine documentary which humanizes the American juror as more than just another digit.
The film follows Lindy Lou on a one week trip through the Mississippi and Georgia suburbs to discuss her feelings about Wilcher’s sentence with each juror from the 1994 panel of 12. Accordingly, Vassault is primarily an intimate observer, giving Lindy the wheel to direct her own journey. By placing a steady camera by Lindy’s side as she drives her family SUV through Mississippi’s winding back roads and capacious highways, Vassault establishes the atmosphere of a quietly revealing road trip in which black-and-white politics is grayed by personal reflection.
Certainly, Lindy reveals that she can comfortably blend herself into far right-wing ideology and rhetoric. In one disarming scene captured at a convenience store parking lot, Lindy — — a deeply religious grandmother with a seemingly gentle visage — proudly displays two pistols in her SUV. She states with a menacing tone that the bigger of her two guns is for when “you really mean to hurt somebody”, referring to the threat of an attacker. Equally upsetting is a highway travel scene where Lindsay passively listens to a neo-conservative radio host chastise London for electing Sadiq Khan, a Muslim, for mayor.
Yet despite Lindy’s seemingly easy fit into rural conservatism, she is actively against the death penalty on a deeply human level. Refreshingly,Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2 doesn’t explain away this apparent political dichotomy. Rather, Lindy’s personal experience is at the forefront of Vassault’s film. Lindy’s conversations — plainly stated, open, and at times vulnerable — better reveal some understated nuances in American politics and culture more so than mere argumentation ever can.
In one telling scene, Lindy discusses with Bill (juror 9) how her “heart” and “head” split when she was on the jury panel. Bill, a smart and friendly middle-aged man in a cushy suburban home, relates to Lindy. At the same time, however, Bill’s reservations about the sentencing is disconcertingly qualified. While Bill admits to being alarmed by jurors’ utter confusion with the sentencing criteria, he’s disinclined to state he would change the jury system. This is an eye-opening aside into American impassivity toward fundamental structural changes in troubled areas of governance.
Also notable is Brett (juror 11), a perfectly polite but admittedly over analytical accountant. While Brett analyzes sentencing criteria with crystalline intelligence, he refuses to question the instructions’ moral or ethical worth. As is the case with Bill and Brett, that each juror refuses to discuss the judicial system and the death penalty is quite compelling, as too is how Lindy emotionally reacts to each in her search for solace.
Vassault’s camerawork is acutely observational and adds much emotional texture to the arguments advanced in Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2. He peppers Lindy’s travels with purposeful shots of Confederate flags draped from rooftops, church crosses, fast food restaurants and immense forestry — all suggest an atmosphere of isolation, intransigence, and fierce protectionism perhaps responsible for resolute defenses of gun ownership and the death penalty. The same can be said for the monochromatic line of spacious homes surrounded by long, plush lawns which often introduce Lindy’s next interview subject.
Then again, Lindy comes from this area too — she has a comfortable home, a glorious porch, and all the trimmings of a cozy familial existence. But Vassault posits that maybe what makes Lindy different from the other jurors is her victimization by a harrowing duty. Two similarly lit scenes — a dim court where Lindy served as a juror, and an austere, dark motel room where Lindy recollects her visitations with Wilcher while he was on death row — reflect not so much heroism, but an elderly woman’s obsessive and lonely pursuit to heal from a singularly dark experience. That experience also happens to be a fundamental part of American Jurisprudence.
Whether Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2 will convince any audiences to change their minds on the death penalty or generate more funding for juror PTSD care, remains to be seen. But what the film does make clear is that America is a peculiar place, where ordinary people are required to endure extraordinarily traumatic ordeals just for a simple life. Most wish to turn a blind eye toward this tragic detail, while others like Lindy Lou simply don’t have a choice but to deal with it.
* * *
Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2 Is shownubg at the New York Human Rights Watch Film Festival This weekend.