It's been almost a decade since Elaine Stephenson helped send a man to jail for driving into a school bus and killing two dozen children on a church outing.
"I don't think I'll ever forget it totally," Stephenson said of her experience. "Every year at this time, we're going to remember." Those memories, she said, would be even worse without the counseling she received at the end of the trial.Juries have undergone post-trial counseling for at least 10 years, after such high-profile cases as Jeffrey Dahmer's murder trial and the trial of Larry Mahoney in the May 14, 1988, bus crash in Kentucky, said Dr. Theodore Feldmann, a psychiatrist at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.
Nightmares, anxiety, irritation and sleep disorders are common after such an experience.
"If you're bombarded on a day-to-day basis with evidence that would be disturbing to anyone, their ability to look at it objectively becomes diminished," Feldmann said. "And they become overwhelmed and lose their coping skills."
Circuit Judge Dana Levitz of Baltimore has requested jury counseling twice. The first time was after a 1992 carjacking murder trial; the victim was dragged more than a mile to her death after her arm became entangled in a seat belt.
The second was for jurors in the Rita Fisher trial, which ended Tuesday. Jurors endured two weeks of grisly autopsy photos and stories of horrific abuse before finding three defendants guilty of starving the 9-year-old girl to death.
The 12 jurors and four alternates returned to the courtroom for more than two hours of therapy on Wednesday. None would discuss the session or the trial.
"They're insurance men and teachers; they're not getting paid for this," Levitz said.
Jonathon Briskin, court psychiatrist for Baltimore County Circuit Court, said it was the first time he had debriefed a jury.
"It's similar to seeing some horrible, stressful event," he said. "People who are on juries don't run into this thing in day-to-day practice."
Sequestered juries have a particularly hard time, Feldmann said: "As the trial goes on longer and longer and they can't talk about it, it all just builds up."