Some mail, we just don't look forward to receiving. Like credit card bills, or that friendly reminder about your proctology exam. Or greetings from the Internal Revenue Service. But when Richland's Judge of Elections, Tim Ritter, learned that he had been selected for county jury duty, he was actually excited. Someone has to do it, and who better than a Judge?
Little did Ritter know that he would be assigned to one of the most heinous murder cases in Bucks, that of Samuel (Skippy) Funk, who, in 2007, was accused of murdering his girlfriend, Jacquelyn Goulding, after she was apparently ending their stormy one-year relationship. "I really had to consider how impartial I could be" Ritter explained. "I generally have strong opinions, and a natural trust of police, so it was a challenge to weigh a case based only on the facts and the law."
What characteristics were necessary to satisfy both the prosecution, and defense, that Ritter would be fair and honest? Military parents. College education. Good marriage. Four kids in QCSD. Background in accounting, business, and property management. Operates his own business. Serves on both the Richland and Quakertown Area planning commissions. No objections, your honor. For the next five days, Tim would be known as Juror #9.
Joining him were a Boeing electrical engineer, mortgage broker, former Marine pilot, Teva scientist, school teacher, county boiler room worker, and banker. Amazingly, among the 14 panelists drawn from all of Bucks, five were from the Quakertown area. Ritter was one of two men considered for foreman, but lost out to a fellow in his sixties who had an Assistant DA son-in-law, and was serving on his fourth jury.
The judge was Mitchell Goldberg, who is in his first term. Ritter was very impressed: "I will be voting for him. His patience and compassion with the jury was overwhelming and unexpected." He was also impressed with the prosecution, headed by Assistant DA Robert James: "They were very prepared, with reams of data, and testimony from more than 25 witnesses, experts, and law enforcement. Among them was Maria Jenkins, Goulding's mother, who testified that she had seen almost immediately that Funk was an angry, controlling, and insanely jealous man. She claimed that Funk had 'stolen' her daughter from Goulding's former husband, Richard, while doing repair work at their house."
Other witnesses revealed that the couple fought frequently, and that Funk had previously threatened Goulding's life. According to phone records and witnesses, he once left 15 angry voicemail messages in a 30-minute period. Ritter handled the unsettling details better than some fellow jurists: "The autopsy report produced the most damning evidence, but it also took out Juror #8, who, perhaps only coincidentally, suffered an attack of 'flu' just as we got to the gruesome pictures. The dead body had multiple defensive wounds, but there were none on the defendant, destroying Funk's original story he told police about a self-defense killing. He also self-inflicted four knife wounds, but it didn't fool the experts at the PA State Police Lab in Bethlehem. They gave us quite an education in serology and blood stain pattern analysis."
The defense had nothing to counter the evidence that Funk killed Goulding, scratched himself with the knife, cleaned up some blood, stole her jewelry and her car, pawned her jewelry, revisited the apartment to knock loudly for her, went to a bar, had a couple of beers, and called 911 to report a possible dead body. He then slept in her car overnight, went to another bar, drank for about 5 hours, and eventually ran into police in the parking lot.
Ritter continued, "He was quietly arrested, and began to confess almost immediately, giving three different accounts, each of which was shown to be impossible by expert witnesses. The cops went to great lengths to make sure proper procedure was followed, like Miranda warnings and preservation of the crime scene." The jurors were thoroughly convinced. "After both sides rested, we actually convicted him on all eight charges in about 10 minutes, but we decided to let the guy sweat for an hour and a half. It seemed only fitting. Fourteen jurors learned a whole lot about the justice system, and became renewed advocates of safe dating practices for all the women in our lives."
Funk will spend the rest of his life in prison. And while Ritter is positive that the jury made the correct decision, he also knows that he personally made the correct decision to accept jury duty rather than find an excuse, as so many people do. "Nothing in my life has done more to increase my appreciation of local government, and law enforcement. We have a hard-working staff in the DA's office, and the court. I had wondered what exactly the county does with my taxes, but a week and a half in Doylestown showed that we're blessed with a smooth-running, efficient machine staffed with very decent people."
Jury duty was actually Ritter's second recent stint of public service. The son of a 101st Airborne Ranger, and an army nurse, he directed the Marine Corps Family Foundation's Operation Santa in Upper Bucks County. The project provided over $40,000 in gift cards to area combat-wounded vets from Iraq and Afghanistan who are recovering in military hospitals, so they could send Christmas presents to their families. "These men and women, who were the most active and mobile human beings, felt awfully detached and helpless because they now must be served for most of their needs, and weren't able to do anything for others, much less go Christmas shopping. We sent over 1000 gift albums to troops currently recovering and rehabbing, so that their holiday season could be a little more complete. Our little town in the northeast made a big impact on the Foundation's efforts nationwide."
On behalf of the injured vets and their families, and those of us who defer to others to do the tough and time-consuming jobs of society, we need more Judge Ritters.