For some of the jurors who acquitted Joshua Wade of murdering Della Brown in 2003, news that he admitted to the killing Tuesday brought back ambivalence and frustration, fresh as the day they filed out of the jury box seven years ago.
Wade has admitted beating Brown to death with a rock in a Spenard shed in 2000 as part of a plea agreement that will help him avoid the death penalty for the murder of Mindy Schloss. Today he's likely to be sentenced to life in prison. I was able to find phone numbers for seven of the jurors from his 2003 trial. Three of them got back to me and agreed to talk on the condition their names not be used. They said they were worried about harassment from people who didn't understand what went on in the courtroom and why they had to acquit.
The first juror I talked to, a professional woman, said she was one of a number of jurors who sought counseling after the trial that went on for months. She told me she felt in her gut that Wade wasn't innocent, but there wasn't enough evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. She's still haunted by the day the jury foreman read the "not guilty" verdict in the courtroom, she said.
"Slowly in the background you heard this wail," she told me. "And it was (Brown's) mother, who had been convinced by the police it was a slam dunk."
Investigators didn't have much forensic evidence -- DNA, fingerprints or blood -- linking Wade to the crime scene, the jurors said. The prosecution's case turned on the testimony of witnesses. But they didn't seem reliable. The defense's arguments seemed clear and raised lots of doubts. The lead prosecutor changed in the middle of the trial, and some of the prosecutors' arguments seemed confusing, they said. The prosecution didn't seem as prepared or as confident as the defense, they said.
"They weren't on their A game, it didn't seem like," a second juror, a middle-aged man, told me, choosing his words carefully.
News that Wade had been linked to Schloss' murder filled the professional woman juror with guilt, she said.
"It was like I had killed her. I know that's an exaggeration. I know I didn't kill her. But I felt like I had a part in it, because we let him go," she said.
The male juror told me the jury felt for Brown's family. That was one of the hardest things. Jurors needed solid evidence, and they didn't have it, he said. He was frustrated later when he read incriminating facts in news accounts that weren't admitted as part of the trial evidence. He struggles with the idea that the justice system doesn't always work.
"You can't go on gut feeling, you have to go on the jury instructions and the evidence and convince 12 people beyond a reasonable doubt. That means some guilty people get off and some innocent people go to jail," he said.
"The system is a good system, it doesn't work perfectly."
The news about Schloss made him sad and frustrated, he said. But he still feels the jurors did their best with limitations they had.
A third juror, a mother of young children at the time of the trial, told me she was surprised Wade admitted to killing Brown.
"The fingerprints, the DNA and any of the other evidence that was tested, nothing was his," she said. "Nothing pointed to him at all."
Initially, as we talked, she said she was unsure about his guilt, considering the evidence she heard.
"I think a lot of it is him wanting to make a deal. He's scared to die," she said. "I think he should for what he's done (to Schloss)."
In 2003, she said, the case took over her life. She had to get sleeping pills. All of the jurors teared up when the verdict was read.
"It was like hold your breath and tears rolling down your face," she said. "All of us were crying. I think we were more frustrated than anything. We didn't feel like everything was presented to us the way it should have been."
Years after the trial, she said, she ran into Wade at a gas station in East Anchorage. He was fresh from jail for an evidence-tampering conviction related to Brown's killing. She felt him looking at her.
"He goes, 'You were one of my jurors,' " she said.
"Thank you," she said he told her. "I have my life back."
It gave her the chills, she said. At the time, she thought it was a sign the jury made the right call. Then came Schloss' death.
I asked her if she second-guessed the jury's decision.
"Every day, every other day, there's a thought that will go through your head: Did you do the right thing?" she said.
She wouldn't be human if she didn't have doubts, she told me, if she didn't wonder, sometimes, whether they let a murderer go.