What really went on in the Gable Tostee jury room for four days

By Marnie O’Neill of news.com.au

For the best part of four days, the entire nation waited with bated breath as the jurors in the Gable Tostee murder trial agonised over their decision.

It was clear the six men and six women took their job very seriously (with the exception of one who almost derailed the trial with daily Instagram posts containing thinly disguised references to the deliberations).

They repeatedly sought advice from presiding judge Justice John Byrne on how they should be viewing the evidence, asking six questions which gave an insight into the matters troubling them.

As verdicts for murder trials in Queensland must be unanimous, Justice Byrne exercised his discretion by giving what is known as the "Black" direction, which requires juries to go back and thrash out their differences (more on that later).

While only the jurors themselves can know exactly what unfolded in that jury room, it is possible to reveal a partial picture of what the men and women entrusted with Tostee's fate experienced behind closed doors.

Where did the jury do its deliberating?

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Once upon a time, juries taking more than a day to reach a verdict would be sequestered, usually in a hotel room. Those days are long gone and juries are now placed in a room on site, and allowed to go home at night.

The Tostee jury spent almost four days inside a brightly lit chamber within the Brisbane Supreme Court, seated on wooden chairs around a long table covered in reams of paper, a jug of water, and coffee cups.

A top criminal barrister with knowledge of jury life said the court recognised that it was in the interests of justice to keep everyone comfortable - including smokers.

"(Jury members) can have cigarette and bathroom breaks whenever and as often as they like," he said.

"They will only sit in court hours, so they'll arrive at 9am, deliberate from 9.30am til lunchtime and then go home around 4pm. They won't be forced to do overtime."

What the jury was told before they decided Tostee's fate

Each of the 12 jurors in this trial was allocated a copy of the "Juror's handbook", a 13 page guide to proceedings which also contains advice about what to bring to court (such as pocket money in case the judge lets them outside for lunch) and appropriate attire for the court.

Before beginning deliberations, they would have been given a kind of pep talk by a court officer on how to achieve the best possible outcome and how to avoid being manipulated by their peers.

This is what they were told, according to the Queensland Courts website, although we now know that at least one juror - the instagrammer - wasn't listening when the officer got to the part about "not using social media of any sort".

• "Respect each other's opinions and value the different viewpoints each juror brings to this case."
• "Be fair and give everyone a chance to speak in the deliberations."
• "It is okay to change your mind".
• "Listen carefully to one another, do not let yourself be bullied into changing your opinion, and do not bully anyone else."
• "Do not rush into a verdict to save time. The people in this case deserve your complete attention and thoughtful deliberation."
• "Do not make your own inquiries about the case or defendant (do not use Google; the internet; Facebook; Twitter or any social media of any sort)."
• "Follow the judge's directions about the law."

What happened when they told the judge they couldn't agree?

Warriena Wright. Photo / Supplied
Warriena Wright. Photo / Supplied

When a jury is unable to reach a verdict, a judge can give a what is known as a "Black" direction.

It's a dramatic term but it simply means the jury will be required to put more effort into resolving their differences in order to reach a verdict.

The direction is meant to safeguard jurors against "rogue" members who prevent a verdict from being reached by holding out. Some juries respond well to the "black" direction while others may feel like they are being told off by the judge.

Justice Byrne gave the Tostee jury the "Black' direction on Tuesday after the foreman passed him a note stating members were unable to come to a unanimous decision.

The sticking points for members were revealed when the jury sought advice on how it should view certain pieces of evidence.

Six questions were asked, centring on whether Tostee was acting within his rights by removing a disorderly person (victim Warriena Wright) from his property by locking her on his balcony; whether Wright's level of intoxication contributed to her actions, and whether language could be considered as use of force.

"Some of the difficulties (the Tostee jury have had) in reaching an agreement involve answering certain the questions that need to be resolved," Queensland Law Society President-elect Christine Smythe told the ABC on Wednesday.

"(The judge) will usually seek an indication if there's any reasonable prospects of a unanimous agreement usually will give two of those ("Black") directions."

What did the Tostee jurors get paid?

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In Queensland, jurors receive NZD$120 a day, or NZD$600 a week, for up to 19 days.

Public transport costs are covered by the court and jurors get meal allowances. However, the Jurors's handbook advises bringing a handful of change to buy a cup of coffee or a snack in the event the judge lets them outside for a break.

Queensland employers have to make up the difference in pay for the whole period of jury service.

- news.com.au

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