Ouija board used by UK jury to determine verdict in murder trial
The principle of being judged by a jury of one’s peers is the cornerstone of our justice system. However, this doesn’t mean that the jury system is perfect.
Generally, jurors do their best to reach a correct and just conclusion. Nevertheless, they can be influenced by domineering or bullying jurors, get confused by complex evidence, or simply become bored and frustrated with a long and involved trial. In some cases, they may even seek an alternative process to reach their verdict.
Jurors have brainwave to contact murder victim via ouija board
There is nothing in the records of jury folly that comes close to the juror who thought it would be a good idea to get in touch with a murder victim via a ouija board, so they could ask directly who had killed him.
This trial took place in 1994 in Brighton, United Kingdom, where a jury found Stephen Young guilty of the gruesome double murder of Harry and Nicola Fuller. The couple had been found dead on the floor of their home; Nicola had been shot three times and Harry shot in the back at close range.
The trial lasted five weeks, with the prosecution and police feeling greatly relieved by the jury verdict. They believed that their hard work gathering evidence and presenting it in court had convinced the jury that the man charged with the murder had indeed committed the crime.
Ouija board jurors exposed, giving rise to new trial
One month after the trial, the verdict fell apart when a newspaper headlined on its front page: “Murder Jury’s Ouija Board Verdict”. The paper reported that a member of the jury claimed four other members of the jury had tried to reach the spirits of the dead victims, using a makeshift ouija board.
Placing their fingers on the glass, one had juror asked if the spirit of Harry was present. The glass moved to the spot labelled “YES”. The juror then asked: “Who killed you?” The glass moved, spelling out “STEPHEN YOUNG DONE IT”. The juror asked: “How?” and the glass spelled out “SHOT”.
A new trial was ordered. After another five-week trial, Young was once again found guilty.
Melbourne law professor Jeremy Gans has explored the intricacies of this case and whether it highlights weaknesses in the way juries operate. (See The ouija board jurors, Inside Story, October 2017.)
Why ouija boards cannot be used to substantiate evidence
It’s important to note that spirits don’t actually move the pointer on ouija boards. Scientific tests have shown that while the pointer may move and spell out words within a group, when this same group is blindfolded, the pointer randomly moves anywhere.
This phenomenon is known as the ideomotor effect. Scientists say that the ideomotor effect causes ouija board participants to make unconscious, involuntary physical movements that direct the pointer where they want it to go.
Jury deliberations must remain confidential but jury misconduct can be reported
Under section 68B of the NSW Jury Act 1977, jury deliberations must be kept secret. Thus, it’s ironic that it was the juror who spoke to the newspaper who broke the law. However, under section 75C of the Jury Act, a juror is permitted to report any jury misconduct to the sheriff. Breaching this legislation in NSW can result in fines of up to $5,500.