Behind Closed Doors
As 13 people filed into the jury box of a packed Tarrant County courtroom last August, all eyes shifted from the man at the defense table to the men and women who would decide his fate. Briefly, Bishop Terry Hornbuckle fell out of the spotlight.
Onlookers must have been surprised at what they saw: nine women and four men, all white but for one black man. All middle-aged except for one 20-something woman. This was the panel that would decide if this charismatic black clergyman had raped three women. At its peak, Hornbuckle's Arlington congregation had been much more diverse than this group.
Their ordeal would last nearly five weeks, from jury selection at the end of July to Hornbuckle's sentencing at the end of August. After a record 46 hours deliberation--including the sentencing portion of the trial--they would find Hornbuckle guilty on all three counts of rape, fine him $30,000 and sentence the preacher to 15 years in prison.
Last week, one of the jurors shared her story with the Dallas Observer, providing insight into the grueling process and her struggle with "making a life-altering decision for someone else."
Julie Bice says she showed up for her first day of jury duty wearing a T-shirt that read, "Make love, not war." The 24-year-old didn't expect to make it past the first hot July day. The Fort Worth resident had just been offered a new job in Dallas and planned to move there in mid-August with her husband. But she knew she was in for the long haul when they told her the trial she'd been picked for could last until August 17. In reality, they wouldn't be released from duty until August 28.
It would take the jury 37 1/2 hours over seven days to decide Hornbuckle's guilt or innocence, a record for both sides' attorneys and the judge. Day after day, media, church members and the Hornbuckle family returned to wait it out in the courthouse hallways. One question was on everyone's mind: What's taking so long?
"We weren't just going from emotion," Bice says. There was a cop on the jury, she says, who refused to be satisfied with anything but an exhaustive examination of each woman's story. Though it may have dragged out deliberations, it made the entire jury that much more confident in their final decision. "We hashed it out over and over and over."
Each woman prompted a different level of skepticism in each juror.
The first to testify, Krystal Buchanan, had attended Hornbuckle's church, Agape Christian Fellowship, for years. She had just turned 21 in July 2004 when Hornbuckle asked if she would meet him at a Wendy's off Highway 360 in Fort Worth so he could give her a birthday present of money. Hornbuckle then drove her to a Euless apartment where he drugged and raped her.
Bice said it was Buchanan's stoic and sometimes defiant demeanor on the stand that made her seem less than sincere.
"She wasn't emotional at all," Bice says. Buchanan broke down just once, describing how Hornbuckle had taken her virginity. Other times, she bristled at harsh cross-examination by defense attorneys who accused her of taking muscle-relaxing drugs on purpose so they'd show up in her bloodstream. Bice, the juror closest to Buchanan's age, tried to put herself in the girl's position.
"If I was that age and I was on the stand being badgered by those two attorneys," Bice says, "I would try to...come back guns blazing too." The next two victims, identified by pseudonyms as Jane Doe and Kate Jones, were anything but composed on the stand. Their frantic sobs and dramatic displays put off some of her fellow jurors.
"[Some jurors] thought that the ones that were emotional were faking it," she says. Jane Doe, another Agape churchgoer, slept with Hornbuckle on more than one occasion. She said he manipulated her after a bad break-up, forcing her into sex after coming to her home to give her spiritual guidance. Bice says they had the fewest doubts about Kate Jones' story.
"We all agreed on that one," Bice says. During deliberations, the jury sent out multiple questions about Buchanan and Doe but asked nothing about Jones. She testified that Hornbuckle--who called himself "Terry Lee"--picked her up at a gym in the Mid-Cities, brought methamphetamine to her house on two occasions, smoked it with her, then raped her on the second visit.
He never told her he was a bishop, she said, but bragged about working with the Dallas Cowboys. Unlike Buchanan, whose family is suing Hornbuckle for millions in civil court and Doe, who admitted to multiple encounters with Hornbuckle, Jones seemed more believable, Bice says.
After the careful deliberations over Hornbuckle's guilt or innocence, some jurors thought the punishment phase would be simple. Bice says she knew better. There were so many options: probation, jail time, fines. The jail sentences would run concurrently.
The first thing they agreed upon was a maximum $30,000 fine. No arguments there. But some jurors thought probation would be appropriate for Jane Doe's rape. Others, like Bice, wanted the harshest punishment. Bice says she wanted him to serve the maximum sentence, 20 years, in all three cases. While she was willing to compromise, Bice says there was a conflict between the cop juror and the foreman. One said, "'I think he should get so many years, and we're going to be here a long time if that's not what everyone else wants,'" Bice says. The other was equally unwilling to budge above a 10-year sentence. "'Yes, we are going to be here a long time,'" she says he replied.
But after 8 1/2 hours, an agreement was reached: 14 years for Krystal Buchanan and Kate Jones, 10 years for Jane Doe. Bice said she had to speak up just before they signed off on the sentencing papers.
She told the group, "It's going to take me a long time for my heart to catch up with this decision." Coming down five years from the maximum had been hard for Bice, but six was too much. Finally, a juror who had been holding out told Bice, "I don't want you to have nightmares." The sentence became 15 years.
At the end of it all, Bice says she was most concerned for the three Hornbuckle children after hearing snippets of a sermon during testimony. "You men need to bathe your daughters," Hornbuckle had preached, relaying a story about seeing his own adolescent daughter naked. Until then, Bice says, she had felt sorry for Hornbuckle's wife, Renee.
"Obviously, she knew she was married to a very sick man," Bice says.
Church elders are now deciding if Renee Hornbuckle will lead the church permanently. Adding to a number of civil lawsuits pending against Hornbuckle, demanding millions in damages, his former executive assistant, Lisa Fuller, who testified during the trial, is now suing Hornbuckle and Agape Christian Fellowship. According to the lawsuit, she was fired after she resisted the preacher's sexual demands and refused to lie to a grand jury about his behavior. Hornbuckle has declared himself indigent and is demanding a court-appointed lawyer to handle his appeal.
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