Justice possible because jurors fulfill difficult duty

We know Herald readers are weary of reading about Vicente Ruiz's trial, but there's one thing that still needs to be said.

Thank you.

That expression of gratitude goes out to the jurors, who took on the exhausting and crucial task of determining the truth behind Pasco's bloodiest massacre.

We would wish we could add that we're happy to finally see an end to a case that's taken almost a quarter century to complete, but of course the guilty verdicts rendered Dec. 22 weren't the end.

We won't hazard a guess on when Ruiz's defense team will exhaust its attempts to appeal the convictions, but it's certain to take awhile.

All criminal suspects are entitled to a competent defense and have the right to pursue an appeal if convicted. That's the American way, and a better judicial system hasn't been invented.

But regardless of the final outcome, the Spokane jurors who decided this case deserve our community's gratitude.

The case was moved to Spokane County because of concerns that extensive media coverage during Ruiz's first two mistrials in Franklin County had tainted the local jury pool.

The Spokane trial lasted seven weeks -- a long time for jurors tasked with concentrating on sometimes complex testimony and legal arguments.

For nearly two months, jurors suspended their normal lives, forgoing work and family, to fulfill their duty. For some, jury duty likely meant going without a paycheck as well. The pittance jurors earn from the state doesn't begin to make up for lost wages.

But that's the easy part.

None of the inconveniences compares with the fearsome responsibility of dispensing justice for five murder victims and a lone, wounded survivor.

Every defendant in an American courtroom is guaranteed the presumption of innocence, and the burden of proof falls entirely on the state.

It's a tough balancing act, and no one deciding Ruiz's fate could take that duty lightly.

The jury's decision would decide whether the 46-year-old Ruiz would live free or spend his life in prison.

The crimes were heinous. On Oct. 13, 1987, five young men died in a hail of bullets that filled the Pasco shop where they were working. The oldest was 22. A sixth victim survived.

The jury found Ruiz guilty of all charges -- five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.

We weren't surprised to learn that some jurors were moved to tears at the end of the process. Their difficult assignment was finally fulfilled.

We owe a debt to every jury -- not just those who served during Ruiz's trial.

No system of justice will ever be perfect, but tyranny cannot flourish where decisions that determine liberty are decided by ordinary citizens, not the state.