Cody Liberty will not be reporting to jury duty July 20 as Jackson County recently ordered.
He died more than eight years ago.
So imagine the reaction of Jana Swann, Liberty’s mother, when she received his summons at her Brookside home this month. She’d already told court officials her son was dead — the last time they did this.
“It’s upsetting after this long a time, because it jolts you back into the realization that people are still thinking of your son as alive when you’ve accepted and tried to move on, knowing that he’s not,” she said.
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State and county court administrators can’t explain why it happened.
Part of the problem could be that state workers have to deal with a huge juror pool database — approximately 4.6 million records — and computer software that doesn’t always recognize that one person could be listed in two slightly different ways, making him appear to be two people.
But another issue is that Liberty’s name remained in state driver’s license and registered voters records years after his death. Courts tap jurors by pulling names from those records.
“We sincerely apologize,” said Sherri Paschal, director of court business services for the Office of State Courts Administrator in Jefferson City, which processes juror rolls for 115 state circuit courts.
She could not recall another instance of a dead person being summoned twice to jury duty.
Neither could Tracy Smedley, the deputy Jackson County court administrator and jury supervisor for approximately 12 years.
“It shouldn’t happen to any parent, but for it to happen twice is really something that is significantly disappointing,” Smedley said.
The first summons arrived for Swann’s son on Jan. 26, 2012. That time, his name got pulled from state voter records.
That was painful, Swann said, because it arrived one day from the fifth anniversary of his Jan. 27, 2007, death in Florida.
She wrote a brief note to the jury office explaining her son couldn’t appear because he had died.
That note remains in Jackson County jury office files, Smedley said. After receiving it, the office marked Liberty as disqualified, she said.
The second summons arrived at Swann’s house June 13. This time, his name got pulled from driving records, officials say.
Swann, a retired Kansas City police detective, has been trying to solve the mystery of how this could happen.
Voting record? Her son enlisted in the U.S. Marines shortly after he graduated from Raytown High School in 1999. Swann doesn’t remember him voting in Missouri while he served in Japan or the Middle East.
Driver’s license? Her son received a Missouri driver’s license when he turned 16 in 1996.
“But that driver’s license would have expired a long time ago,” Swann said.
And her son had a Florida driver’s license when he died because he was living in Tampa, she said.
Yet for some reason, Liberty’s name still appeared on both sets of records in the Jackson County office, Smedley said. He appeared to be two different people because one record included a middle initial. The state software sometimes finds it difficult to distinguish between a John Doe and John D. Doe.
Liberty registered at some point to vote in Jackson County, Smedley said.
Election officials are supposed to remove names of dead voters from their records.
State workers putting together jury lists also try to eliminate deceased people from juror pools. They obtain updated state voting and driver’s license records every six months. They also receive state death certificate information every three months.
“We should not be getting any invalid license information,” Paschal said.
It’s possible, she added, that Liberty’s driver’s license record wasn’t updated to reflect his death because he died in Florida.
Some information apparently lingers in the juror pool system because of the time it takes to get records updated.
“We will continue to get information until a driver’s record is made inactive,” Paschal said.
Last year the Jackson County jury office mailed out about 55,000 summonses. About 15,000 jurors served.
Smedley said her office will review records again and will correct them to reflect that Liberty died in 2007.
“We want people who are legitimately eligible to serve to serve, but we appreciate (receiving) information if we have sent something to someone in error,” she said.
“This is, of course, the worst type of error.”
The death of Swann’s son, meanwhile, is an everyday reality for her.
The noncommissioned officer sword that he received as a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant hangs in a display case over her fireplace, surrounded by photographs of him as a toddler and teenager.
Swann doesn’t need Jackson County Circuit Court to remind her that her son is gone, she said. “That’s something I think about every day.”
And the summons delivered an unexpected sting.
“It’s a little bit different when somebody is expecting him to show up in person.”
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