The Next Witness: Your Virtual Assistant
Shaindle's ShpielCalling Alexa

The Next Witness: Your Virtual Assistant

Imagine a time when a murder trial depended on the testimony of human witnesses

Shaindle Schmuckler

Shaindle Schmuckler spreads her energy and humor as a regular contributor to the Atlanta Jewish Times.

Amazon's Echo Dot brings Alexa into every room in the house.
Amazon's Echo Dot brings Alexa into every room in the house.

My mom (z”l) once spent the most wonderful week of her life sequestered in a hotel room in New York.

I don’t actually remember this time in our lives too clearly. However, I sure did hear about it from my dad (z”l).

Dad preferred having his “little” Paula (that was one of his many loving nicknames for my 5-foot-tall mom) at home with him. My mom’s sister, our aunt Jeanette (z”l), also shared some tidbits with me. The rest I put together in my developing brain.

The police arrested a man accused of committing a horrific murder in the Bronx, not too many blocks from where we lived. The incident got lots of press; it was a high-profile case. Until the day the alleged perpetrator was finally apprehended, people were very worried.

The jury pool was huge; however, most had their own opinions regarding the guilt or innocence of the accused. Attorneys spent arduous hours, which turned into days, choosing a jury.

My mom was one of those lucky citizens chosen. She was thrilled; she was so into it.

As an immigrant and a citizen in good standing, she understood that serving on a jury was both a privilege and a right not to be taken lightly.

When my mom was asked about the case before she entered a state of sequester, she would be very careful and deliberate to keep her counsel. She packed her suitcase with the items she would need for the week the courts anticipated the trial would last, and she proudly left for her “day” in court.

She was a little surprised that her hotel room had two beds; she did not anticipate having a roommate. A very nice girl, by the way.

They took their enormous responsibility of never discussing the trial very seriously. I feel sure they found many other topics of conversation.

Each day the jury filed into court to listen and watch the many witnesses be sworn in and provide their testimony. Mom was completely proficient in English and so was able to size up these witnesses and determine whether their information was both truthful and relevant.

DNA information was not available in those years. The outcome of this trial rested heavily on the accounts of witnesses, their impression of the accused, and the attorneys’ ability to interpret and disseminate all the information for the jurists.

One thing was obvious and was something all the witnesses had in common: They were all human.

Alexa was not yet conceived.

Wondering who Alexa could be?

Today, this same incident and the trial that would follow would not be beholden to humans for their testimony. Today, my mom would sit in her jury seat, feeling as if she entered another time zone, another universe, indeed an alternative universe.

She would watch in awe and complete shock as a bailiff (a human, by the way) would lift Alexa into the jury box and swear her in to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Meshuga (crazy) would be on the tip of her tongue (or perhaps even spoken) while she watched as well-dressed, allegedly intelligent lawyers checked their notes for the questions they were about to ask.

In today’s world, Alexa would be the key witness. After all, she spends all her time in her owner’s home. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, she hears every secret, every note being practiced on her owner’s banjo, every fight, every conversation — every murder?

Alexa, your devoted Google virtual home assistant. The next best thing to life itself.

P.S. Once again I must thank Margie for her devoted, real-life assistance.

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