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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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July 16th, 2013
06:40 PM ET

Former juror: You don't want to hold a person's life in your hands

People can speculate all they want about what it was like to be a juror in the George Zimmerman trial, but many Americans will never fully understand what those six people experienced emotionally and how the process affected them.

But for those who have served on a jury in a high profile case, they have a bit of inkling as to what really goes on and just how tough it can be to render a verdict.

Mike Belmessieri served on the jury in the Scott Peterson murder trial.

Peterson was convicted of killing his pregnant wife, Laci, who disappeared in Modesto, California. Her body and the body of her unborn child eventually turned up on the San Francisco Bay.

Peterson is currently on death row.

Holding someone's life in your hands – and making a decision that will affect that life – is a lot of power to give to a regular person.

"It is an awesome responsibility to have a person's life in your hands," said Belmessieri. "The average citizen, they'll never get that opportunity. And they should thank the good Lord that they don't, because it's something you don't want to do."

For his part, Belmessieri said he feels no guilt about his decision, adding that Peterson is where he belongs.

"Any time you go through a trial like the Zimmerman [jurors] went through and that we went through, it's going to be emotional," said  Belmessieri. "We're talking about the death of a 17-year-old young man. That just doesn't set well with people, and it should never set well with people."

Belmessieri some of his fellow jurors wrote a book on their experience, describing how some jurors have nightmares, some are on anti-depressants, and at least one contemplated suicide.

The Peterson case seemed, at least from the outside, a lot more clear cut than the Zimmerman trial where the volunteer neighborhood watchman was accused of murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2012 during a scuffle. Zimmerman was acquitted by the jury of six woman in Florida.

"The thing with Peterson was after we rendered the guilty verdict, we heard cheers. So that would indicate that that decision was a popular decision," said Belmessieri.

"With the Florida versus Zimmerman, it was pretty obvious that anything but a guilty verdict was going to be a problem, it would be unpopular," said  Belmessieri.

The Peterson trial lasted more than five months, and the stress felt by jurors did not end after they rendered their verdict.

Belmessieri said one juror had a nervous breakdown after the trial, and other jurors' lives were threatened.

"My personal life was threatened because of somebody who disagreed with our decision," said Belmessieri.  "There are some people in this country who are troubled."

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