Showing posts with label 13th juror. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 13th juror. Show all posts

24 June 2012

Absurdity Trumps Common Sense


by Louis Willis

In my March post, “The 13th Juror,” I discussed how a judge addicted to pain pills was removed from the bench because of his criminal activities in obtaining the pills. A special judge was appointed to decide if defendants in a 2007 carjacking-torture-murder case should get new trials. After the three male defendants were convicted, two of them were given life sentences. The ring leader received a death sentence. At the time the original judge was removed from the case, the female defendant had been found guilty of facilitation but had not been sentenced. The original judge I called P. The special Judge, whom I called G, without holding hearings, granted all four defendants new trials.

I’ve been following the latest developments in the case through the Knoxville News Sentinel because my daughter could still be on the witness list.

In his decision, Judge G concluded that Judge P’s addiction and criminal activities deprived the defendants of “constitutionally sound trials”. He also decided that he could not act as the 13th juror because of credibility issues with Judge P and the witnesses. The prosecutor appealed the decision to grant new trials to the three male defendants, but did not appeal the decision on the female because of Judge P’s erratic behavior during her trial.

The Tennessee Supreme Court concluded that Judge G was wrong in granting new trials and directed him to address the issue of whether the credibility of the witnesses was crucial in the state’s case. The Court stated that if Judge G concluded the witnesses’ credibility was key and could not evaluate their candor from the transcript alone, he must grant new trials. The Court further ruled that the defense must show proof of error before new trials may be granted. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, Judge G again ordered new trials for the three male defendants without holding hearings.

The prosecutor filed a motion with Judge G requesting that he recuse himself. Judge G refused to recuse (On my, I’m channeling Johnny Cochran!). He even threaten the DA with contempt of court, and told the DA’s special counsel he should report himself to the state board that polices lawyers.

Failure to follow the Supreme Court’s directive is bad enough but what is most disturbing is Judge G’s off the record actions in an attempt to prevent public scrutiny. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, he removed documents from the court records and ordered prosecutors not to refer to them in public. He corresponded with prosecutors through emails instead of issuing orders that would become part of the court record. He held meetings with lawyers in chambers instead of holding hearings. In his motion asking Judge G to recuse himself, the prosecutor cited emails in which the judge said little birdies were putting thoughts in his head.

Anyone should know, but especially a judge, that trying to keep judicial proceedings secret from the press in a high profile case is like trying to hide meat from a hungry pack of dogs. The press will smell something wrong in a New York minute (by the way, what is a New York minute?). Judge G allowed absurdity to trump common sense.

On Thursday, June 21, 2012, Judge G scheduled a hearing on the prosecution’s recusal motion for October 8, which will allow the DA to put his objections into the official record. Maybe, just maybe, common sense will begin to trump absurdity in this case.

The Blue Bird of Common Sense

25 March 2012

Failure of The 13th Juror


by Louis Willis

As I understand the 13th juror doctrine, a judge can overturn a jury verdict if he or she finds the evidence does not support it. In a carjacking and murder case here in Knoxville, a special judge overturned the guilty verdicts of four defendants and granted the three men and one woman new trials on the ground that the judge in the first trials failed in his duty to act as the 13th juror. 

In 2007, the three men carjacked a couple driving an SUV. They tortured and killed the man and burned his body on nearby railroad tracks. After torturing and raping the woman as the female defendant watched, they stuffed her body while she was still alive in a trash bag and threw the bag in a garbage can. 

Two of males were sentenced to life without parole in the first trials in 2009. The third, the ringleader, was sentenced to death. The female was found not guilty of participating in the carjacking and murder but was found guilty of facilitation and was sentenced to 53 years. 

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll call the first judge “P” and the second one “G.” In 2011, After an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Judge P confessed to being addicted to pain pills and pleaded guilty to official misconduct. He began having sexual relations with a woman in 2009 who also supplied him with pills. She later introduced him to a felon on parole in his court who began providing him with pills. His criminal activities and association with criminals has caused a real legal mess. All of his cases are being examined. One defense attorney on another case argued that the evidence in Judge P’s case was so damning a reversal was automatically required. 

The DA argued that in the case of the three men that no errors were made. He admitted that during the woman’s trial, Judge P’s behavior was erratic. He decided not to ask for the death penalty for two of men and the woman in the new trials but will again ask for death for the ring leader.

My younger daughter was and probably still is on the prosecutor’s witness list. She wasn’t called to testify at the first trial and is hoping not to be called in the second one. She got on the list because about two or three days before they carjacked the couple, the three men were seen walking around her neighborhood in a suspicious manner. Later that night, they tried to break into her house and were scared off when a neighbor across the street fired his gun in their direction. My daughter called the police but they couldn’t get there quickly due to ongoing construction at both ends of the street. She wasn’t happy about being a witness at the trials because she was afraid the defendants' friends would come after her.

One of the male defendants explained during his trial that they wanted a car to use in a bank robbery. My daughter’s one year old SUV was in her driveway when they cased the neighborhood.

The victims’ parents and many Knoxville residents didn’t like Judge G’s decision. One newspaper columnist thought it was the right decision under the circumstances. The court has denied a request from the newspaper to unseal Judge P’s file. 

Judge P’s criminal activities might have had a negative affect on the trials, but should the verdicts be automatically reversed without a clear showing that he was under the influence of drugs and made errors in the cases of the three male defendants?

What do you think?

Postscript: On Saturday, the newspaper reported that the US Attorney is investigating Judge P’s case to determine if he violated any federal laws.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has not decided whether to grant the state Attorney General’s request for a review of Judge G’s decision or to let the new trials go forward.