The Disturbing Case Of The Intimidated Juror

Courtroom Jury Box

I don’t like the implications of this story one bit.

In Clayton County, Georgia, a jury had just come in with an acquittal verdict in the trial of Eric Lydell Smith, who had been charged with nine counts including malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault, in connection with the death of his neighbor, Eric Hernandez. Two years ago, Smith and Hernandez got into a fist fight on the street where both lived. Smith, an African-American, says he shot Hernandez—the mainstream newsmedia would refer to him as a “white Hispanic” if he had done the shooting— in self-defense, but prosecutors and witnesses told the jury the fight had ended and Hernandez was walking away when Smith killed him.

“Not guilty of malice murder,” the jury foreman read from the verdict form, as Hernandez’ family openly wept in court. One not guilty verdict after the another was announced. Then prosecutors, nobody is certain why, asked the judge to take the unusual step of polling the jury members. The first eleven jurors, in turn, repeated the announced verdict of “not guilty” on all counts. Then the 12th juror, a white woman,  answered the judge’s  “Is this your verdict?” with a shocking “No, your honor.”

That’s a mistrial. Smith will probably be retried.

The lone juror told the judge that the  jurors had called her a racist for not agreeing to acquit Smith. She said that over the twelve hour deliberation, they attacked her relentlessly and made her so uncomfortable that she had left the jury room. She said she would not return to resume deliberations, and told the judge she was not going to change her vote.…again.

What’s going on here? I don’t know. Something is wrong somewhere, and it is serious, The jury was made up of nine African Americans and three whites: our jury system is falling apart if racial intimidation is occurring in jury rooms. The second a racism charge was used to intimidate any juror, the judge should have been notified: I’d call a mistrial immediately. Or was the lone juror the racist? Apparently she was going to allow a verdict she didn’t believe in be delivered to the judge because she was afraid to stand by what she really thought. Or maybe she is just feckless, changed her mind after the verdict was read or had doubts, but wasn’t going to say anything until the prosecutors decided to poll the jury.

I worry that this is one more ugly piece in the growing mosaic of incidents pointing to a disastrous breakdown in racial trust, slowly but surely rendering our justice system dysfunctional.

Directing “Twelve Angry Men” began to convince me that it is time to have video cameras in jury rooms. This story clinches it for me.

20 thoughts on “The Disturbing Case Of The Intimidated Juror

  1. Aaaand the relations between the races fracture even further. I have to also admit, in a recent trial I used a peremptory challenge to boot a black potential juror off a jury and made sure there would be no blacks because the plaintiff was black and I didn’t trust black not to sympathize with black and ignore the facts and cost my client money.

    • At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, FINALLY, somebody gets it. He already THINKS he’s King, why not? The announcement…”I can’t step down right now. There are too many problems facing this nation to allow for a new President to step in and have to get up to speed. We’ll try this election thing again in 4 years.” Don’t hold your breath.

      • I joked that Obama will run for a third term. He already was hinting at it. He will run, win, and then let them challenge it in the courts. It won’t reach the Supreme Court for 3 years and the court will then say “Well, it’s too late to do anything about it now…” just like they have previously.

  2. This is a shocking story but not surprising considering the abysmal state of race relations in the US today. We know who fueled this fire. Thank God this woman took a stand and did the right thing.

  3. Jack: “Directing “Twelve Angry Men” began to convince me that it is time to have video cameras in jury rooms. This story clinches it for me.”

    What? You are joking, right? The prospect of public exposure or scrutiny would not likely improve the quality of deliberations.

    And, if they are recorded, why could they not then be made a basis for appeal and error?

    Could O.J.’s acquittal be thrown out as a mistrial? That would be a handy way to get around double jeopardy.

    And, even in minor cases, the errors could be exposed. I was the foreperson of a jury in a civil case once. It ended in a unanimous compromise verdict; a verdict could have been reached without compromise, but it would not have been unanimous (a 5/6th verdict). A “compromise verdict” is kind of a no-no. Also, there was one juror whose focus was on an irrelevant point and she could not let it go (a guy was hit by a car while doing his job and was suing the driver; she had a hard time assigning fault to the worker, blaming the employer (who was not at all involved in the lawsuit) for not making sure the worker was adequately protected). I think that, ultimately, we reached a fair verdict, but, if deliberations were made public, there would have been grounds for claiming error.

    -Jut

    • Who said anything about public? They should be permanently sealed, but reviewed by the judge for misconduct, and destroyed. Just today I was instructed by an attorney about learning that a jury foreman got everyone to agree that they would vote once and the majority would prevail. He says that jury misconduct is rampant and getting worse.

      I’m open to other suggestions.

      • The Romans used to decimate legions that didn’t do their sacred task.

        1) I don’t think the average citizen has received the civic education to fully understand just how serious their role is.

        2) Our sense of community is so eroded, we quite frankly could care less about the poor shmuck on the stand or the poor victims of crime and would rather get back to our Game of Thrones or other material desires.

        • That also recalls “12 Angry Men”. There was that one juror who would vote one way or another for no reason than to wrap things up and go home, not giving a damn whether justice was served or not. In this jury, it was even worse. All but one juror was not only committed to acquitting a proven felon based on a racial criteria, by they actually drove away the dissenter (a lone woman) through intimidation. This further leads to a long standing question of just how well or by what factors jury selection is undertaken these days.

      • That looks like you are advocating the destruction of a government record. Once it gets recorded, it would probably become subject to some kind of FOIA law. And, the logistics are unclear. Are all deliberations reviewed? If not, when would they be? When lawyers request it? But, the lawyers would not have an articulable foundation for requesting review. If the Judge determines misconduct occurred, any decision based upon a review of deliberations would have to allow for the attorneys to review or appeal the issue and appellate courts would need access to the recordings.

        It is a can of worms you want to open.

        -Jut

  4. Clayton County’s population is 65.15% Black, 14.11% White, 13.66% Hispanic and 4.95% Asian. Maybe this juror (and her family?) needs to pack up and move.

  5. The fact of the matter is that this is a self-defense case and as soon as the trial started the so called “lone juror” asked to be dismissed and her requested was denied. While in the middle of the trial the other jurors asked she be dismissed, which was denied. Once she stated she changed her mind, you should be asking why wasn’t the alternate allow to take her place. The jury deliberated for 12 hours to find Eric not guilty. The polling was after the prosecutor noticed the look on the woman’s face. So she was perfectly fine allowing as she stated a guilty man go free? Is something wrong with this picture? Yes and 11 folks thought so as well after they heard all evidence. Two other facts : case went for an immediate re-trial but this time there is a new Judge, known to favor the prosecution. ( Started Monday) Secondly, the 11-1 verdict delivered despite Mr. Smith being the only person to take the stand and testify to the events of that dreadful night.

      • Obviously Ms. Ellen doesn’t know her fact I am the lone Juror from the start to the finish my mind never changed he was Guilty by the evidence hard fact the man shot and killed his neighbor who he watched grow up since he was ten!!! I will not deny that I asked to be removed but that was after being called racist and having my very character slandered by 5 other Jurors in the deliberation room. Never once did the others ask to have me removed, to answer your question no had the prosecutor polled the Jury I would have stood up and advised the judge that my hand was forced Even if it meant being held in contempt! The whole time they were reading the verdict I was crying and violently shaking, every day for three days i had gone to my church and prayed and prayed about this case. After they sent us to lunch that day (this was after they polled the Jury) I went and spoke to my priest, I advise him of the abuse and pure hatred I was being attacked with because I wouldn’t change my decision. I advised him that there was no way I would have ever been able to live with the fact that I allowed a guilty man to walk free just so that we could finally go home! One thing many don’t know is one of the jurors on our jury actually lives on the street the murder happened, as a matter of fact she was one the main ones attacking my character, at no time did I attack anyone else or make them feel like they were wrong for their decision but to this day that was the worst day of my life!!!! So many of my friends and family could see that I didn’t take this decision lightly!!! I am a very upbeat happy go lucky person why because I try to find the best in everyone and every situation, I avoid the news so that I can stay positive, and like i said in the jury room had the men been switched had Mr. Hernandez shot Mr. Smith and the exact same evidence been presented and the same facts and statements my verdict still would have been guilty why because I didn’t base it off of what ifs my decision was based purely in the fact and hard evidence that proved only one theory that had it been the black man or the white man who shot the gun killing the other in the exact same scenario the person holding the gun would have been guilty of malice murder. It as a fist fight that had ended do i feel that Mr. Smith went into the fight with the intent to kill Mr. hernandez no I believe based off the evidence and forensics that the fight was over and In the heat of that split second it wasn’t for him!!!!! and before he knew it he had shot this young man who he watched grow up since he was 10 yrs old. The question was asked in the jury room hasn’t he suffered enough for this horrible accident? NO why because he chose to bring a 9mm with a hollow point bullet to a fist fight. The fight was over the evidence proves it. Had it been my own child in this situation with the same freaking evidence I sorry but my answer is still the same GUILTY!!!!!! and Just for the record when we polled before deliberations it was 7 guilty 5 not guilty and the one thing the 5 not guilty kept saying well what if no look at the evidence it tells you exactly how and where it occurred and every testimony except Mr. Smith matched the evidence!!!

  6. In Clayton County there is a serious level of injustice going on in the court system. So in the prior mistrial the issue was the white juror and her claims. Now a new trial, new jury and same questionable Judge! The verdict..another mistrial 11/2! The Judge refuses to allow Eric Smith to go free and has not stepped in to stop this process. Another jury trial will be 11/2/15. There can’t be justice in the case because it is clear in both trials a vast majority of jurors believe this was an act of self defense.

  7. Of course the prosecuter knew the judge knew three times before it got to that point they were notified of what was happening!!!! Not to mention the fact that as the verdict was being read the juror was crying and shaking violently which is why the prosecutor had the Judge poll the juror!!!! Her decision was made off the facts, the forensic evidence and the credibility of the testimonies! Never once did she change everytime she went to the judge she was told to suck it up come to a unanimous verdict she was being verbally her abused, had her character bashed even called racist! She thanks god to this day for the strenght she had to stand her ground!

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