Monday, June 4, 2012
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals reversed the grant of habeas corpus relief and a new trial of a defendant convicted of two counts of first degree murder and sentenced to consecutive life terms.
Relief had been granted based on the non-disclosure of a juror during voir dire that (i) her son had been indicted and was scheduled to appear before the same trial judge, (ii) the same prosecutor was assigned to handle the case against her son, and (iii) her son's attorney appeared to have some connection to the case.
The juror averred that she failed to disclose these facts because she "was frightened and intimidated by the trial process and also because she was ashamed of her son's criminal trouble." She claimed she was a "fair, unbiased, and impartial juror" in the trial.
The court majority looked to the juror's affidavit asserting that she was not biased and that "she was more likely to have been sympathetic to the respondent due to the fact that her son had also been arrested and charged with a crime." The majority found that prejudice was not affirmately shown.
Chief Justice Ketchum, joined by Justice McHugh, dissented. He noted that the underlying case had significant legal issues which had split the court on direct appeal. He concludes that the juror issue has "forever tainted" the verdict. (Mike Frisch)