All News & Blogs
Date published: 1/31/2013
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
Two dictionaries and a thesaurus brought into the jury room by the foreman became the subject of a court inquiry Wednesday that could lead to a mistrial in the case of a former Culpeper police officer convicted of manslaughter.
Judge Susan Whitlock, who questioned each juror individually in open court Wednesday afternoon, will rule on a defense motion for a mistrial at 9 a.m. Friday.
An eight-woman, four-man jury found ex-officer Daniel Harmon-Wright guilty of voluntary manslaughter and two lesser felonies Tuesday in the death of Patricia Cook. The officer shot the 54-year-old Cook four times after responding to a call about a suspicious person in the Epiphany School parking lot on North East Street last Feb. 9.
After the jury delivered its verdict, three reference books were discovered in the empty jury room. The two dictionaries were bookmarked at a page on which there were definitions of the words "malice" and "malicious."
Whitlock was informed and a hastily called court session was convened at 9:30 Wednesday morning. During that short session, the judge explained what had happened and gave both special prosecutor Jim Fisher and defense attorney Daniel Hawes two hours to research case law on the matter.
During a noon session, both attorneys agreed that a court inquiry was in order. Hawes further speculated as to other possible jury misconduct and questioned whether his client had received due process. He stopped short of asking for a mistrial at that point.
Whitlock then ordered that the jurors be kept separate when they arrived for what was scheduled to be the sentencing phase of the trial, set for 1 p.m.
Sheriff Scott Jenkins, whose staff was already stretched thin to provide court security in the high-profile trial, then pulled in 15 deputies from patrol and other areas to accommodate the judge's wishes.
For 90 minutes, the jurors were questioned individually about the dictionaries and the thesaurus, and whether they had used other reference materials or discussed the case with anyone.
All agreed that the dictionaries and thesaurus had been brought in because the legal definition of malice was in question. Several said the jury instructions were vague or confusing about the meaning of the word.