Justice served? Swerved?

Thomas Juror Speaks Out
By Peter Teske, Web Exclusive, www.lagniappemobile.com, October 29, 2009

At the conclusion of the trial of ex-Mobile County Circuit Court Judge Herman Thomas, jurors were able to reach a verdict on only seven of the 21 total charges against Thomas. When Special Judge Claud Neilson proceeded to rule on the remaining 14 charges, jurors were not present in the courtroom. Neilson had already thanked them for serving their civic duty and dismissed them permanently.

Thomas leaving the courtroom this past Monday.

Just a day after the verdict, three jurors came forward to Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson with claims that their votes had been misrepresented and they had no knowledge of Neilson’s ability to declare verdicts on the charges upon which they could not reach a unanimous decision. Essentially, jurors have said they thought the end result would be a hung jury.

Legal experts, including the Attorney General, Troy King have said, while Neilson’s actions were uncommon, he did have the ability to rule on the 14 remaining charges.

Tyson, on Wednesday afternoon was considering two of the three jurors’ complaints to be “meritorial” and said he had started the process of preparing to file affidavits related to the situation. He had also begun to investigate the jurors’ complaints and plans to conduct depositions in addition to exploring his office’s options as they proceed with any sort of motion. Tyson was hesitant to call any motion his office might file an “appeal,” but if the DA’s office would have taken their motion to Circuit Court and was denied, the possibility remained that Tyson could have taken his office’s case to the State Court of Criminal Appeals. At the end of the day on Thursday, Oct. 29, however, Tyson said he would not be filing post trial motions.

Lagniappe interviewed one of the individuals who served on the jury in the Thomas trial to see what was going on behind the scenes. The following is what we’ve learned. We’ve respected the juror’s request for anonymity in the case.

Lagniappe: How would you describe the mood inside the jury room?

Juror: One word: heated.

L: Did you feel like the questions you had during deliberations were adequately answered by the judge?

J: Judge Neilson did answer our questions adequately except for one thing. We did ask to hear the testimony of one of the victims and the response given was that the testimony was too long, and for us to use our memory. This could have made a change in one of our undecided verdicts.

L: When you turned in the list of partial verdicts did you believe the judge would declare a hung jury, or were you instructed that he would rule on the remaining 14 charges?

J: Yes, we were under the impression that the remaining charges that we were undecided on would be re-tried because we were hung. We were dismissed before Judge Neilson made the final rulings. If we would have known that the dismissal of the remaining charges was an option, we would have stayed in that room until a solid verdict was found.

L: If you and some of the other jurors knew there were problems with some of the 7 not guilty verdicts, why didn’t you speak up immediately?

J: I cannot speak for the other jurors.

L: Some jurors are claiming they voted guilty on verdicts that were declared by the judge as unanimous decisions of not guilty. Did that happen?

J: There was a lot of confusion toward the end of our time in the jury room. As you can imagine, we wanted to get out of there and go home. Not everyone had a chance to see the form that was sent to the judge. The form only requires the signature of a jury foreman. As it was going out of the room, one of the jurors stated that he/she did not vote “not guilty” on that many charges. The whole process toward the end of that day was chaos.

L: What was the make up of those votes – leaning more toward guilt or innocence – or split down the middle?

J: On the remaining 14 charges, 13 of them were practically split down the middle. That last charge, attempted sodomy, was 11 guilty, 1 not guilty.

L: Do you feel the charges brought against Thomas were the right ones? Did his alleged actions fit the definitions of the statutes presented to you or was that a big problem for the jurors?

J: The statutes we were given did cause problems in the jury room. Half of us felt that his alleged actions fit, the other half did not. Each charge had requirements (clauses) attached to it that had to be met. This is part of the reason the jury was split on many of the charges. We could not come to agreement on definitions of what some of the words in the requirements (clauses) meant.

L: Were all, some or none of Thomas’ alleged victims believable to you? Your fellow jurors? What about the testimony of their mothers?

J: Honestly, it went witness by witness… half would believe the testimony, half would not. In the attempted sodomy case, 11 believed the testimony and the evidence, and found Thomas guilty, but the remaining juror said he/she would not allow him to be convicted because he/she did not believe the allegations were true.

L: The defense made a big deal about former Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb testifying on behalf of Judge Thomas. Did that seem to influence the jury in either direction?

J: There was not much talk about the Archbishop.

L: How did the jury make sense of the DNA evidence found in Room 806? For those who felt he was not guilty on all charges how did they reconcile the fact there was semen of two of the alleged victims on the judge’s carpet?

J: Those who felt he was not guilty in reference to the DNA on the carpet in room 806, gave no explanation for why they did not believe it. They just said they didn’t believe it.

L: In opening arguments, the defense said this was all a big conspiracy against Thomas. Did any of the jurors subscribe to that argument?

J: I do not remember the word conspiracy being brought up in the jury room. But, one juror said he/she just knew Thomas would not do these things. This did cause some heated conversation, because some jurors wanted to know how he/she knew Thomas would not do these things.

L: Do you think the age, racial, gender or socioeconomic make-up of the jury had anything to do with the outcome, i.e. Did any arguments or decisions seem to fall on either sides of those lines – young vs old? Black vs white? Male vs female? Lower vs Higher Income?

J: I don’t think any of the above reflected the outcome.

L: Were there any jurors whom you felt were biased (on either side) going into the trial and thus unwilling to open-mindedly consider the evidence presented?

J: One juror, who many of us felt had some type of connection to Thomas through an organization, made it clear that he/she was not going to convict him on any charges. Again, this caused more heated argument.

L: Do you think jurors were unduly influenced in this case by any outside sources? If so, what?

J: Ultimately, we should have been sequestered. As much as the judge stressed to the jury to ignore outside sources, it is inevitable to come across some type of information, whether it be from the radio, television or people in the community. I believe that outside sources did play a part in the outcome of some of the verdicts.

L: Do you think justice was served in this case? Explain.

J: Many of the jurors do not feel that justice was served because Judge Neilson took it upon himself to dismiss the remaining charges. What many may not know is that the jury was split on all remaining charges. We almost had him convicted on one of the attempted sodomy charges (11 guilty to 1 not guilty). Many of us feel as though we wasted our time, and that the time and energy we put into the last three weeks means nothing. I think both the state and the defense can understand our feelings on that. People in the community keep asking why the “jury” let Thomas go. It is important for them to know that we did not just let him go. We had no idea what Judge Neilson intended to do when he dismissed us from the court room. It is important for the people in our community to know what really happened.

See related:

"Ala. judge cleared of sex abuse in inmate spanking," By Philip Rawls, Associated Press, October 26, 2009 and "District Attorney Says Herman Thomas Case Is Not Over," By Jessica Taloney, WKRG.com News, October 27, 2009. Click http://nospank.net/n-s67.htm to read both articles.


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