Juror misconduct causes mistrial in circuit court

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A juror discussed a drug defendant's case during a recess in Marshall County Circuit Court last month and because jurors aren't supposed to do that, the judge had little choice but to grant the defense attorney's motion for a new trial.

Therefore, Darron Keith "Quarterhead" Lyttle, 33, of Seventh Avenue, Lewisburg, still faces charges alleging he was in possession of at least half a gram of cocaine with the intent to sell. By law, that amount of cocaine allows the presumption of dealership.

Now, as Lyttle is to be on trial again July 16, Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler is apparently continuing to mull over whether there should be some sanction against the juror, according to an announcement in court that was reported last week.

The chain of events leading to the mistrial were reported by Lyttle's attorney, James O. (Jay) Martin.

"One of the jurors made some inappropriate comments in front of one of the other jurors," Martin said. "Fortunately, one of the court officers heard it."

The juror used a racial epithet, Martin said. His client is African-American, and he paraphrased the juror's statement as reported by the court officer to Crigler.

"All people of their race sell drugs and that's how they make their money," Martin said, describing the true words as "A sentence the court officer was embarrassed to repeat in court."

Since Martin's client is charged with an offense which could be interpreted as drug sales, the defense attorney said he had to ask for a mistrial.

"It's shocking that that kind of talk still goes on and it didn't seem like there could be a fair trial with that kind of conduct on the jury," Martin said.

Martin and others indicated that the issue was juror misconduct, although the statement reflected prejudice against the defendant.

Furthermore, it's been said that the statement with a racial epithet may have been a second statement by the female juror, although the first statement was reportedly an indication of her reluctance to be a juror.

The first statement was during a break after Judge Crigler instructed the jury not to discuss the case with anybody. They may speak with each other, but not about the case since their verdict is to be based only on their deliberations in the jury room after all the evidence is presented.

The second statement was during a break after the first witness had started testifying against Lyttle, Martin said. That statement was made while the two jurors were walking out of the women's restroom on the ground floor of the courthouse.

Circuit Court Clerk Elinor Brandon Foster said Lyttle's July 16 trial "is second set," meaning another case is set that day. If the other case is settled, then Lyttle's trial would be conducted. If the first case is to go to trial, then Lyttle's case will be rescheduled.

Martin said he is not sure whether Lyttle will testify on his own behalf. A decision on that can be made during the trial.

Lyttle has been on $15,000 bond and working at a job in Lewisburg, Martin said.

Before jurors are selected, they're given basic information about the case so decisions can be made during jury selection. Those may include whether a potential juror knows someone who is involved in the case, and whether that would affect deliberations.

Lyttle was indicted by the Marshall County Grand Jury in November. He was arrested on July 21.

On that day last summer, City Police Patrolmen Larry Hazelwood and John Christmas were in the 700 block of Hill Street when they heard shots fired and saw a dark colored Chevrolet drive away, according to the arrest warrant. The officers pursued the car and stopped it on Seventh Avenue North.

When the Chevrolet stopped, the passenger ran and Hazelwood chased him around a house, the arrest warrant alleges. Hazelwood said he turned the corner of the house in time to see the passenger throw two handguns under the porch. The passenger was caught and, while he was being walked to the patrol car, Hazelwood saw the driver of the car hand off a small plastic bag to someone else, according to Lyttle's arrest warrant.

The bag was recovered since it was suspected to be cocaine, and that led to Lyttle's arrest, according to the arrest warrant.