Possible Jury Misconduct After Dictionary Use In Culpeper Murder Trail

5:09 PM, Jan 30, 2013   |    comments
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CULPEPER, Va. (WUSA) -- The possible jury misconduct in the trial of a former Culpeper Police officer could lead to a mistrial.

Daniel Harmon-Wright was found guilty of manslaughter yesterday and the jury was supposed to recommend a sentence today but now that's on hold. 

The jurors' alleged misconduct involves of all things, the use of a dictionary.

The jury was told by the judge that it was to only use the materials provided. After two dictionaries and a thesaurus were found in the jury room last night, each juror was questioned in open court on Wednesday morning.

The judge and lawyers wanted to know whether the dictionary helped them find Daniel Harmon Wright guilty of manslaughter. Each juror was questioned about using a dictionary in the jury room. Six jurors admitted to looking up the word malice or malicious. At least one said she didn't know what the word meant, and needed help to make her decision about Harmon Wright.

The jury decided that he did not act with malice, so instead of murder, they found him guilty of manslaughter.

Neither attorney would talk to reporters, but Special Prosecutor Jim Fisher said in court that the verdict should stand because all of the jurors who had doubt and were helped by the dictionary, made their decision in favor of the defendant.

But Defense Attorney Dan Hawes is calling for a mistrial. He is concerned about a few jurors possible confusion with the word "unlawful."

He told the judge that one juror just assumed the act of shooting in a vehicle was unlawful before deciding his guilt. Hawes told the judge, "I don't think there's any question that my client has not received a fair trial."

Judge Susan Whitlock dismissed the jury and adjourned for the day. The juror who admitted to bringing in two dictionaries and a thesaurus, said she asked the bailiff if It was OK and he said yes.
Culpeper Sheriff Scott Jenkins says there was no mistake on the part of his bailiffs, only a misunderstanding on the part of the juror who brought in the dictionary. They are allowed to bring in books to pass the time but nothing to help them reach a verdict, except what they're given by the court.

Harmon-Wright was escorted back to the jail. The sentencing phase in which the jury is to make a recommendation after hearing from both sides is on hold until Friday.

The sentencing will either go as planned or not after Judge Whitlock decides on the motion for a mistrial. The attorneys will need to have their arguments ready for the judge to consider on Thursday. 

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