Defense seeking mistrial in case of former Culpeper officer Daniel Harmon-Wright
By John Henrehan, FOX 5 Reporter
Daniel Harmon-Wright (center)
CULPEPER, Va. -
The conviction of a former town police officer (who was supposed to be sentenced Wednesday for voluntary manslaughter) is being challenged.
The defense is calling for a mistrial because of alleged juror misconduct.
On Tuesday, former Town of Culpeper policeman Daniel Harmon-Wright was found guilty of manslaughter (and two other felony counts) in connection with the February shooting death of unarmed motorist Patricia Cook.
But after the jury went home for the night, a clerk found two dictionaries and a thesaurus in the jury room. The judge characterized the books as "unauthorized research materials," and ordered that jurors be isolated and questioned one-by-one.
According to the jurors, some of the words they looked up included "murder, malice, and unlawful."
One juror told the judge she thought it was OK to bring the reference works into the jury room on the last day of the trial, and even asked a bailiff, who raised no objection.
Another juror said under oath the panel was "really hung up" on the written definitions provided in the judge's instructions.
"We felt the dictionary gave us a straight answer," said the juror.
Defense attorney Daniel Hawes asked for a mistrial, arguing the jurors appear to have been confused, and saying his client has been denied due process.
Special prosecutor James Fisher said the juror's concentration on the word "malice" actually worked in favor of the defendant, as the jury did not find "malice" in his actions, and therefore declined to convict on the more serious charge of murder.
Circuit Judge Susan Whitlock ordered written arguments from the attorneys, and announced she will decide the issue Friday morning.
In case the prosecution prevails, she has called jurors back (on Friday) to consider a sentence for the former policeman, who is facing up to 25 years on the convictions.