Judge: Death row inmate hasn’t proven prejudice by juror
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee death row inmate nearing execution has failed to prove a juror was prejudiced against him when she helped sentence him to death decades ago, a judge ruled Tuesday.
In his ruling, Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole declined to reopen 53-year-old Lee Hall’s case, but also wrote that Hall wouldn’t be entitled to relief even if he could consider the claim of juror bias.
Hall’s attorneys contend he was deprived of his constitutional rights because the juror acknowledged she had failed to disclose during jury selection nearly 26 years ago that she had been raped and abused by her ex-husband.
But the judge cited several reasons to reject Hall’s argument. For one, the jury selection questions may not have been reasonably calculated to get an answer in which the juror would disclose her past, Poole wrote.
And while the testimony about Hall’s actions may have reminded the juror about the abuse by her former husband, the judge wrote that the juror said any “hatred” she had toward Hall was “fleeting and did not affect her going forward.” Additionally, the judge noted the juror had been remarried for years at the time of the trial.
“Juror A was involved in a happy and fulfilling marriage at that point, which helped her overcome any feelings she may have had about her first marriage,” Poole wrote.
While the woman is now speaking out about her bias against Hall after undergoing several years of therapy, she acknowledges that she failed to disclose her experience with domestic violence and rape despite being given several options during the jury screening process.
She didn’t begin talking about the abuse until 2007 when she began seeing a therapist and didn’t tell Hall’s attorneys about her past until this year.
The judge concluded that the juror didn’t intentionally conceal the detail or attempt to deceive. Instead, he said she stated in a hearing last week that she didn’t think of herself as a victim at the time of the trial and that her past experiences didn’t render her prejudiced against Hall at the time of jury selection.
The most relevant question during jury selection asked if any prospective juror’s past exposure to domestic violence “would in any way possibly affect or influence you to the point where it would maybe compromise you to be able to render a fair and impartial verdict.”
An attorney for Hall said she plans to appeal the judge’s order, pointing to the juror’s Oct. 10 affidavit that “memories flooded back” to her during the trial and she “hated Lee for what she did to that girl.”
“The appellate courts must have sufficient time to address the serious issues presented by this case — whether a juror’s undisclosed history of domestic violence — causing her to “hate” Mr. Hall — deprived him of the fair trial guaranteed by the constitutions of the United States and Tennessee,” Kelly Gleason, supervising attorney in the Tennessee Office of the Post-Conviction Defender, said in a statement.
Hall, formerly known as Leroy Hall Jr., has been on death row since he was convicted for the 1991 killing of his estranged girlfriend Traci Crozier.
Hall was found guilty of setting Crozier’s car on fire while she was still inside by filling a container with gasoline, stuffing a paper towel over the top, lighting it on fire and then throwing it into the car.
The container exploded and Crozier was burned on more than 90% of her body. She died the next day.
He’s scheduled to die by the electric chair on Dec. 5. Three out of the five past death row inmates put to death opted for the electric chair since Tennessee started resuming executions in August 2018.
Experts on behalf of inmates have argued that the state’s three-drug lethal injection procedure would cause them sensations of drowning, suffocation and chemical burning while rendering them unable to move or call out.