Juror is dismissed after discussing murder case

A Superior Court judge dismissed a juror Thursday from a murder trial for discussing the case with other jurors and possibly proclaiming his belief that the defendants are innocent.

Judge James G. Blanchard Jr. said the man was told, along with all jurors, prior to the start of the trial for Willie Bernard Butler Jr. and Martin Napoleon Holmes that he was not to discuss the case before jury deliberations and not to form an opinion before all the evidence was presented.

Judge Blanchard, who would identify the man only as Juror 12, said the juror appeared to have violated those directives.

Judge Blanchard said he first heard of the possible misconduct via a note he received Wednesday evening from other jurors about Juror 12's statements and from a bailiff.

Columbia County sheriff's Deputy Ken Waller, the bailiff, testified to Judge Blanchard that he overheard Juror 12 telling other jurors Wednesday afternoon that he felt he "had no right to take those two young men's lives in his hands."

Two other jurors said that Juror 12 told them he already had formed an opinion in the case, and one juror told Judge Blanchard that Juror 12 "flat-out said the boys are innocent."

When questioned by Judge Blanchard, Juror 12 said he didn't feel like the prosecution made its case and that he recognized the victim, 33-year-old Rickey Gibson of Grovetown, from a photo introduced into evidence.

Juror 12 never admitted to proclaiming Mr. Butler, 20, and Mr. Holmes, 18, as innocent.

Along with three other men -- Karmbi Octavious Young, 20; Patrick Booker, 19; and Garland Ray Pittman, 15 -- Mr. Butler and Mr. Holmes are accused of killing Mr. Gibson during a September 2008 home invasion. A jury convicted Mr. Young of the crime in August.

Juror 12, whose name the court would not release until the conclusion of the trial, will be replaced by an alternate.

Defense attorneys Victor Hawk and Alexia Davis asked Judge Blanchard to declare a mistrial, but he denied the motion.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 863-6165 or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.