By ADAM BEAM, Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Justice is supposed to be blind. But it can sometimes be oblivious.
The Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a new sentencing trial for a man serving time for robbery because one of his previous victims unknowingly was on the jury that convicted him.
In 2006, Johnnie Ray Douglas was about to go on trial for stealing thousands of dollars from several check advance business in Louisville and leaving one employee handcuffed to a pipe.
A prospective juror told the judge he had been the victim of an armed robbery in 1985 while working as a bank teller. The man promised he could still be fair in the trial, adding with a laugh the only consequence from his ordeal was it made him avoid a career in retail banking. Still, Douglas’ attorney thought it best to strike the man from the jury. But he made a mistake and struck the wrong person.
The jury convicted Douglas on one count of robbery and two counts of kidnapping. Prosecutors then asked the jury to label Douglas a “persistent felony offender,” a designation that would allow for a longer prison sentence. They showed the jury evidence of Douglas’ past crimes, including a 1985 indictment for armed robbery. The juror — identified only as juror 151651 — read the indictment and saw his name listed as the victim. It “refreshed his recollection” and he suddenly remembered Douglas.
It appears the juror did not tell the judge right away. The jury decided Douglas was a persistent felony offender and recommended a 35-year sentence. Afterward, the juror told the judge what happened. The judge told Douglas and his lawyers, who decided not to ask for a new trial. Instead, they decided to ask the appellate courts to overturn the conviction.
They lost. The Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the robbery conviction in 2007. But in 2009, Douglas tried again. He got new lawyers, who filed a lawsuit alleging Douglas’ previous lawyers were ineffective because they did not question the juror enough and they did not ask for a new trial once they discovered the juror’s connection to their client.
Thursday, 12 years after his original conviction, the high court justices partially agreed with Douglas. They did not overturn his robbery conviction, but they said he must get a new sentencing trial.
“Prejudice could not be presumed from the juror’s presence on the jury (during the guilt phase of the trial) because no one knew of his bias toward Douglas … including the juror himself,” Justice Bill Cunningham wrote for the court.
But once the juror realized who Douglas was, “prejudice could be presumed.”
“Those proceedings were fundamentally unfair,” Cunningham wrote.