Accused Bibb County murderer asks Ga. Supreme Court to stop retrial


A Bibb County accused murderer whose first trial ended in a mistrial is asking the state's Supreme Court to prevent a second one.

Jedarrius Meadows' lawyers argue that a re-trial would violate his Fifth Amendment right against "double jeopardy" -- being tried twice for the same crime.

According to a Georgia Supreme Court summary of the case, Meadows' lawyers argue that the trial judge declared a mistrial too soon.

In February 2014, Meadows and two other men were charged in the fatal shooting of Damian Clayton at the Macon Little League Field on Anthony Road.

Meadows was 17 at the time of the shooting and was arrested at high school.

A year and a half later, a Bibb County jury begin deliberating Meadows' case after a three-day trial.

After about two hours, jurors told the judge they were having trouble reaching a verdict, and he told them to try again.

That same afternoon, after a bailiff told him that the jury arguments had turned heated, he judge called them back and dismissed them, ending the case in a mistrial.

Meadows' lawyers argue that the judge acted improperly and should have tried other methods to encourage the jury to reach a verdict.

Bibb County prosecutors argue that the judge was concerned about the safety of the jurors. They say the judge acted appropriately.

The Georgia Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Meadows' appeal Monday in Atlanta. He's been in the Bibb County jail for the past four years.

The court's summary of the case:

MEADOWS V. THE STATE (S18A0314)

                A man whose first trial ended in a mistrial is appealing the judge’s denial of his motion asking the court to prohibit a retrial on the ground that it would violate his constitutional right against double jeopardy.

 

                FACTS: A Bibb County grand jury indicted Jedarrius Meadows and two co-defendants with murder, armed robbery and aggravated assault. Meadows and one of the co-defendants were also indicted for Violation of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. Meadows’ trial began Sept. 8, 2015 when a jury was sworn and empaneled. The jury heard testimony from a number of witnesses Sept. 9 through 11, and the lawyers wrapped up with closing arguments the morning of Sept. 12. At about 1:30 that afternoon, the judge instructed the jury, and jurors then retired to the jury room to deliberate. Shortly after, jurors were given lunch. After lunch, one of the jurors asked to be replaced with an alternate because, she said, she was “not in her right mind.” Following a brief hearing, the judge replaced the juror with the first alternate. Then the jury sent out a note asking for equipment to view some video evidence, which took up to a half hour to secure. At some point, the jury was allowed to take a break. At about 3:30, after consulting with the prosecution and defense counsel, the judge brought in the jury to ask if they were making progress. The parties don’t agree what then took place. According to Meadows’ attorney, the foreperson replied “yes,” and one “unidentified person” said “no.” According to the State, the foreperson said, “We’ve got some individuals that are very strongly – they are not moving,” and the judge later said that several jurors had indicated “no” when asked if they were making progress. The judge sent the jury back to the jury room and informed both the defense and the prosecution he would give the jury another 15-to-20 minutes, then would “either give them an Allen charge or declare this jury hung.” (An “Allen charge” is an instruction a judge gives to dislodge jurors from entrenched positions and prevent a hung jury by encouraging jurors in the minority to reconsider.) The prosecutor said he did not believe an Allen charge would help, as he believed the jury was not going to reach a verdict. The defense attorney argued an Allen charge was required because progress was possible, given the short time the jury had been deliberating. Soon after, the judge informed the attorneys that the bailiff had told him things had become heated in the jury room and that “at one point he thought he was going to have to go in there.” The judge again summoned jurors to the courtroom and told them that, “based on the previous conversation with you, it doesn’t sound to me like you are really getting very far,” and he dismissed them over the defense attorney’s objection. On Oct. 2, 2015, Meadows’ attorney filed a “Plea in Bar Based on Double Jeopardy,” arguing a retrial would violate Meadows’ constitutional right against double jeopardy. (Double jeopardy prevents an accused person from being tried again on similar charges and the same facts following a valid acquittal or conviction.) In June 2017, the court held a hearing on the motion before denying it. Meadows now appeals to the state Supreme Court.

 

                ARGUMENTS: Meadows’ attorneys argue that this Court should reverse the trial court’s denial of Meadows’ motion and bar the State from retrying him. “Under the United States and Georgia constitutions, the defendant had a right to have his case heard and decided by the jury that was originally impaneled and sworn,” the attorneys argue in briefs. “At the time that right was taken from him, no manifest necessity existed to do so. The jury was deliberating and, according to the foreperson, making progress, and any concern that the court may have had for the safety of the jury was not so great as to prompt the court to inquire. The court instead inquired as to a deadlock that was not previously indicated, and virtually ignored the ostensible reason that the jury had been summoned to the courtroom. Further, there is no indication in the record that the court gave any consideration to the multitude of less severe remedies that were at its disposal. It was an abuse of the court’s discretion to deprive the defendant of this very important right, and the initiation of a new trial violates his Fifth Amendment right against being placed twice in jeopardy for the same offense.” The trial court’s declaration of a mistrial was an abuse of discretion because: 1) nothing in the court’s reasoning meets any of the criteria required by Georgia Code § 16-1-8 (e), which lists the circumstances that must exist before a trial is terminated; 2)  it was impermissibly based not on the judge’s own inquiry of the jury, but on the statements of a member of law enforcement and probably on an improper conversation with the prosecution while the defense was not present; 3) the judge did not seriously consider less drastic measures; and 4) the judge did not seriously consider Meadows’ right to have his trial completed by the particular tribunal.

 

                The State, represented by the District Attorney’s office, argues that in challenges to the declaration of a mistrial, the Georgia appellate courts have based their decision upon whether there was “a manifest necessity for a mistrial.” The courts have read § 16-1-8 (e) in conjunction with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a trial court’s judgment about whether there was manifest necessity to grant a mistrial is entitled to great deference. The Georgia Supreme Court and Court of Appeals “have not limited the appropriate declaration of a mistrial to the limited situations laid out in § 16-1-8 (e) but have consistently held that a trial court may exercise its discretion in declaring a mistrial based on ‘the varying and often unique situations arising during the course of a criminal trial,’” the State argues in briefs. Trial courts also may declare a mistrial over the defendant’s objection, without barring retrial, “‘whenever, in their opinion, taking all the circumstances into consideration, there is a manifest necessity’ for doing so.” The U.S. Supreme Court and the Georgia Supreme Court have repeatedly held that “whether the required degree of necessity for a mistrial has been shown is a matter best judged by the trial court,” the State argues. In this case, the judge expressed concerns about the safety of the jurors based on his observations of one of the jurors who requested to be excused and because of reports to him by court security. “It is clear from the facts presented during the course of the Appellant’s [i.e. Meadows’] trial that the judge acted appropriately and within his discretion,” the State argues. “The fact that arguments could be made for other alternatives besides a mistrial in the case below is irrelevant.” The trial court’s decision should be affirmed by this Court, the State contends.

 

Attorneys for Appellant (Meadows): Mark Barnes, James Davis

 

Attorneys for Appellee (State): K. David Cooke, Jr., District Attorney, Dorothy Hull, Asst. D.A.

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