Judge rules mistrial in Washington County stun-gun death
SANDERSVILLE, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A judge declared a mistrial Tuesday when a jury couldn’t reach a verdict after three days of deliberations in the murder trial for three former Washington County deputies accused of stunning a man to death.
Former deputies Henry Lee Copeland, Michael Howell and Rhett Scott were on trial, accused of murdering Eurie Martin in 2017 by repeatedly shocking him with stun guns.
Prosecutors had argued the deputies had no reason to detain 58-year old.
The three white former deputies said the Black man had been walking illegally down a road in the tiny community of Deepstep.
Martin had a history of schizophrenia and was walking for 30 miles to see relatives on a hot summer day when someone he asked for water called 911 and reported him as a suspicious person.
The trial lasted seven days total. The jury deliberated for more than 12 hours across three days. Jurors told the judge no one had changed their opinion on the charges since Friday. So the judge declared this a mistrial.
It was mixed reaction from the family of Eurie Martin after that was announced in the courtroom. Same for the defendants.
That’s because a mistrial means someone still hasn’t been proven innocent or guilty. The judge said that due to the severity of the case, the state will likely retry it in the future.
In order to come to his decision, the judge called the jury to the courtroom and asked when anyone had last changed their opinion. The jury said Friday. He asked if they felt like more deliberation would help, and they all said no. The defense made a motion for a mistrial and the state did not object.
Representing Martin’s family, Davis Bozeman Johnson Law Firm attorney Mawuli M. Davis said the mistrial left them saddened.
“This family endured so much for nearly the last five years trying to fight for justice for Eurie Martin, and to not receive it after this case has been tried is disappointing,” Davis said. “They’re exhausted, but they continue to believe and are willing and ready to fight for justice for Mr. Martin.”
Davis said the family would be urging prosecutors to try the case again.
Local activists who had been attending the trial since the start went outside to express their frustrations as the ex-deputies drove off with their families.
”I don’t like what transpired in that courtroom as how they tortured Mr. Martin four years ago and then the family had to relive that this same tortured on them and the jury wasn’t impartial. And it’s because it was Black man, so I don’t even feel protected. I don’t feel safe in Washington County. I could be the next victim that be killed by white officers,” said Leonard Jordan, community activist.
What led up to the mistrial
The jurors had met all day Monday and told the judge they were unable to reach a decision. The judge said they needed to keep working, and they came back Tuesday.
After returning Tuesday, the jury was in the deliberation room by 9:30 a.m., and by around 11:20, a juror asked to be excused. One had asked Monday, as well, but was refused.
This happened after jurors by 10:30 a.m. had asked to view a video of the encounter from Copeland’s dash cam.
The jury’s actions on Friday hinted that a mistrial could be ahead: They sent a note out to the judge asking, ”What will happen if we can’t reach a verdict?”
At that time, the judge said it was too early to discuss that. But after another day, there was another note from the jury, this time saying ...
“We have gone over all of the evidence and cannot reach a unanimous decision,” said Judge H. Gibbs Flanders, Judicial Circuit Superior Court.
The judge gave them a push in the form of an “Allen Charge” on Monday. An Allen Charge is read to deadlocked jury by a judge, encouraging them to continue deliberations and try harder to be open to other viewpoints. It also informs them that if they can’t reach a verdict, it’ll be a mistrial and the prosecution will have to decide whether to retry the case later with a new jury.
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