LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A man convicted in the 2009 shooting deaths of five people at a trailer park in Arkansas deserves a new trial because a juror admitted he could not be fair to him in his original trial, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Samuel Lee Conway was convicted last year on five counts of capital murder, plus other charges, and sentenced to life in prison without parole in the slayings in Garland County.
Conway, 26, argued that he deserved a new trial because the judge didn't dismiss a juror who told him he couldn't be impartial.
Before the prosecution rested at Conway's trial, the juror sent a note to Judge John Homer Wright.
"I don't think I can be a fair juror anymore," the juror said in the note, according to the Supreme Court's opinion. He said he kept a loaded shotgun beside his bed because of the testimony he'd been hearing.
"That's basically — it's bad saying it, but I've made up my mind about the case already this early," the juror said, according to court filings.
Still, Wright decided not to dismiss the juror.
"I'm not gonna excuse him because I don't think that he's expressed anything other than the fact he has formed an opinion, which you have acknowledged jurors do then they go in and discuss it," Wright said, according to court filings.
The high court sided with Conway, saying the judge abused his discretion in failing to dismiss that juror.
"The right to a fair and impartial trial is a fundamental guarantee, and Conway was denied that right in this case," Justice Karen Baker wrote for the Supreme Court.
A new trial date has not been scheduled. Conway will be transferred from a state prison to a Garland County jail, one of his lawyers, Janice Vaughn, said, adding that she was pleased with the court's decision.
"The very thrust of our whole system is to have a fair jury, and when a juror can't be fair, you don't get a fair trial," Vaughn said. Continued...