An Arkansas death row inmate's life may have been spared when the state Supreme Court Thursday ordered a new trial because of a juror's Twitter posts.
The offending tweets from the juror, identified as Randy Franco, were vague musings, rather than about his potential decision in the capital murder trial. Nonetheless, the Arkansas high court ruled that the juror's disregard of court instructions against electronic communication--he continued to post on Twitter after he was questioned about it--denied Erickson Dimas-Martinez a fair trial.
Juror 2's tweets about the trial were very much public discussions, Justice Donald Corbin wrote in an opinion. Even if such discussions were one-sided, it is in no way appropriate for a juror to state musings, thoughts, or other information about a case in such a public fashion.
The opinion includes a conversation between the judge and the juror over the first offending tweet, which read Choices to be made. Hearts to be broken. We each define the great line.
When the judge asked the juror what that meant, he gave a rambling explanation about making tough decisions. The juror also explained the Define the Great Line is an album from a Christian metal band from Florida, Underoath.
One Twitter post that was especially egregious to the court was a simple notification that Its [sic] over--nearly an hour before an official announcement. One of the juror's followers was a reporter, the opinion noted.
The media had advance notice that the jury had completed its sentencing deliberations before an official announcement was made to the court, the opinion said. This is simply unacceptable, and the [lower appeals court's] failure to acknowledge this juror's inability to follow the court's directions was an abuse of discretion.
Another juror who had fallen asleep during trial also contributed to the high court's decision.
Dimas-Martinez, whose counsel had argued that the two jurors be dismissed, had been convicted of murdering a teen during a robbery. Part of his appeal was based on the jurors' conduct.