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Georgia murder conviction voided over dismissal of juror

April 20, 2020 GMT

The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday threw out the murder conviction of a man serving a life sentence for a 2017 shooting, ruling the trial judge wrongly dismissed a juror who said she did not believe the trial witnesses or other evidence presented by prosecutors.

Roger Mills was convicted of malice murder in the slaying of Masuto Garrett at a 2018 trial in Douglas County, but only after the trial judge replaced a dissenting juror with an alternate. Georgia’s high court ruled there was nothing to show the dismissed juror was legally unfit to serve.

Douglas County District Attorney Ryan Leonard said in an email Monday that he intends to retry Mills, who was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. The state Supreme Court noted in its ruling that the trial evidence “was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find Mills guilty.”

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Garret died after being shot three times at a house where several people had gathered on Dec. 23, 2017. Witnesses testimony pointed to Mills and a co-defendant, Moses Bolar, as the shooters. Video from a neighbor’s surveillance camera showed the two suspects fleeing the house. Photos on social media showed both men holding 9mm handguns consistent with the weapons used in the killing.

But during jury deliberations at the men’s joint trial, one juror refused to support a conviction.

After four hours of deliberations, the jury sent a note to the trial judge that read: “We have a juror that believes the defendants are not guilty, based on the evidence presented.”

Ordered by the judge to continue trying to reach a verdict, the jury sent a second note the following day.

“We have a juror that does not believe any of the witness testimony, does not believe any of the evidence that was submitted by the D.A. for this case ... And the only thing that would change their mind, would be to see a clear resolution video” showing the killing, the note read.

Superior Court Judge Beau McClain, who presided over the trial, removed the juror from the deliberations and replaced her with an alternate, over the objection of Mills’ defense attorneys. With the new 12th member, the jury agreed to convict Mills.

In a unanimous decision Monday, the state Supreme Court ruled it was wrong for the judge to dismiss the dissenting juror, who appeared to have based her position on the trial evidence.

“That Juror 23 had reached a conclusion different from that of the other jurors did not show that she was incapacitated or legally unfit to serve,” Justice John J. Ellington wrote.

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Bolar was acquitted of malice murder charges but convicted on felony murder and aggravated assault charges. In its ruling on Mills’ appeal, the state Supreme Court did not address Bolar’s convictions.

Leonard, the district attorney, said Bolar’s appeal was still pending, but raised essentially the same legal issues that caused the state Supreme Court to overturn Mills’ conviction.

“Based on their decision on Mills we intend to withdraw opposition to a new trial for Bolar and will re-try both defendants,” Leonard said by email.