published Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

No verdict by jurors in Parker trial after 3 days


by Chloé Morrison
  • photo
    Staff Photo by Tim Barber Assistant public defender Doug Woodruff waits for a verdict in the Sam Parker trial outside the Walker County Courthouse on Wednesday.

LaFAYETTE, Ga. -- No one knows who the waiting is harder on -- the lawyers, the investigators, Sam Parker or Theresa Parker's family.

"I don't think in anybody's wildest dreams they thought the jury would take this long," Gerald Gravitt, who is unrelated to the Parkers but who has been attending the trial nearly every day, said Wednesday.

Mr. Parker, a former LaFayette police officer, is charged with killing his wife, a former Walker County 911 dispatcher. The jury has been deliberating since Monday afternoon and, until it comes to a decision, there isn't much to do except wait.

Mr. Parker's lawyer, David Dunn, said the second-worst part of a trial is the waiting. The worst part, he said, is the few minutes before hearing the verdict.

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The jury had deliberated for a total of about 15 hours when it broke for the evening Wednesday. On Tuesday afternoon, the forewoman told the judge the panel had reached a decision on three of the four charges. The most serious charge -- malice murder -- isn't coming so easily.

"I think everyone is anxious," Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said Wednesday. "All parties would like to see the case finalized."

Interested members of the public wait inside the courtroom -- some bring pillows to make the hard chairs more comfortable -- or mill around outside the Walker County Courthouse. Some have taken off work or changed shifts so they can be present when the decision comes.

Mrs. Parker's family members wait inside the district attorney's office across the street from the courthouse. Sometimes they huddle outside, resting on a concrete ledge.

Area residents drive by occasionally, slowing down to ask someone if there has been a verdict yet.

If the jury is unable to reach consensus on the murder charge, Walker County Superior Court Judge Jon "Bo" Wood can give a "dynamite charge," officially called an Allen charge, officials said.

With that charge, Judge Wood would encourage the jury to reach agreement and provide closure in the case. Area deputies said the nickname comes because the idea is to light dynamite under the jurors and encourage them to reach a unanimous decision, which is required in a criminal case.

If the jurors can't agree on the murder charge, the panel still can hand down verdicts on the other three charges.

"Each count stands on its own," Sheriff Wilson said.

MOVEMENT ON VERDICTS

The jury has reached verdicts on charges of making false statements, computer invasion of privacy and violation of oath as a public officer. After sending a note to Judge Jon "Bo" Wood Wednesday afternoon using the word "regress," the jury forewoman said jurors were making progress again. They had moved from an 8-4 vote to 9-3 on the murder charge, but it isn't known which way they are leaning.

If there is no decision on the murder charge, the district attorney must decide whether to re-try the case.

Sheriff Wilson said he has been involved with a number of trials in his two decades of law enforcement. Though the waiting seems endless, he said, it isn't uncommon for a jury to take a few days to make a decision.

"I know it seems like it's dragging on," he said. "For the amount of exhibits and the amount of testimony, this is not an unusually long time."

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