Birmingham Homicide Dec. 17, 2020
The capital murder conviction of a former UAB football player in the killing of a Birmingham nursing students has been vacated, and a new trial ordered amid allegations of juror misconduct.
Carlos Stephens, 24, was convicted in April of capital murder in the 2020 shooting death of 20-year-old Destiny Washington. In May, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The attorneys handling Stephens’ appeal late last month filed a motion seeking a new trial, claiming jurors did independent research during the deliberation process.
Juries are instructed not to any outside research and to consider only evidence during the trial and the judge’s explanation and instruction on the law.
Initially, trial judge Circuit Judge Kechia Davis denied the motion for a new trial but after Stephens’ attorneys – Richard Jaffe, Brett Knight and Jonathan Brown of Jaffe, Hanle, Whisonant and Knight – filed a motion to reconsider and asked for a judgement of acquittal, a hearing was held Friday.
Davis on Tuesday vacated Stephens’ conviction and sentence and granted the request for a new trial.
“After thorough inquiry of juror misconduct, the Court is certain that granting a new trial is the most prudent and responsible course of action as the verdict might have been influenced by extraneous material, which by its very nature is presumed to be prejudicial as a matter of law,’’ Davis wrote in her July 5 order.
“The law is clear that it is improper for jurors to use outside information in reaching a verdict,’’ she wrote. “Further, reversal is necessary when juror misconduct might have influenced the verdict.”
“It is clear from the testimony that the extraneous material that was used by the jurors regarding the definitions of capital murder, manslaughter and heat of passion are of such a nature as to constitute prejudice as a matter of law and it really goes to the heart of this case,’’ Davis wrote. “The Court is convicted that justice and fairness in a case of this magnitude warrants a new trial.”
Jaffe on Tuesday said out of respect for both families, he declined to comment since the case is ongoing. District Attorney Danny Carr also declined comment.
Washington was shot to death at 9:40 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in the parking lot of UAB’s student center on University Boulevard during a sale of $90 AirPods.
Prosecutors at the trial contended Stephens should be convicted of capital murder in Washington’s death, calling it a senseless, unreasonable and unnecessary act of violence.
They told jurors Stephens was angry that Washington’s boyfriend was 30 minutes late arriving to their meeting and angry at what followed – which included Keyuntae Moultrie trying to sell Stephens a pair of fake AirPods, raising the previously agreed-upon price and then accusing Stephens of paying with counterfeit money.
Stephens’ attorneys, however, claimed their client fired in self-defense only after Washington’s boyfriend pulled a gun on him and threatened to “blow him away.”
Jefferson County Deputy District Attorneys Jessica Hebson and Ashley Patterson prosecuted the case. Stephens was represented by attorneys Emory Anthony and Bobby Lendell Davis.
.The new motion included affidavits from Stephens’ trial attorney – Anthony – and the lawyers’ investigator who interviewed jurors following the verdict.
According to Anthony’s affidavit, the jury began deliberations in the late afternoon on Friday, April 8, after four days of testimony.
“There was a knock on the jury door. The bailiff went into the jury room and came back into the courtroom and said the jury had a question, but they were going to ‘google it,’’ Anthony said in his statement.
“The judge said, ‘no, no, no,’ but the bailiff then said he was ‘just kidding.’’
After almost two days of deliberations, jurors at one point told Judge Davis that they could not agree on a verdict. Davis then issued an Allen charge, sometimes called a dynamite charge – telling jurors to keep deliberating.
According to the new motion, Juror 0735 stated that after the Allen Charge, “the court told them there was no reason to make the family go through this all over again.”
Davis, in today’s ruling, said that allegation was withdrawn by Stephens’ attorneys “as it was unfounded and not supported by the transcript of the proceedings.”
The judge’s ruling stated that Juror 551 testified that he was told by the judge daily not to research or Google anything, not to go on social, or to the scene of the crime, but he testified that he misinterpreted what the judge’s instruction meant.
He admitted that at some point, the verdict was 11-1 for capital murder, and indicated that he was the hold-out and wanted to understand why he wasn’t seeing things the same way as his fellow jurors.
“Juror 551 testified that two scholarly papers were reviewed for approximately and hour detailing a historical definition of manslaughter,’’ the judge wrote. “This research was not printed, and notes were not generated for review. However, this information was shared with other jurors before the verdict was reached in this case.”
That juror testified that the research he conducted confirmed what he was already thinking about deliberations. He said another juror pulled up the Alabama Criminal Code’s definition of capital murder on his cell phone, and he shared that information with his fellow jurors.
Juror 735 testified that she did not look up any outside law, but she and others were told about extraneous information from another juror who researched the law. She said she did not rely on the outside information but was privy to it.
She said she did not recall any other juror looking up the definition of capital murder, and said her decision was already made the verdict was 11-1 prior to the outside information being discussed.
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Birmingham Homicide Dec. 17, 2020