COLUMBUS — A federal appeals court ruled today that a man sentenced to death for killing two girls in 2002 during a Lima drug robbery can seek a new trial.
Jeronique D. Cunningham, 41, will get the chance to argue that one of the jurors who convicted him had a relationship with his victims’ families and pressured other jurors to convict, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.
Cunningham is on death row at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution for the fatal shootings of Jala Grant, 3, and Leneshia Williams, 17, when he and conspirator Cleveland Jackson opened fire on a small group of people corralled into a kitchen during the Jan. 3, 2002 robbery.
While evidence did not show that the fatal wounds were inflicted by Cunningham’s gun, he was prosecuted and convicted as Jackson’s accomplice and sentenced to death.
The appeals court today sent the case back to U.S. District Court, giving Cunningham a chance to argue he was prevented from pursuing a motion in state court to overturn his conviction due to juror misconduct.
According to the record, a juror who worked for a social service agency reportedly told other jurors during deliberations that “she dealt with the victims and their families, they know who she was, and that if she would find him not guilty that she would have to deal with them and that’s just something she didn’t want to have to deal with.…”
A juror later testified that she was the sole holdout not to convict but felt pressured by the other juror to change her mind.
The Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit said a state court should delve into the juror questions that raise “grave concerns about her impartiality.”
“…Did she [the juror] have a relationship with the families of the victims, and, if so, was she improperly biased or influenced by that relationship and her knowledge that she would have to face them and work in the community after the trial was over?” the court asked.
While Cunningham’s appeals continue, Jackson faces a Nov. 17, 2015 date to die by lethal injection. Although originally sentenced to die for both killings, his sentence for the death of Jala Grant was later commuted to life without parole. His death sentence for Ms. Williams’ murder stands.
A U.S. District Court judge recently instituted an effective moratorium on Ohio executions in the wake of the state‘s problems carrying out the ultimate punishment. But that moratorium, at least for now, does not extend out far enough to affect Jackson’s execution.
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