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COLUMBUS — A former Lima man sentenced to death for the 2002 slayings of two girls during a drug robbery can seek a new trial, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
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 in Cincinnati ruled.
Cunningham is on death row at Chillicothe Correctional Institution for the fatal shootings of Jala Grant, 3, and Leneshia Williams, 17.
He and half-brother Cleveland Jackson were convicted of opening fire on a small group of people they’d corralled into an apartment kitchen during the Jan. 3, 2002, robbery.
The guns involved were never recovered, so there was no evidence that the fatal wounds were fired by Cunningham’s gun, but he was prosecuted and convicted as Jackson’s accomplice.
The appeals court sent the case back to U.S. District Court, giving Cunningham a chance to argue that he was prevented from pursuing a motion in state court to overturn his conviction because of 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 who said she was the sole holdout against convicting later testified in a deposition that she felt pressured by the other juror to change her mind.
The 6th Circuit said a state court should delve into the juror issues that raise “grave concerns about her impartiality.”
“… did [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 asks.
While Cunningham’s appeals continue, Jackson faces a Nov. 17, 2015, date to die by lethal injection.
Although originally sentenced to death for both killings, his sentence for the killing of Jala Grant was later commuted to life without parole.
His death sentence for Ms. Williams’ murder stands.
A U.S. District judge recently instituted what amounts to a moratorium on executions in the wake of problems experienced by the state in carrying out the ultimate punishment.
But that moratorium, at least for now, does not extend out far enough to affect Jackson’s date.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.