Wednesday, April 26, 2000
Jury flips coin to decide murder verdict
Jefferson Co. judge declares mistrial
The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE Jurors who couldn't decide whether to convict a man of murder or manslaughter in the shooting of his girlfriend flipped a coin and found him guilty of murder, subjecting him to a possible life sentence before a judge declared a mistrial.
In court Monday, Jefferson Circuit Judge Kenneth Conliffe told jury foreman David Melton, 45, It has come to the attention of the court, that with the great deal of difficulty that the jury had, that you all got to a point where you were in essence almost hung, and that you may have resolved the issue by a flip of the coin.
Mr. Melton acknowledged that had happened.
Phillip J. Givens II, 28, will get a new trial, beginning Sept. 12. He faced a maximum sentence of life in prison for the death of Monica Briggs, 29, last May.
The jury of five men and seven women deliberated about nine hours over two days last week before finding Mr. Givens guilty of murder.
On Monday, Judge Conliffe learned how the jury had reached its verdict.
Brian Butler, one of the prosecutors in the case, said one of the jurors apparently told someone about the coin toss, and that person told someone who works in the Jefferson County court system. The court employee told a judge, who brought it to Judge Conliffe's attention, Mr. Butler said.
Judge Conliffe declined to be interviewed about the incident.
Mr. Givens' lawyer, Mark Chandler, said it's scary to think that 12 people would decide to flip a coin to reach a verdict, especially in a murder case when the defendant could face life in prison.
It kind of blows your mind, he said. I think they had a lapse in judgment, and I'd like to think it doesn't go on very often.
The jury was deadlocked 11-1 for murder and 11-1 for manslaughter. Mr. Melton said 10 jurors were willing to com promise. But one was unwilling to budge on manslaughter and another was steadfast for murder.
Then came the toss.
Mr. Melton told the Courier-Journal that the jurors had decided to convict but couldn't agree on the charge. They wanted to avoid a mistrial, so they decided to flip a coin. Because all agreed on the coin toss, they thought it was legal and didn't know it was wrong, he said.
Realistically, I didn't think we had anything to lose, Mr. Melton said. We were going to be hung without it.
Local court officials and law professors said they had never heard of a verdict reached this way but noted that jury deliberations are secret. Some, however, said they weren't surprised to hear that it had happened.
I don't think it's widespread, said Cedric Powell, an assistant law professor at the University of Louisville. But I think the system breaks down sometimes. There are imperfections in the system. There are problems with the system. But it doesn't shake my faith in it.
He said Mr. Givens did not receive a fair trial.
Jurors take an oath to decide a case based on the evidence, and they are instructed to consider only the evidence.
And it has to be a decision, Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel said. It can't be some kind of gamble.
Three of the jurors declined to comment. The others could not be reached.
Court documents indicate that Mr. Givens told police on the day of the shooting that it was an accident. He acknowledged that he and Ms. Briggs had argued that day, but he said the gun went off accidentally. He said he was getting ready to clean the pistol and thought the safety was on.
He testified in his own defense at the two-day trial.
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