Two Upson County trials

Scott Ballard District Attorney

September 7, 2013

The battle action returned to Upson County this week. When the smoke cleared we had disposed of several cases and tried two jury trials.

The first of those involved theft of timber. The defendant was accused of going onto his neighbor’s one acre lot and cutting down 32 trees.

It’s impossible for me to imagine somebody doing that. It’s not like the property was vacant. Somebody was renting the house and living there.

Do you just wake up one morning and hatch a plot? “I need a bunch of trees. I think I’ll wait until the neighbor goes to town. Then I’ll run over there with a chain saw and cut 32 trees. I’m sure nobody will notice.”

As you might imagine, the jury convicted. I thought Michael Rogers gave a great closing argument. Judge Fletcher Sams sentenced the guy to ten years in prison followed by ten more on probation.

One down.

A lot of judges around the state would close down shop and go home. Not Judge Sams. There was still time for another trial and he cranked it up.

This was a burglary. Again Michael Rogers prosecuted.

During jury selection we are looking for jurors who will listen to the evidence. Jurors who haven’t already made up their minds. Jurors who will be fair and unbiased.

That’s why we ask if they know the defendant.

Of, course, the defense team has its own reason for asking if the jurors know the defendant. Often, they don’t want jurors who know the accused either.

The question was asked. The jurors were under oath. None of the 12 that served on the jury said they knew the defendant.

Well, after closing arguments we expected a quick verdict. So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Nothing.

The judge asked the jurors what the vote was. They said it was 10-2. We’re not allowed to know if it is two for acquittal or conviction. But, everybody assumed the majority wanted to convict.

We did a little digging. To our surprise, we found that one of the jurors was a Facebook friend with the defendant.

I’m not on Facebook, but I understand a little about how it works. I guess it is possible that somebody that you don’t even know could be your “friend.” So, our discovery doesn’t necessarily mean that the juror was untruthful when he denied knowing the defendant.

But, consider this. The judge removed the juror and used an alternate. Within three minutes they had a verdict of guilty. Moments later the juror’s “friend” had a sentence. Twenty years of prison followed by five years on probation and a five thousand dollar fine. And get this—he’s banished from Upson County. He can’t come back.

He will have to limit his Upson County “friendships” to online chats.