It was a difficult decision, a juror in the Gilmore Center case told The Times.
"Our hearts went out to both sides," the woman said. "But in the end, we had to decide whether the Gilmore Center was responsible for this tragic accident. They really weren't."
Through his mother, Jimmy Phillips filed suit against the Gilmore Center in connection with an accidental shooting incident in 2000. Phillips and some other Gilmore Center clients were on a camping trip in Taylor County, a trip organized by two Gilmore Center employees on their own time.
The employees, Dusty Pippin and Winston Smith, took eight of the clients on the overnight camp out along the river in Taylor County. A third man, Danny Mewbourne, was invited along.
It was Mewbourne's gun which discharged by accident, wounding Phillips.
"If we could have awarded both sides a verdict, we would have," the juror told The Times. "What it came to was if the Gilmore Center was responsible for the trip and for the shooting. When we weighed that, we decided for the Gilmore Center. It was a private trip. Even though the two men worked for the Gilmore Center, they just carried the group camping because they wanted to do something nice for them."
The juror said all of the members of the jury, comprised entirely of women, considered the case difficult. They deliberated the afternoon of Friday, Aug. 27 and then returned briefly Monday, Aug. 30.
"Several said they couldn't get it off their minds over the weekend," the woman said. "It was very hard, very stressful."
Gilmore Center Director Jimmy Aaron
also felt the stress of the trial. Aaron worried a verdict against the center could be financially devastating, perhaps even forcing the program to close.
"We've been here since the 1950s trying to serve special citizens in our community," Aaron said. "I just want the people to know how much we appreciate the support we've received. I hope we never have to go through anything like this again."
Aaron said he also has sympathy for Jimmy Phillips, who utilized the Gilmore Center's service for more than 20 years. Phillips has not returned to the program since the accident in March, 2000. He said in court last week that he was afraid he might be hurt.
"If Jimmy's family would allow it and he wanted to, we would love to welcome him back here," Aaron said. "Our consumers are safe. This was just an unfortunate accident beyond our control."
It's not uncommon for adult mentally handicapped citizens in Upson County to have long-term involvement with the Gilmore Center. The program, initially known as "Happy Hours," began in 1957 as a way to help serve mentally handicapped children. Then as the schools took more responsibility for those children, the program began serving adults. Some of those attended the original Happy Hours program as small children are still being served by the Gilmore Center today.
The Gilmore Center currently serves 48 individuals and their families.