Admissions of Juror Misconduct Not Enough for New Trial in Bulloch Domestic Violence Murder Case

The testimony of two jurors who admitted that members of the jury considered research from outside of the deliberation room is not enough to grant a woman a new trial in Bulloch County, a judge ruled last week. 

The admissions made by members of the jury follow an already inconsistent verdict in which a jury in 2022 found Ashlyn Griffin ‘not guilty’ of Felony Murder but guilty of the underlying charge that would have constituted Felony Murder – Aggravated Assault.

Case Background 

Griffin shot and killed her boyfriend, Brandon McCray, during a dispute at their home in June 2020. She was arrested the same day by the Statesboro Police Department after what the agency said was ‘a thorough investigation.’ Detectives claimed that Griffin fired two shots, within seconds of each other, but only one the first shot was justified. During the trial, the state was not able to prove which shot actually killed McCray.

The case garnered considerable attention after published details of the prosecution of Brandon McCray two years prior for Aggravated Assault against Ashlyn Griffin. He pleaded guilty in a negotiated plea with the state, which was represented by Chief ADA Daphne Totten, who is now the elected District Attorney.

During the trial, ADA Barclay Black suggested that the abuse by McCray, which put Griffin in the hospital in 2018 and nearly cost her a pregnancy due to pelvic hemorrhaging, was ‘not that bad.’ Court documents from McCray’s guilty plea indicate he choked and strangled Griffin before kicking her repeatedly in the stomach. On cross examination of Griffin at trial, Black asked her why she didn’t just tell McCray to ‘get away’ while he assaulted her on the day of the shooting in 2020.

The Felony Murder component of the state’s case crumbled during trial when Griffin’s attorney asked the GBI Crime Lab’s Medical Examiner if, based on the autopsy she conducted, McCray had to be upside down or ‘in a headstand’ in order for the state’s suggested bullet trajectories to match the entry and exit wounds on McCray.’ The M.E. replied with a simple ‘Yes.’

But the inconsistent verdict returned by the jury indicated they believed Griffin was not guilty of causing the death of McCray while committing a felony act (Felony Murder), but was guilty of the felonious act of Aggravated Assault. While the state argued the second bullet killed McCray, jurors effectively concluded that the first shot killed McCray and that was justified, but the second shot was assault. Ironically, the trial concluded without any evidence being presented to indicate for certain which bullet -if only one – actually killed McCray.

During the sentencing hearing, Judge Gates Peed denied the defense’s request for a directed verdict, or to act as “the 13th juror” and override the jury’s conclusions. Subsequently, Ashlyn Griffin was sentenced to serve ten years in prison followed by fifteen years on probation.

Motion for a New Trial 

Immediately following sentencing on February 21, 2022, Warnock filed a Motion for a New Trial on a number of grounds, alleging errors in the process including:

  • The trial court erred in by dismissing the immunity motion on the basis that Ashlyn Griffin had not admitted to wanting to kill her abuser when she shot him.
    • During an immunity hearing, Griffin testified she didn’t intend for McCray to die.
      • Read TGV coverage on Day 1 of the immunity hearing here.
      • Day 2/Dismissal of Motion for Immunity can be found here.
      • Defense attorneys argued at the time that the underlying case law cited by the trial court had been overruled. Coverage of that can be found here
  • The jury foreman conducted outside legal research to determine that a felony conviction for Ashlyn Griffin would prevent her from being able to carry a gun, and then argued to the other jurors that they should convict on one count, despite the absence of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. 
  • The trial court erred in admitting the abuser’s statement to his sister that Ashlyn Griffin had cut him with a knife under the “residual exception,” which requires pretrial notice and some reason to think it is reliable. Attorneys argued that “because there was no pretrial notice, and because abusers often justify beating women by falsely claiming the abuse was mutual, this was inadmissible.”
Arguments Before Judge Peed 

On April 27, 2023, Peed heard arguments from both sides. In Georgia, part of the process to seek a new trial is to request one from the same judge who presided over the initial trial.

Warnock made his case once again as he had in the written motions filed previously. During much of Warnock’s argument, Judge Peed’s law clerk, John Welch, was seen sitting in the jury box shaking his head, seemingly in disagreement. 

Keith McIntyre made arguments on behalf of the state and ADA Barclay Black was also present but did not make any arguments. McIntyre refuted much of what Warnock argued by contending that it was a volatile relationship and, with regard to testimony in question, ‘sometimes witnesses say stuff no one has heard before.’ 

McIntyre also objected to the jurors being allowed to testify in the hearing. Warnock contended that the jurors would testify that the jury foreman conducted extraneous research between Day 1 and Day 2 of deliberations and reported back to the jurors with additional information. Specifically, the jury foreman wanted to ensure Griffin was not allowed to own a gun after the trial, but thought aggravated assault would come with a fairly light sentence. 

But McIntyre said the information the foreman brought forth was not ‘prejudicial on its face’ and that allowing the jurors to testify would subject them to harassment. “It’s not uncommon for jurors to have regret,” he told the court. He also stated that jurors were not credible because it was now “after the fact.”

Ultimately, Judge Peed allowed two of three jurors to testify, but only on his questioning. He asked each juror what extraneous information was brought in and whether or not it affected their decision. Both jurors testified to the same outside information brought in by the foreman and that the information affected their decision on a verdict.

After the hearing, all three jurors expressed that they were upset that they were not able to share additional details with the court about what transpired in the jury room.

Ruling by Judge Peed 

On Friday, May 19, Peed issued an Order denying Griffin’s request for a new trial. 

On the matter of whether the immunity hearing was erroneously cut short, Peed contended that Griffin did not choose “not to admit anything” because she stated on cross examination that she did not intend to harm McCray. Peed also said that based upon the verdict, the jury found the self-defense argument “unavailing” at trial. 

On the matter of jury misconduct, Peed said “there is no indication that the “research” occurred during deliberation.” 

“Additionally, the fact that W.K. potentially discussed sentencing or criminal procedure during deliberation with another juror, and that this discussion affected her decision does not, in and of itself, show that anything improper occurred. The other juror could have potentially had some knowledge of the criminal justice system prior to serving as a juror in this case. Jurors are not expected to lay aside their knowledge and experience prior to serving on a jury. Instead, jurors are expected to bring their knowledge and experience to bear within the framework provided by the Judge’s instruction.”

As a result, Peed said there was “no reasonable possibility that the jury misconduct contributed to the conviction” and “ 

On the matter of the testimony of the sister of the deceased erroneously being permitted, Peed ruled that the testimony was ‘harmless’ and the “evidence is cumulative of the other evidence present in this case which shows that Defendant and the victim had a tumultuous relationship.”

In conclusion, Peed wrote “The verdict is not contrary to the evidence presented, has proper evidence to support it, is not decidedly and strongly against the weight of the evidence as presented in the case, and is not contrary to laws and the principles of justice…The evidence in this case is certainly sufficient to convince a jury that Defendant was guilty of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during commission of a felony.”

The next step is for the case to be heard before the Georgia Court of Appeals. That process, however, can take upwards of several months to beyond a year. Griffin will remain behind bars during the appellate process. 

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and co-creator of of the Peabody Award-nominated podcast 'Prison Town.'

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  1. Gates Peed, I used to have immense respect for you and believed you would grow to be a great judge as the Honorable John R Turner before you.
    You would not know justice if it bit you on your pompous ass. You used to believe in the people but we the people now know you are incapable of saying you may have made a mistake in letting the DAs office be the focus for your decisions. You used to be a renegade and would not have tolerated such bullshit as you have grown tolerable of now. If you are sick and tired of your job …please quit. Let someone capable of believing in innocence til proven guilty. Tomorrow will be our first anniversary of how the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit tore my family apart. I promise for the next 40 years or until I draw my last breath to honor JUSTICE by watching every bullshit case you and the Daphne Regime mishandle and manage to sleep at night.
    So your message to the people is that any jury can look at extraneous documents to decide if someone is guilty or not. I thought it could only be decided by the proponderous of the evidence exhibited by your local joke of idiots running the DAs office. And YOU believe them enough to decide that it would’ve been ok for this young lady to be beatened to death by her abuser. So much so, that it is ok for the jury to look outside the box to get their verdicts?????
    You and Barclay need to spell and define for the rest of your lives…..trauma bonding. Words are hard….maybe you will get there. I doubt it. You and the whole judicial circuit playing God will one day meet the for real Judge. Don’t worry about me however, cause even though you and friends messed up in our cases my mama taught me to forgive. So, out of her teachings you are forgiven. Bet you can’t say the same? Words are hard.

  2. F. Gates Peed has a history of locking up abused women and not following the laws in HIS courtrooms. Transcripts will even be changed to back his rulings along with blocking appeals when someone can prove this. I have a firm belief that No real man would ever stand up for an abusive man who hurts women, children or animals, yet, I’ve seen Peed do this in his courtroom. The only men I’ve ever seen make excuses or side with an abusive man are themselves abusive. The scary part is it seems to be a group effort, from the detectives, to the district attorney along with the people working in the courthouse. Proving they are changing transcript is almost impossible since the State of Georgia ruled against turning over the audio in courtrooms (undisclosed llc v. Georgia) that ruling in itself should be overturned. This ruling serves only to help with corruption in the Judicial System. So, if you find yourself in Judge Peeds courtroom forget the constitution and the laws, there are none. You have NO rights there, it will be whatever outcome this man wants. I believe he will be Judged, hopefully while he’s still alive, if not, the consequences would be eternal.

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