The commencement of jury deliberations in the trial of a man charged with attempting to murder an Effingham County Sheriff’s deputy was delayed Friday morning over concerns of possible juror misconduct.
Friday is day three of the trial of Franklin Johnson, who is charged with a host of felonies after he stabbed Sergeant Danny Harrington nine times in 2016 as Harrington and three other deputies attempted to execute a 1013 order filed by Johnson’s grandparents and signed by a probate judge. Harrington knocked on the door and, within seconds, was attacked by a knife-wielding Johnson.
Court was set to begin at 8:00 a.m. Friday morning but just before 8:30 a.m Judge Lovett Bennett took the bench to announce that a few matters arose late Thursday evening that needed to be addressed.
Bennett said he was made aware of possible juror misconduct and that further inquiry by the court and the attorneys was necessary. He asked Clerk of Court Jason Bragg to take the stand as he was the one to witness the first matter.
Under oath, Bragg testified that he was in the atrium of the courthouse while placing an order for dinner for jurors on Thursday evening when he observed a juror give a ‘sly’ thumbs up to the family of the defendant Franklin Johnson as she went to the restroom. He said it a quick thumbs up and that he did observe the family of the defendant acknowledge the thumbs up that was given.
Juror #1 was brought into the courtroom to be questioned about the matter. She was asked if she had any contact with the defendant’s family during a break on Thursday or gestured to them while going to the bathroom. The juror paused before she confirmed she did a (makes a motion toward the judge) but did not speak to the family or stop walking. She told the judge she could still be fair and impartial and that she did not discuss the case with any individual.
“I didn’t talk to nobody. Not to no particular one. I haven’t spoke to nobody,” she told the court.
ADA Christy Barker asked the juror if she knew the defendant’s family, to which she replied she did know “some of them” from church, but not the defendant. Barker asked the juror to demonstrate again what signal she gave to the defendant”s family, prompting the juror to stand and show a ‘thumbs up’ signal down by her side. Defense attorney Lloyd Murray did not have any questions for the juror. She was then asked to return to the jury room.
Clerk of Court Jason Bragg also shared that he was confronted in the hallway about a juror who had contact with the family of the victim, Sgt. Danny Harrington, near the elevators during the same break on Thursday. The juror reported to Bragg that she and another juror were waiting for an elevator when she recognized a family member of the victim. She told Bragg they exchanged pleasantries,’ but no other discussion was had.
The Court called each of those two jurors – #10 and #12 – into the courtroom individually to ask them about the interaction, and each testified the same account that juror #10 made to Bragg on Thursday evening.
Juror #10 testified that she was waiting to get on the elevator when she recognized someone from the victim’s family that she had not seen in court previously. Judge Bennett asked her if any discussion was made about the case, to which she replied, “Absolutely not. Only discussion was that I recognized her.” When asked by the judge, she stated it would not impact her impartiality.
Barker had no questions for her and Murray only asked which family member she recognized, which the juror stated was the daughter of Sgt. Danny Harrington.
Juror #12 told the Court the same and that she told Juror #10 “I don’t think you’re supposed to be talking to them,” but confirmed nothing beyond pleasantries was stated.
Following the questioning of all three, the state asked the judge to excuse Juror #1 and replace her with an alternate juror due to her familiarity with the defendant’s family and her interaction with them Thursday afternoon. Murray objected and said he believed Juror #1 was ‘as objective as they come’ but asked that the court excuse Juror #10.
Ultimately, Judge Bennett ruled that none of the interactions constituted misconduct and brought the jury in to be charged. They’re expected to begin deliberations just before 10:00 a.m. Friday.
More on the trial of Franklin Johnson can be found below.