September 12, 2012
WILLIAMSON - “I’ve got the family of a victim here today who has lost a loved and a defendant whose life and future are at stake, and I am highly offended by this juror’s failure to disclose he is employed by the Mingo County Tax Department and is directly supervised by Sheriff Lonnie Hannah,” stated Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, during the reckless DUI causing death trial of defendant Josh Miller.
Gary Baisden, an employee of the Tax Department, was summoned to serve on the Circuit Court Jury and reportedly failed to disclose his employment status, which would have disqualified him from being on this particular case. The Mingo County Sheriff’s Department (MCSD) was the investigating police agency in an October 2011 vehicle accident that left one young man dead and one severely injured. Sheriff Lonnie Hannah also oversees and supervises the employees of the tax department, which creates a conflict of interest since this means that Baisden and the deputies are co-workers and the sheriff is his boss.
“I want to hold him in contempt,” said the judge, who was visibly upset over the failure to disclose. “Whether or not this bothers anyone else, I can tell you that it bothers the heck out of me.”
“You cannot be employed in the tax department on the 1st floor of this courthouse and work for the sheriff and be acquainted with the deputies giving testimony here today, and this not be considered a conflict.”
“He, along with the other potential jurors, was asked if they had any association or employment issues with a person or agency directly associated would this case that could cause a conflict, and Mr. Baisden sat right there and remained silent and did not disclose this information. What makes this situation worse is that his employer sat back there and saw that he had an employee on the jury.”
Matters such as these can create grounds for a mistrial, and Judge Thornsbury assured Defense Attorney Brian Abraham that if any proof is presented in the future that Baisden had influenced any of the other juror’s opinion about the guilt or innocence of Miller or tainted the trial in any way, he would declare a mistrial.
“This is outrageous!” declared Thornsbury. “He should never have been on this panel.”
“I’ve took the necessary steps to correct this problem. I want him out of the jury room and off of this floor and he can consider his self very lucky if I don’t hold him in contempt of court.”
An alternate juror who had sat through the Wednesday morning opening statements and testimony by numerous prosecution witnesses was moved up to the position of regular juror and replaced Baisden.
Prosecuting Attorney C. Michael Sparks stated that he was not familiar with Baisden, and said that he was not aware he was an employee in that department until the judge was informed of this fact during the Wednesday lunch break.
Although the juror’s actions may not have been intentional, it is still one that could have created the necessity of a mistrial and all of this, according to the judge, could have been avoided if Baisden would have answered the questions presented to him on Tuesday during the seating of the jury.
“You have to disclose this information. That’s the whole reason we ask the questions that we do,” remarked Thornsbury.
The Miller trial is scheduled to begin its second day of testimonies this morning at 9 a.m. and is expected to wrap up before the lunch break, if all goes as planned. The decision of finding the defendant guilty or innocent to the charges of 1 count of reckless DUI causing death and 2 counts of reckless DUI causing injury will be in the hands of the jury.
A complete story of testimonies given, evidence presented and the verdict, if it reached this afternoon, will be in Friday’s edition of the Williamson Daily News.