Georgia Supreme Court overturns convictions of men accused in 2016 Columbus mall murder

·3 min read

The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled a judge should not have dismissed a juror during deliberations in the murder trial of three alleged gang members convicted of killing a man at Columbus’ Peachtree Mall in 2016.

Because of this error, the high court overturned the convictions of two of the three defendants and sent the case back to Muscogee Superior Court.

It involved the death of Anthony Meredith, shot 10 times outside the mall’s food court entrance about 7:30 p.m. on March 26, 2016, the Saturday before Easter. Convicted of murder and other charges were alleged triggerman Xzavaien Trevon Jones, 19; his sister Tekoa Chantrell Young, 24; and Terell Raquez McFarland, 26.

Authorities alleged the three suspects were in the Crips street gang and together assassinated Meredith in retaliation for the earlier shooting of Christopher Twitty, also a Crip and Young’s boyfriend, gunned down at a time when he was having a dispute with Meredith over drugs.

After all the trial evidence was presented and the jury went into deliberations in April 2017, some jurors reported that the foreman, a woman identified in the Supreme Court decision as “L.M.,” refused to deliberate and was impeding their discussion of the evidence. A few also accused her of being abusive and insulting.

After speaking with the trial lawyers and calling jurors out individually for questioning on the complaints, then-Judge Frank Jordan Jr. removed the foreperson and replaced her with an alternate juror, after which the jury found the defendants guilty.

Attorneys for Jones and McFarland appealed, arguing Jordan abused his discretion, and the Supreme Court agreed, overturning those convictions.

The high court said the findings on which Jordan based his decision were improper, though he could have cited other reasons that would have sufficed.

Jordan, who since has retired, cited these grounds for removing the juror:

  • She stopped deliberating after making up her mind as early as two hours into deliberations.

  • She refused to cite reasons for her conclusions.

  • She sought to physically distance herself from the other jurors.

  • She asked to be removed from the jury.

Removing a juror during deliberations because the individual already has reached a firm conclusion after viewing the evidence is not supported by legal precedent, the Supreme Court said: Jurors cannot be compelled during deliberations to change their minds just to reach a unanimous verdict.

“In other words, a juror’s view of the evidence is not the sort of ‘legally relevant purpose’ our case law requires before removing that juror, even when the juror’s view of the evidence has a negative effect on deliberations,” the justices wrote.

But Jordan had other reasons he could have cited, based on other jurors’ testimony, that would have been sufficient, the court said: “There was sufficient testimony from which the trial court could have found that L.M. insulted, threatened, unduly pressured, and intimidated other members of the jury, the sort of behavior unrelated a juror’s view of the evidence that we have held can justify removal.”

Instead, Jordan cited reasons the appellate courts specifically have said do not justify removal: “While the evidence the trial court developed during its investigation could have supported findings that would place this case in the line allowing removal, the findings the trial court actually made instead placed it squarely in the line prohibiting removal,” the Supreme Court said.

District Attorney Stacey Jackson was not involved in the case, having just taken office last month. He said his office is studying the matter.

“I did receive the news today from the Supreme Court,” he said. “Although we respect the court’s decision, we disagree with it.”

Before the Supreme Court appeal, Muscogee Superior Court Judge Ben Land addressed the issues raised when the defendants sought a new trial, he said.

“We believe that Judge Land in denying the motions for new trial laid out legal reasons they should not be granted,” Jackson said, adding his staff will consult the state attorney general’s office about filing a Supreme Court motion for reconsideration.

While this decision did not involve Tekoa Young’s case, she also has a separate appeal pending.

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