Given that the vast majority of people are carrying around a little gadget in their pocket with all the information in the Library of Congress inside of it — plus instant connection to dozens or hundreds of their friends through social media — it's amazing that more jurors don't succumb to the same electronic temptation that recently helped win a convicted kidnapper a new trial in Pulaski County.
Quinton Riley Jr., 26, was convicted in December 2013 of kidnapping by a Pulaski County jury after a two-day trial before Circuit Judge Herbert Wright. On May 14, 2012, a 20-year-old woman told investigators, Riley had offered her a ride on Wright Avenue in Little Rock. Once she was in his car, the woman told police, Riley had shown her a gun before forcing her to strip, then duct-taped her hands, mouth and eyes and raped her repeatedly before stashing her, still bound hand and foot, in a North Little Rock shed. The woman told police she was able to break the duct tape and escape from the shed, seeking help at a nearby house.
Riley was acquitted of rape at the December trial, but was convicted of one count of kidnapping, and sentenced to life in prison.
Riley will get another trial on June 24, however, because a juror in the case was posting to social media during the original trial. Brittany Lewis, who was seated as Juror No. 1 in the case, made several Facebook posts while the case was being heard, including posts in which she said, "We can't come to a decision. Ugh FML," and "Still in this courtroom. Lord I'm ready to go home. I'm sleepy and tired and my red wine is calling my name." In another Facebook post, shared after the verdict, Lewis said, in part: "After being a juror on a serious trial I just want to let all of the young women know to be careful of the company you keep ... I can't speak on the case at all but I want to let all the young men on my timeline know that what u talk about on the phone while in jail will bite you in the ass in court. We sentenced a man to life without parole today in front of his Mama."
Riley's attorney, Bobby R. Digby, learned of the posts and filed a motion for a new trial on Dec. 16. On Dec. 31, Judge Herbert Wright granted that motion, writing in his order that jurors are told multiple times during trials in his court to not only do justice, but to "give the appearance of doing justice."
"By posting her thoughts to Facebook," Judge Wright wrote, "Lewis disregarded and violated the court's clear order. ... The law presumes that all jurors are unbiased in following the court's instructions. In this case, Lewis' conduct has overcome that presumption. While the Court acknowledges that the defendant is entitled to a fair trial and not a perfect trial, in this case the Defendant received neither."
Wright is considering whether to hold Lewis in contempt for her actions. She had a hearing before Wright on Jan. 14. Another is scheduled for Feb. 24.
Jurors' use and abuse of social media is a growing concern all over the country, and it's not the first time an errant post has thrown a digital monkey wrench in the gears of Arkansas justice. In December 2011, citing a juror's posts to Twitter during trial, the Arkansas Supreme Court threw out the 2010 conviction of death row inmate Erickson Dimas-Martinez, who had been convicted of the 2006 robbery and murder of a Washington County teenager. After Dimas-Martinez was convicted and sentenced to death, it was found that a juror in the case had posted to Twitter, including: "Choices to be made. Hearts to be broken. We each define the great line." In another Tweet, the juror posted "It's over" an hour before the jury notified the court that they had reached a verdict. The Dimas-Martinez case was cited by both sides during arguments for and against a new trial for Quinton Riley Jr.
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