Susan Kaplan: Members of a Massachusetts jury that convicted a man of first degree murder and sent him to prison for life more than 30 years ago reconvened yesterday. This amid allegations of racial bias during deliberations. It seems to be the first time that a jury in Massachusetts has been called back to discuss what happened during deliberations. Jennifer McKim with WGBH news partner The New England Center for Investigative Reporting has been following this story and she joins me now in the studio. Thanks for coming in Jennifer.
Jennifer McKim: Thanks for having me.
Susan Kaplan: Let's start with some background of the case. It involves a man who at the time of his trial was 19 years old. His name is Darrell Jones.
Jennifer McKim: Correct. So Darrell 'Diamond' Jones was 18 years old when he was arrested for the murder of an alleged Cuban drug dealer named Guillermo Rodriguez in a parking lot in Brockton. He has always said that he did not commit the crime and has tried to appeal it multiple times. This last appeal seems to be having some traction.
Susan Kaplan: As I understand it, he's been trying to get his case reopened. He filed a motion in 2015 and then in 2016. One of the jurors came forward with claims of bias during deliberations?
Jennifer McKim: Correct. So, actually we became aware that Darrell Jones was filing this appeal and we started investigating his case. And in fact, we went out and interviewed this juror as part of the investigation.
Susan Kaplan: Why did you decide to do this?
Jennifer McKim: It's interesting — Darrell Jones’ wife Joanna [sic] reached out to me [and] told me that Darrell was interested in talking to us about jail conditions and invited me to visit him in prison. So, I went out to visit him in prison and started talking about his case and I found it really fascinating and decided that's what I wanted to focus the investigation on.
Susan Kaplan: And that led you to speaking to a juror?
Jennifer McKim: When we reached her, it was like she'd remembered it [like] it was yesterday. It is like she was waiting for the phone call. She had been the last holdout juror in this case and she regretted ever since that she convicted him and didn't expect at the time that he would go away for life. Her allegation is that she walked into court on the first day of jury deliberations and two men said that they thought he was guilty because he was black. Because Darrell Jones was black, and it was an all white jury.
Susan Kaplan: So jury deliberations are supposed to be secret. But a Supreme Court decision has opened the door to in very specific circumstances. As I understand it — to go back and revisit the deliberations. Tell us about that Supreme Court decision and how that's affected what has happened since, including as you were in court yesterday.
Jennifer McKim: Right, so in March the Supreme Court made a decision on a Colorado man who had been found guilty of sexual assault and found out a juror had said that he had done that because he was Mexican. And that's what Mexicans do. Something like that. And he [the Colorado man] appealed this all the way up to the Supreme Court where the Supreme Court decided that if there are those types of allegations of racial bias in a case then a trial judge is required to look into it. So that came months before Darrell's case started to be heard and the judge decided that he needed to look into these allegations.
Susan Kaplan: In this case, where does the factor of memory and the recollection — even if it's a poignant moment from the jury deliberations. How does that factor into how the judge looks at this?
Jennifer McKim: It's so interesting because [the] Darrell Jones case is totally based on eyewitness testimony from the beginning. So then to have this other strange ripple of trying to remember what happened in the case 32 years ago. And basically you see, these three jurors came in yesterday and one of them was limping — she could hardly walk — she could hardly remember anything and she just … I felt for her, he just looked at the judge and said ‘I'm racking my brain — I can't remember anything that happened in this trial at all.’ It was a struggle and yet this other juror who we spoke to and that prompted the hearing remembers it clearly.
Susan Kaplan: What did the juror who you're talking about who remembers it so vividly, what did she say yesterday?
Jennifer McKim: This was another strange twist. The judge had summoned eight jurors from my understanding to come to court and only three showed up, and the one who we spoke to was not there. I called her after the hearing yesterday and said, 'What happened?' and she claims she never even got the summons and she would have been there. So my understanding is the judge is thinking of having another hearing and trying to bring other people in perhaps do a better job at trying to track everybody down.
Susan Kaplan: So what happens if in fact the judge decides that this was the case. It's still kind of what we think of maybe as a kind of a hearsay moment from people recalling something that happened 30 years ago. What are the parameters of legally of what they can do with that information, should the judge decide that in fact this occurred? Can they reopen the case - what happens?
Jennifer McKim: So my understanding is that the Supreme Court decision doesn't make that very clear. So there are a lot of questions that happen after. If he [the judge] does determine there was racism in the jury deliberations, what happens next is unclear. The judge also though is taking this into consideration as part of a larger appeal that Darrell Jones has made about his allegations of unfairness in the trial. He claims that he was set up by police. He claims that there was a corrupted videotape that kept out important parts of the case. So, there's a lot of things that he's alleging and the judge I think is going to be taking all of this into consideration when considering his motion to reopen.
Susan Kaplan: OK thanks for joining us Jennifer.
Jennifer McKim: Thank you.
Susan Kaplan: That's Jennifer McKim of WGBH news partner the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. This is All Things Considered.
You can read Jennifer's full story here.