A jury convicted Demonta Chappell of the murder of Stevann Moorer Thursday, plus two firearm charges and obstruction of justice. But immediately after the verdict was read, Judge Rhonda Winston said there might not be enough evidence for the obstruction charge, and she ordered lawyers from both sides to submit briefs.
This was a surprise to the jury’s foreman, Bill Schulz.
“As jury foreman for this trial, I am shocked at Judge Winston’s actions regarding the obstruction of justice charges,” he wrote in a comment on this site. “This was a unanimous verdict and we had no trouble convicting the defendant on these charges.”
We asked if he would say more about Judge Winston’s instructions before deliberations began, and how jurors reached their verdict. He sent this reply:
Judge Winston’s instructions addressed what is needed to find obstruction of justice—that there was a willful act to impede the investigation, alter or stop testimony, and so on. She made it clear that the success or failure of the effort was of no import when deciding if the defendant endeavored to obstruct justice and thus broke the law.
In the jury room, we had excerpts of two letters written by Chappell and a recorded phone call. She allowed these materials into evidence. We found Chappell guilty on all three of the obstruction charges and we did so within hours of the case going to the jury.
There was very little question in our minds as to his guilt on the obstruction charges. It was clear to us that he both asked people to lie and introduce falsehoods, that he intended to plant a false alibi that would contradict the testimony of Doris Bronson, and that he instructed one potential witness to not talk to investigators at all.
What’s more, in the end, we believed that the defendant’s efforts to obstruct justice in good measure boosted the government’s case beyond a reasonable doubt in relation to the first degree murder charge. This was largely a case won on circumstantial evidence and with witnesses who had many shortcomings and reasons to doubt their truthfulness.
In the end, however, the puzzle pieces fit and there was consistency across major portions of the testimony and evidence provided by the government. The medical examiner’s testimony about the bullet wounds matched up with Bronson’s description of the shooting, for example.
The defense team, we know, worked very hard on behalf of their client and we were all impressed with their effort and energy. We did not find their DNA testing to be relevant, however, because there was no indication that Chappell was grabbing or fighting with Moorer before or during the shooting.
The government built a powerful and convincing case, even if that was not so apparent during their presentation. We convicted Mr. Chappell unanimously after serious reflection and deliberation. We did so, ultimately, without second thoughts about the correctness of our findings which were based solely on the evidence presented in court.
Chappell had a fair trial—we all remarked upon that. But he also lost.
Bill Schulz, jury foreman, juror # 1
Chappell is scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 27, 2015.