LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – A man convicted in the 2009 shooting deaths of five people at a trailer park in Arkansas deserves a new trial because a juror admitted he could not be fair to him in his original trial, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Samuel Lee Conway was convicted last year on five counts of capital murder, plus other charges, and sentenced to life in prison without parole in the slayings in Garland County.
Conway, 26, argued that he deserved a new trial because the judge didn’t dismiss a juror who told him he couldn’t be impartial.
Before the prosecution rested at Conway’s trial, the juror sent a note to Judge John Homer Wright.
“I don’t think I can be a fair juror anymore,” the juror said in the note, according to the Supreme Court’s opinion. He said he kept a loaded shotgun beside his bed because of the testimony he’d been hearing.
“That’s basically _ it’s bad saying it, but I’ve made up my mind about the case already this early,” the juror said, according to court filings.
Still, Wright decided not to dismiss the juror.
“I’m not gonna excuse him because I don’t think that he’s expressed anything other than the fact he has formed an opinion, which you have acknowledged jurors do then they go in and discuss it,” Wright said, according to court filings.
The high court sided with Conway, saying the judge abused his discretion in failing to dismiss that juror.
“The right to a fair and impartial trial is a fundamental guarantee, and Conway was denied that right in this case,” Justice Karen Baker wrote for the Supreme Court.
A new trial date has not been scheduled. Conway will be transferred from a state prison to a Garland County jail, one of his lawyers, Janice Vaughn, said, adding that she was pleased with the court’s decision.
“The very thrust of our whole system is to have a fair jury, and when a juror can’t be fair, you don’t get a fair trial,” Vaughn said.
Wright didn’t immediately respond to a phone message Thursday. Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said they respect the Supreme Court’s decision.
Authorities said Conway and Jeremy Pickney shot five people and stole a set of expensive wheel rims and flat-screen televisions.
Firefighters found the bodies of Edward Gentry Jr.; his wife, Pam Gentry; their son, Jeremy Gentry; and Jeremy’s girlfriend, Kristyn Warneke, in the rubble of a burned mobile home early on Nov. 12, 2009. Police discovered Edward Gentry Sr. in a mobile home next door.
Authorities said all of the victims had been shot and killed before the fire started.
Pickney pleaded guilty to lesser charges: conspiracy to commit aggravated residential burglary and theft by receiving.
Law enforcement officers fatally shot a third suspect, Marvin Lamar Stringer, at a motel a week after the murders.
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