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Georgia Jury Gave Bailiff Breast-Shaped Chocolate

Georgia Jury Gave Bailiff Breast-Shaped Chocolate

The Los Angeles Times via YellowBrix

January 20, 2010

WASHINGTON – Something strange happened during the 1993 murder trial of Marcus Wellons. Outwardly, the Supreme Court observed Tuesday, the trial “looked typical.” But “there were unusual events going on behind the scenes.”

For example: The Georgia judge in the case spoke outside court to jurors who had gathered at a local restaurant. And after Wellons was convicted and sentenced to die, jurors presented the female judge with a gift of “chocolate shaped as male genitalia,” as the Supreme Court recounted it. If that were not enough, they gave the bailiff a chocolate gift “shaped as female breasts.”

Those “disturbing facts” had been cited in passing in a series of unsuccessful appeals lodged on behalf of Wellons, who came within hours of being executed in 1996 for the rape and murder of a high school girl in suburban Atlanta.

But on Tuesday, the justices said these peculiar gifts “raised serious questions concerning the conduct of the trial” and told the federal appeals court in Atlanta to look into whether there should be a hearing to delve into what happened.

The case has highlighted a serious issue: how much evidence of trial irregularities is needed for the federal courts to reopen a long-settled state criminal conviction.

The Supreme Court did not say Wellons deserved a new trial. But the majority faulted the federal judges in Atlanta for seemingly blocking a hearing where jurors could be called upon to explain what happened all those years ago.

In 1989, a witness reported seeing Wellons dragging a white sheet toward a wooded area. Police later found the body of 15-year-old India Roberts, who knew Wellons through his ex-girlfriend’s son. Roberts had been raped and strangled.

Because there has not been a hearing, it is unclear what prompted the jurors to send their unusual gifts.

“I haven’t got a clue as to what transpired. That’s what we are trying to discover,” said Mary E. Wells, an Atlanta lawyer who appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

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