A man who was sentenced to life in prison for a murder in Tennessee could have his sentence overturned because a juror communicated through social media with a witness who testified during the trial.
William Darelle Smith was sentenced to life in prison in 2010 for the death of Zurisaday Villanueva. However, the guilty verdict and sentence are now in doubt because of a conversation on Facebook between juror Glenn Scott Mitchell and witness Dr. Adele Lewis.
Business Insider reports the juror knew the witness, a medical examiner who trained at Vanderbilt University, where the juror is employed. After the doctor testified, Mitchell sent her a message on Facebook, telling her that he thought she did a great job.
According to The Inquisitr, the Facebook message read, “A-dele!! I thought you did a great job today on the witness stand….I was in the jury…not sure if you recognized me or not!! You really explained things so great!!”
Lewis responded, “I was thinking that was you. There is a risk of a mistrial if that gets out.”
The next day, shortly after the jury began deliberating, Lewis contacted Judge Seth Norman and said that she had been contacted via Facebook by a juror with whom she was acquainted. Public defender Mike Engle asked if the court spoke to Mitchell about the exchange, but the judge reportedly said, “No, I’m satisfied with the communication that I have gotten with Dr. Lewis with regard to this matter.”
Smith asked for a new trial since the defense wasn’t allowed to question Mitchell. A trial court ruled against him, as did a state appeals court that called the Facebook messages “mere interactions.” The Tennessee Supreme Court overruled those decisions and said that juror must be held “accountable to the highest standards of conduct.” The Supreme Court then sent the case back to trial court for a hearing on Facebook communication and jurors’ impartiality.