BLOOMINGTON — The defense lawyer for a man convicted of attempted murder in a 2012 shooting on Gettysburg Drive says jurors in the trial violated the law by reading media reports and bringing outside information into deliberations.
Ross Johnson, 21, of Normal was convicted in October of attempted murder, home invasion and aggravated battery with a firearm in connection with the incident that left four people injured at a party at an east-side apartment building.
A hearing on the misconduct claims is set for Jan. 21. On Jan 27, Johnson is expected to be sentenced to 50 years in prison.
In his motion for a new trial, lawyer Brendan Bukalski claims that a private investigator hired to look into alleged jury misconduct spoke with several jurors after the trial, including a woman who said she read coverage in The Pantagraph during the trial and another juror who alleged that most on the panel had their minds made up before the start of deliberations.
Johnson told his lawyer after the trial that he was contacted by another McLean County jail inmate, Timothy Ware Jr., who said he was visited by his father, Timothy Ware Sr., who was asking questions about Johnson’s case. During the jail visits, the elder Ware disclosed information “which only someone in the courtroom would know,” according to a report by Bloomington private investigator Susie Johnson.
In an interview with Susie Johnson, the younger Ware admitted “he believed his father was talking to another member of the jury and then coming back to talk with him about Johnson’s case,” said the investigator’s report.
At a hearing Thursday before Judge Robert Freitag, Bukalski asked that audio recordings of the jail visits be produced by the McLean County Sheriff’s Department.
Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Messman told the judge video recordings are not available from the Oct. 19 jail meeting because the system records over previous recordings.
The judge also granted a defense motion for contact information for five of the remaining jurors the investigator has not been able to reach.
Other potential issues with juror conduct involve claims from one female juror who said jurors witnessed an altercation between several courtroom spectators on the sidewalk outside the Law and Justice Center.
The guilty verdicts were returned after about four hours of talks over two days.
One juror noted she and at least one other juror wanted to discuss the evidence longer but the majority supported a conviction.
A free meal also factored into the timing of the verdict, which was returned shortly before lunch. “Some of the jurors wanted to take advantage of the free lunch while others wanted to get the decision over with,” a juror told the investigator.
Johnson’s brother and co-defendant Malcolm Johnson was acquitted in May of weapons charges but convicted of criminal trespass in the Gettysburg shooting. He is serving nine years on that charge and unrelated theft and burglary cases.