Judge declares mistrial in case of murdered Hilton Head man

astice@islandpacket.comOctober 24, 2012 

A mistrial was declared Wednesday in the murder trial of Jerry Lamont Scantling after one juror told the judge her religious beliefs prevented her from convicting someone of murder and an alternate juror said he once worked with the victim.

Before Tuesday's opening proceedings, a juror asked Judge John Hayes to excuse her because of undisclosed religious beliefs. She hadn't known she would be serving on a murder trial jury until reporting for duty that day, she told Hayes.

Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty in the case.

Hayes said he could hold her in contempt of court but was "not that kind of person" and excused her.

Then on Wednesday, the alternate juror that replaced her recalled he had worked with victim Leonard Green at Hilton Head Hospital in 2006. Hayes questioned him, then decided to end the trial.

Deputy Solicitor Sean Thornton, who is prosecuting the case, said the juror hadn't realized he had worked at the hospital at the same time as Green. Though some pictures of Green's body were shown to the jury Tuesday, the prosecution had not yet presented identifying photographs.

"At his first opportunity, he notified the court," Thornton said. "The judge at that point had no choice but to excuse us with 11 jurors."

The two jurors will not face penalties because they "did exactly what they were supposed to do upon discovering" their conflicts, Thornton said.

It's not uncommon for there to be only one alternate juror, even in complex cases, he added.

Now, the prosecution must start over. A new trial date has not been set, as the prosecution and defense work out a timetable for selecting a new jury and scheduling more than 70 witnesses.

Scantling is accused of fatally shooting 52-year-old Green at the Pinckney Island boat landing in May 2010. He has been in custody on unrelated charges since a few days after Green's death and was charged with murder a year later after DNA testing results were completed, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

Green's neice Connie Gadson said Green's family, which packed three rows in the courtroom since jury selection Monday, understands that Scantling deserves a fair trial.

"It was hard, just reliving everything, even though they didn't get that deep into it," Gadson said. "We're very pleased with the Solicitor's Office, Sean (Thornton) and victim's advocate Michelle (Fraser).

"Hopefully the case will be over by the end of the year so we can get some closure."

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.

Related content:

Hilton Head murder trial begins, Oct. 23, 2012

Prime suspect in year-old murder charged with shooting death, June 10, 2011

Family of slain man grows impatient as anniversary of death nears, May 21, 2011

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