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New trial ordered for man convicted after jury room chaos

November 27, 2018

This Nov. 25, 2017, photo provided by the Michigan Department of Corrections shows Melvin Wofford. Wofford, who was quickly convicted of murder only after a suburban Detroit judge replaced a juror to end days of discord, has been granted a new trial. Wofford argued that his rights were violated when Oakland County Judge Michael Warren removed a juror who apparently had doubts about Wofford's guilt. U.S. District Judge Laurie Michelson in Nov. 6, 2018, said he deserves a new trial. After an alternate juror was seated, Wofford was convicted in 90 minutes. (Michigan Department of Corrections via AP)

DETROIT (AP) — A man who was quickly convicted of murder only after a suburban Detroit judge replaced a juror to end days of chaos has been granted a new trial.

Melvin Wofford argued that his rights were violated when Oakland County Judge Michael Warren removed a juror who apparently had doubts about his guilt. U.S. District Judge Laurie Michelson agreed and said he deserves a new trial.

Michelson said it’s possible that jurors during the 2013 trial turned on a fellow juror simply because she didn’t agree with their view of the case. After an alternate juror was seated, Wofford was convicted in 90 minutes and subsequently sentenced to life in prison.

“When there is reason to think that 11 jurors are convinced of the defendant’s guilt but one is steadfastly not, the judge should either instruct the jury to continue deliberations or declare the jury hung,” Michelson said in a Nov. 6 decision. “What the judge cannot do is remove a competent juror who is simply unpersuaded by the prosecution’s case. Yet that is what happened at petitioner Melvin Wofford’s trial.”

During several days of deliberations, the jury sent bleak notes to Warren. One note said, “We have a hung jury and we need instructions!!! Help!!!” Another note said a juror’s doubts were “unreasonable. What do we do?” More notes followed.

Warren urged them to keep working and refused to declare a mistrial. He ultimately removed the holdout juror because he said she had broken rules by contacting a lawyer for help in dealing with trouble in the jury room.

It was an unusual case even without the turmoil. After DNA tests, Wofford, now 47, was charged in 2012 for the murder of a man back in 1993. He denies wrongdoing.

The attorney general’s office is appealing Michelson’s decision.

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Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com.edwhiteap

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