The ongoing four-week-long trial of two men charged with the July 4, 2016, shooting death of D.C. transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds came to a halt on Monday when prosecutors disclosed in a written statement that a potential problem existed with one of the jurors.
The statement, which was not released into the D.C. Superior Court’s public records, disclosed that the son of one of the jurors was recently sentenced in federal court in D.C. in an unrelated criminal case, according to courtroom discussions between Judge Milton Lee, two assistant U.S. attorneys and the two defense attorneys.
One courtroom observer who may have spoken to the attorneys involved in the case said the defense raised the issue of possible jury tampering because the U.S. Attorney’s Office serves as the prosecutor for both federal and D.C. criminal cases in the District.
The defense attorneys raised concerns of the appearance that the son of the juror may have been offered a lenient sentence recommendation by prosecutors so that the juror would feel obligated to support the U.S. attorney’s push for a conviction of the men on trial for Dodds’ murder, according to the courtroom observer, who asked not to be identified.
The two prosecutors involved in the courtroom discussion on the juror matter on Monday were not the same two who have been involved in the trial since it began about a month ago. The two discussing the juror issue with Lee and the defense attorneys were Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gorman, who serves a chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Homicide Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon Donovan, deputy chief of the Homicide Section.
“There is no evidence that this has impacted the jury,” Gorman told Lee. “There is no indication of jury tampering,” he said.
Brandi Harden, one of the defense attorneys, said that at the least Lee should find “prejudice” in the actions of prosecutors, which she called “outrageous” for not bringing this juror issue to the attention of the judge and defense attorneys sooner. She said she was considering calling for the dismissal of the case because of the potential problems associated with the juror’s son.
Gorman, in discussing the prosecution and sentencing of the juror’s son, stated only that the “victim and defendant knew each other” and there were “mental health issues.” He provided no further details such as what the juror’s son was charged with, what the sentence was, or the identity of the victim.
William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined a request by the Washington Blade for a copy of the prosecutors’ statement submitted to the judge and defense attorneys providing details of the issues surrounding the juror’s son.
“Because this remains a pending case, we have no comment,” Miller said.
The two men on trial in the Dodds case, Jolonta Little, 28, and Monte Johnson, 23, have been charged with first-degree felony murder while armed, robbery while armed, conspiracy, assault with a dangerous weapon, and 12 additional charges in connection with Dodds’ murder.
During the trial prosecutors said Johnson, Little and two other men with them on the night of the murder targeted trans women for armed robberies on city streets known for where trans sex workers congregated because they believed the trans women were easy targets.
The two other men, Shareem Hall, 25, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 23, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with the Dodds case and became cooperating witnesses for prosecutors at the trial. Cyheme Hall testified that Johnson was the one that shot Dodds in the neck at point blank range when she fought back when he and Johnson attempted to rob her.
At the start of their closing arguments last Thursday, the two defense attorneys called the Hall brothers habitual liars who should not be believed because they were seeking a more lenient sentence from prosecutors in exchange for telling the jury what the prosecutors want rather than the truth.
The two lead prosecutors in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Saunders and Ahmed Baset, told the jury the Hall brothers were credible witnesses because their testimony was corroborated by other witnesses and they were not “getting off” with a lenient sentence, noting that second degree murder is a serious offense.
Before the disclosure of the sentencing of the juror’s son surfaced on Monday, the case was expected to be sent to the jury that same day. Now, Lee has said he needed at least another day to consider arguments by the defense and prosecutors on how to resolve the issue of the juror, including whether to inform the jury of this issue and to give them further instructions on how to address the issue.
Lee said although he prefers not to do so, if the matter of the juror cannot be resolved he may decide to declare a mistrial, which would require the defense and prosecutors to start all over with a new trial.
Lee instructed the lawyers and prosecutors to return to the courtroom Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. for further discussion. He told the jury, which spent all of Monday’s court session outside the courtroom except for the very end of the session, to return at 11 a.m. on Tuesday.