Felons on Grand Juries Causing Problems; They Somehow Slip through, Spoiling Indictments, Delaying Prosecutions

Article excerpt

Byline: Terry Dickson

JEKYLL ISLAND | Prosecutors wish all the felons in court were at the defense table, but they are continually sitting in the jury boxes and the grand jury rooms.

When licensed drivers were added to the lists of those qualified for jury duty, county jury pools in Georgia grew exponentially, some even tripling. But among those in the expanded pools were felons ineligible to serve who nonetheless made it through the checks.

The problems were almost immediate and they haven't let up, said district attorneys meeting on Jekyll Island at the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia summer session on Jekyll Island.

"I've got a convicted felon on my grand jury in Appling County right now," said Jackie Johnson, district attorney of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit.

All of it can't be blamed on the swollen jury pools.

Johnson had to get a second indictment of Guy Heinze Jr., who is charged with murder in the beating deaths of his father and seven others three years ago in a Glynn County mobile home. There was a felon on the first grand jury to indict him. Because the man had served his time and was not on probation, he honestly believed he was no longer a felon, Johnson said.

Johnson, who left the Jekyll conference for another in Savannah, said during a phone interview that her office is paying close attention to who's on the jury, but that's not always enough.

"The only sure way is for us to run criminal backgrounds,'' she said.

"We can't trust the list," said Charles A. "Chuck" Spahos, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council. …

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