A deadlocked jury Tuesday ended the murder trial of Willie James Dickerson Jr., whose case was moved to Russell County because of pretrial publicity in Barbour County, where Dickerson was charged in the January 2012 death of Willie David Pugh.
Court officials said the jury deliberated five hours, two Monday and three Tuesday morning, before Judge Al Johnson called jurors into the courtroom about noon.Told the jury could not reach a verdict, Johnson said he was “very disappointed,” having heard the evidence, and then declared a mistrial.
Attorneys said they heard the last jury vote split 6 to 5 with one juror waffling on the verdict. Jurors told court workers they were hopelessly deadlocked and did not anticipate any of the 11 who’d made up their minds to change.
Initially Dickerson faced a capital murder charge on the allegation he killed Pugh while robbing the victim, but the charge later was changed simply to murder. Because Dickerson no longer faces the death penalty, he is entitled to be released on bond while he awaits a second trial, said his attorney J. Carlton Taylor.
In an online statement later Tuesday, Taylor wrote: “Mr. Dickerson, who has been held without bond for three years now, has an $80,000 bond and hopefully will be released pending trial.”
Taylor and Barbour County District Attorney Ben Reeves Jr. said they expect the case to come back to court in Russell County later this year. Johnson will remain the presiding judge, they said.
Authorities said Dickerson was the last person seen with Pugh on Jan. 14, 2012, the day he disappeared. They found his body the following Jan. 24, in the woods about four miles from Dickerson’s mobile home, in the Doster area south of Clio, they said.
According to court testimony, the 26-year-old’s body was wrapped in a blue blanket taped with duct tape. His head was swathed in a bath mat and plastic bag, also secured with duct tape.
An autopsy showed Pugh had been beaten and suffered a fatal cut that severed his carotid artery.
Because the body was in tangled brush with briars, investigators became further suspicious when they noticed cuts and scratches on Dickerson.
Dickerson, while jailed in Houston County on an unrelated charge, called his mother to explain he was all scratched up because he’d been attacked by a wild cat — a cougar or bobcat — that he killed by stabbing it more than 200 times with his pocket knife, authorities said.
In another jail call, he hinted to an associate that his trailer should be burned, investigators said, and later it was. But inside the charred remains they found a plastic bag containing a towel that had Pugh’s blood on it, as confirmed by DNA testing, they said.
They found Dickerson’s DNA on evidence found wrapped up with Pugh’s body, they said.
The case against Dickerson became mired in conspiracy theories claiming authorities deliberately framed him for Pugh’s homicide. Such allegations led to Barbour County Circuit Judge Burt Smithart’s recusing himself from presiding at Dickerson’s trial, and asking state authorities to investigate the allegations.
The Alabama Supreme Court then assigned Dickerson’s case to Johnson, who recently retired as a longtime Circuit Court judge in Russell County.