After the judge in a disputed move replaced a juror during deliberations Friday in a case of child neglect involving triplets, the new jury returned a guilty verdict in 30 minutes.
It found David Alexander Adams guilty on three counts each of second-degree child cruelty and reckless conduct, but not guilty of first-degree child cruelty, which would have meant he intended to deny his infant daughters food.
Attorneys said that for sentencing, Adams’ misdemeanor reckless conduct charges will merge into the felony second-degree child cruelty counts, each of which carries a penalty of one to 10 years in prison. Adams, who had been free on bond, was taken into custody in the courtroom.
Judge Ben Land set his sentencing for 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
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Adams, 27, and the children’s mother, Jennifer Joy Ferguson, 26, were arrested June 10, 2015, when a pediatrician reported their triplets were underweight as a result of the parents’ neglect.
Authorities said the babies were born prematurely on Sept. 30, 2014, after about 32 weeks’ gestation, and each weighed roughly 3.7 pounds at birth. Each should have gained 1 to 2 pounds a month afterward, but at eight months had gained only about a pound.
Ferguson pleaded guilty Friday to first-degree child cruelty, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison with three to serve and the rest on probation. Adams went to trial Monday, as attorneys picked a jury. After hearing testimony Tuesday and Wednesday and closing arguments Thursday morning, the jury started deliberating about 1:30 p.m.
They had deliberated about six hours when Land got a note Friday morning stating one juror had broken his oath, was not following the law, and was referencing information other than the law and the evidence, including the 1957 film “12 Angry Men.”
The movie starring Henry Fonda is about the lone holdout on a jury in a murder trial. Some of the other jurors in Adams’ case said the man referenced the film in saying juries always have a lone holdout.
“That was his point,” said another juror, when Land began to question each one individually. The juror said the man began talking about the story before testimony began.
Others said the man also refused to comply with the judge’s instructions to follow the law in weighing the evidence.
“It’s my assessment the juror is not following instructions,” said one woman, later adding, “It’s my interpretation that the juror is imposing his own view of the law.”
Said another woman: “He’s no longer looking at the evidence at all, sir.”
Said a third: “He thinks that it never should have come to court.”
Said another man on the jury: “One juror does not believe in the law. He believes this case should never have gone to the DA’s office.”
The juror in question, designated Juror No. 12, was called before the court, and said he did not believe he had broken his oath. But he acknowledged questioning whether the neglect should have been a criminal matter. “I do question if that was the best,” he said.
Asked about “12 Angry Men,” he said he read the play as a sophomore in high school. “I don’t really recall the whole story,” he said, adding, “I haven’t watched the movie, I think, ever.”
Asked about possible bias, he admitted wondering, “Is this something that really needed to be presented criminally? … I don’t know how other states do it.”
He acknowledged having been on Facebook during the trial, and having noted the “not guilty” verdict in a murder case being tried in another courtroom on the same Government Center floor as Adams’ trial. Some jurors said he had mentioned that.
Only one of the other jurors said she’d noticed none of the conduct her cohorts reported.
Land afterward said he had “grave concerns” about Juror No. 12, because the man wasn’t saying the evidence was insufficient for a conviction, but instead had “a conscientious objection to the court system handling cases like this.”
That amounts to a jury’s negating the law by refusing to abide by it, Land said: “That’s jury nullification. It is contrary to what our entire system stands for.”
The judge noted Juror No. 12 himself had sent the court a note saying, “I’m hearing from fellow jurors that we have to do what the law says.”
He dismissed the juror, replacing him with an alternate, over the objections of defense attorney Nancy Miller, who argued the juror said he could follow the law, and he was free to have his own opinions about how the justice system works. Prosecutor Veronica Hansis agreed the juror should be replaced.
Land then sent jurors to lunch, around 1 p.m., ordering them to return at 2:30.
Alternates sit through the court testimony, but don’t join in deliberations unless one of the 12 primary jurors can’t continue, so replacing one of the 12 with an alternate requires that deliberations begin anew.
With the new juror, the jury had a verdict by 3 p.m.
The demographics of the jury were four black men, five black women, two white women and one white man. The juror who was dismissed was a white man, replaced by a black woman.
After the verdict, Miller said she was pleased jurors refused to convict Adams on the most serious charge, which indicated they recognized he did not intentionally withhold food from his children.
Now 4 years old, the triplets are in the custody of a grandparent, and all are “well and healthy,” Miller said. Adams remains involved with the daughters, whom he sees regularly, she said.
Land in replacing Juror No. 12 referenced a state law that says:
“If at any time, whether before or after final submission of the case to the jury, a juror dies, becomes ill, upon other good cause shown to the court is found to be unable to perform his duty, or is discharged for other legal cause, the first alternate juror shall take the place of the first juror becoming incapacitated.”
Georgia Supreme Court precedents allow replacing a juror for a “sound legal basis,” and in this case it was “undeniably mandated by what I heard from the jury,” Land said.