Man gets new murder trial after 'juror misconduct'

For the second time in 14 years, James Allen Harrison Jr. is to be tried in Russell County for the Jan. 13, 1998, fatal throat-slashing of a disabled Phenix City man in what authorities said was a robbery to get money for crack cocaine.

In August 2000, a jury convicted Harrison of murder, finding him guilty of beating and cutting 41-year-old Thomas “Fred” Day Jr. in Day’s 1707 18th Ave. home. In February 2001, then-Circuit Court Judge George Greene sentenced Harrison to death.

But in the years since, Harrison repeatedly appealed, and before Greene’s death Jan. 1, 2014, the judge granted Harrison a new trial based on “juror misconduct,” said District Attorney Ken Davis.

According to an April 23, 2010, Alabama Supreme Court decision sending the case back to Russell County Circuit Court, a woman who served on Harrison’s jury failed to inform the court during jury selection that she had been an armed robbery victim, a fact that could have prejudiced her judgment.

All potential jurors were asked whether they or a relative had been robbed. The woman did not answer, but after Harrison’s trial she confirmed in an affidavit that she had been robbed three times — in 1994, 1997 and 1999 — at her Columbus workplace. The woman said she didn’t answer the question because she thought it applied only to Alabama robberies.

She also failed to answer when potential jurors were asked whether they’d been indicted for a crime. Muscogee County court records showed she was charged with six counts of financial transaction card fraud on May 22, 2000, and pleaded guilty to those charges on July 20, 2000, just a month before Harrison’s trial.

In a third instance cited in Harrison’s appeal, the woman did not answer when the jury pool was asked whether the district attorney had prosecuted anyone’s relatives. Her half-brother had been convicted of shooting his wife. The juror said that happened in the early 1970s when she was only 6 or 7, and she forgot about it.

Harrison also claimed a man who served on his jury told defense attorneys he’d never been on a jury before, when in fact he had served on three that convicted defendants.

So, based on those factors, the Alabama Supreme Court sent Harrison’s case back to Russell County, where Judge Greene granted him a new trial, for which jury selection began Monday.

Davis also prosecuted Gray in 2000, and after Harrison’s sentencing the next year called the case “a particularly brutal murder, and a murder of a fellow incapable of defending himself.”

Day had sustained brain damage and lost almost all use of one arm in an industrial mishap.

Evidence in Harrison’s first trial showed Day’s father found his son’s body on the living room floor of the 18th Avenue home on Jan. 16, 1998, three days after investigators suspect Harrison beat Day in the head before slicing his neck open with a lock-blade knife.

On Jan. 14, 1998, pawn-shop video recorded Harrison selling about 200 of Day’s compact discs for $400 cash, prosecutors said. Harrison also drove Day’s Mazda 626 for three days, trying to sell the car along with Day’s TV and VCR, they said.

The district attorney said Harrison essentially looted all the valuables from Day’s home to get money for crack. Harrison still was driving Day’s Mazda on Columbus’ 10th Avenue when police arrested him hours after Day’s body was found, authorities said.

Harrison said the night of his fight with Day, Day had asked him to drive his Mazda to Columbus to buy crack, and Day assaulted Harrison when he returned without any. Defense attorneys claimed Day punched Harrison in the ribs before Harrison pulled the knife. Harrison said he only nicked Day’s neck with the 4-inch blade, so someone else must have killed Day.