Last week a Federal District Court Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks vacated the death sentence of former Justice 360 client James Nathaniel Bryant, who is represented by Chair of Justice 360’s Board Betsy Franklin-Best and was previously represented by other current and former Justice 360 staff members (including Lindsey Vann and Diana Holt).
Bryant’s post-conviction petition argued, among other things, that he was denied the right to a fair trial before an impartial jury because one of the jurors who sentenced him to die suffered from profound hearing loss. The federal court agreed. Although Bryant’s trial attorneys and the court were aware at the time of his trial that Juror 342 had difficulty hearing, Bryant’s post-conviction attorneys uncovered new evidence that illustrated the full extent of the juror’s hearing loss. That evidence included testimony from the juror’s family, who told the court that she had had hearing problems since 1984; that she struggled to understand what people were saying at a distance of no more than a few feet; that she preferred to sit in the back of church but that her preacher always directed her to sit in the front because otherwise she would miss the sermon; and that she was sensitive about her hearing loss and would become “furious” when confronted with it.
Judge Hendricks agreed with Bryant’s attorneys that, because Juror 342 likely missed most of the trial testimony, she should not have been on the jury without a specific accommodation: “the circumstances invoked by Juror 342’s hearing deficit are distinguishable from a sleeping juror scenario because an inattentive juror can be roused to wakefulness, whereas Juror 342’s hearing impairment affected her ability to absorb and assess testimony throughout the trial and deliberations.” The court sent Bryant’s case back to the South Carolina state courts for a new, fair sentencing hearing. Judge Hendricks’s full order is available here.