Reporting L.P. Phillips
DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A Dallas murder trial was over before it began on Tuesday after the defendant’s girlfriend inappropriately interacted with jurors prompting the judge to declare a mistrial.
Attorneys had worked late Monday to pick a jury in the murder trial of 41-year old Robert Oliver, who is on trial for the 2011 stabbing and murder of Eric Franklin.
As jurors were beginning to assemble, Oliver’s girlfriend followed three jurors into the juror’s room. Before anyone could question who she was, she began flashing a cellphone picture of Oliver’s son. According to one juror, the woman then began saying, “I just want you to remember his son.”
A fourth juror was told about the incident by fellow jurors.
The woman then fled the courthouse before she could be apprehended.
Judge Fred Tinsley interviewed the jurors one-by-one regarding the incident. At the prosecutor’s request, Judge Tinsley declared a mistrial, fearing the jurors might be influenced by the incident.
“The court felt that the appearance of impropriety was there and the safest thing to do was to go ahead and grant a mistrial,” said defense attorney Mike Howard.
The trial was rescheduled for April 8th, when a new jury will be selected.
Prosecutor Jerry Varney was infuriated by the incident.
“If we were to run into her, or certainly if the court or his staff were able to run into her, she would be placed in jail,” said Varney.
It is unclear as to how the woman was able to gain access to the juror’s room.
The Dallas County Sheriff’s office, which supplies bailiffs and courtroom security, deflected questions about the security breach to the Clerk’s office, who is responsible for the secured area where jurors are stationed.
“This is something I’ve never seen,” said Howard. “I don’t think anybody involved in the case had ever seen anything like this.”
Police arrested Oliver in October of 2011 after witnesses say he stabbed the victim in the neck with a butcher’s knife near Lancaster Road and Ledbetter Drive in Dallas. When confronted by police, Oliver attempted to assume the identity of his twin brother, though police had already spoken with his brother regarding the incident.
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