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Williamson v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

April 26, 2019



          BRIEFS FOR APPELLANT: Steven Nathan Goens Frankfort, Kentucky

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE: Andy Beshear Attorney General of Kentucky M. Brandon Roberts Assistant Attorney General Frankfort, Kentucky



          THOMPSON, K., JUDGE.

         Larry Williamson appeals as a matter of right from a final judgment from the Gallatin Circuit Court after a jury trial, arguing trial error involving two jurors entitled him to a new trial. We affirm.

         On November 10, 2014, Williamson was indicted on two counts of rape in the second degree, one count of sodomy in the second degree and one count of sexual abuse in the first degree. The victim was Williamson's stepsister. Previously, the victim lived with her mother and stepfather (who was her uncle, the brother of her father). During the summer of 2014 when the crimes were alleged to have occurred, the victim, who was twelve years old, was living with her stepmother (Williamson's mother) and her father (Williamson's stepfather). During this time, Williamson lived with his wife and grandparents.

         Fourteen jurors were selected to hear the evidence, with two alternate jurors to be dismissed before deliberations.

         Williamson testified in his defense along with his mother and stepfather. Part of his defense was that he was seldom around the victim in the summer when the crimes were alleged to have been committed.

         After deliberations, the jury found Williamson guilty on all counts and recommended he be sentenced to a total of fifteen years.

         Williamson timely filed a motion for a new trial. The trial court denied Williamson's motion and entered a final judgment, sentencing him in accordance with the jury's recommendations.

         Williamson's first claim of error involves Juror 402. During Williamson's jury trial, following the conclusion of the case but before the closing arguments, Juror 402 stopped the bailiff in the hall and told him she knew that Williamson was lying because she saw him with the victim (thus contradicting Williamson's defense that he was seldom around the victim). Juror 402 told the bailiff she was unsure if she needed to be excused from the trial.

         The trial court questioned Juror 402 in front of counsel. Juror 402 reported she lived in the same apartment complex as the victim's stepfather and mother; she knew Williamson to be the nephew of her neighbor. Juror 402 reported she daily saw Williamson taking a walk from his mother's apartment past the juror's own apartment in the complex with a woman who Juror 402 assumed was Williamson's wife. Juror 402 saw them walk by while the woman was pregnant and, then later, Williamson was with the same woman with a baby in a stroller. Juror 402 reported that sometimes she saw the victim walking with them.

         Juror 402 reported she was very familiar with victim's stepfather's and father's family, knew Williamson by sight and knew the victim was placed with her father because her mother and stepfather could not handle her. Juror 402 also heard people talking about why the victim had to leave her father's home. She said she knew a lot about the situation that put the victim with her father.

         After questioning Juror 402, the trial court held a conference with the attorneys. Williamson's defense attorney stated that if Juror 402 said in voir dire what she had just told the court, he would have asked her to be excused as she knew the history of victim, her mother, her father and her stepfather. He then asked for her to be excused.

         The Commonwealth Attorney argued Juror 402's information was not enough to excuse her as she only saw Williamson walking with his wife back and forth to his mother's apartment. However, two different times the Commonwealth Attorney commented that he wished he could call Juror 402 as a witness.

         While noting that someone in a small town knowing someone else involved in a trial was not necessarily grounds for excusing a juror, the trial court expressed concern that Juror 402 saw the victim walking with Williamson and, according to the bailiff, Juror 402 knew Williamson was lying about not spending time with victim. The court suggested that since there were two alternate jurors, it would be appropriate to allow Juror 402 finish the trial so that the jury did not think there was anything suspicious and then dismiss her as an alternate. The trial court specifically opined that it could prejudice Williamson if Juror 402 was excused now, stating "it could cut either way." The defense attorney acknowledged that he understood the trial court's reasoning.

         The defense attorney expressed concern that Juror 402 could taint the jury and requested the trial court to remind Juror 402 that she was not to discuss anything with ...

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