AKRON- After about ten hours of deliberations in the murder trial of Shawn Ford, Jr. two jurors were released on Tuesday, one of them because of her Facebook friends list.
Ford, 20, faces a possible death penalty for the murders of Akron area attorney Jeffrey Schobert and his wife Margaret in April 2013.
The couple was found dead in their New Franklin home where they had been beaten to death with a sledge hammer.
Ford's trial began on October 16.
After a little more than a week of testimony, the jury began deliberating his fate on multiple charges Monday afternoon and stayed late into the evening to continue their deliberations.
Late Tuesday morning, Summit County Common Pleas Judge Tom Parker called the jury back into the courtoom where he explained he was replacing one of the jurors with an alternate because of an urgent matter involving a family member who was in hospice.
Following lunch on Tuesday, another juror was called into the courtoom alone and questioned about her Facebook friends list that includes Summit County Prosecutor Sheri Bevan Walsh and other high-ranking employees of the prosecutor's office.
Judge Parker announced that although prosecutors and defense attorneys were aware that she had legal training and was employed as a paralegal, it was not until questions from the jury about a holdout on at least one of the charges was addressed to the court.
Prosecutors told the court that they believed, because of the nature of the question and the fact that the juror had legal training, that she could have been the holdout juror in question and then discovered her Facebook friends list.
The juror told the court that because of her profession, she is Facebook friends with many legal professionals, but that her online friendship with people at the prosecutor's office had not impacted her judgement in the trial.
But defense attorneys asked the court to declare a mistrial.
"We have had a juror with high level contacts to the Summit county Prosecutor's Office on this jury for how many weeks now? She has already engaged in deliberation. I realized she stated from the questions you asked that she has not exposed her Facebook connections to the other jurors. I don't know how how we could ferret out any more information but I have grave concerns that she has deeply tainted this jury," said defense attorney Jon Sinn.
"We don't think you are able to cure it. We don't think that releasing her cures it. We are moving for a mistrial in this matter," declared Sinn.
Defense attorneys questioned the prosecutor's motive for bringing the Facebook friends list to the court's attention.
They also expressed concern over losing a juror who is African American.
Judge Parker did send the juror home just as a precaution, denying the motion for a mistrial.
"At this stage I have nothing to suggest that Mr. Ford has not been getting, or will continue to get a fair trial or that the jury has been tainted," explained Parker.
The judge replaced the paralegal with an African American alternate and sent the jury back behind closed doors to begin deliberations with a clean slate.
Jurors were instructed to disregard any conversations they have had during their first ten hours of deliberations since the alternates were not involved in those discussions.
They were also instructed to tear up any verdict sheets that might have been decided on some of the charges and start from scratch.
The jury was sent back behind closed doors to begin deliberating again early Tuesday afternoon.