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WVa court overturns murder conviction after juror replaced

June 15, 2022 GMT

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s Supreme Court has reversed the conviction of a man sentenced to life in prison for murder, saying that extraordinary precautions were not taken to ensure he received a fair trial after a juror was dismissed and replaced with another.

The court on Tuesday sent the case of Quenton Avery Sheffield back to Cabell County.

Sheffield was sentenced in 2020 to life in prison without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder in a shooting that killed a 20-year-old man and wounded the man’s girlfriend. During the trial, the woman testified that Sheffield came to her boyfriend’s apartment in September 2017 to purchase marijuana.

Sheffield appealed, saying that after deliberations began in circuit court, a juror who had talked to a witness was dismissed and replaced with an alternate who previously had been discharged from the case. The circuit court had denied Sheffield’s motion to declare a mistrial. The reconstituted jury then began deliberating and reached a verdict in less than an hour.

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The Supreme Court wrote that there is a presumption of prejudice to a defendant’s right to a fair trial when a discharged alternate juror is recalled.

While the circuit court took significant steps after the juror was excused, ”the totality of the circumstances does not indicate that extraordinary precautions were taken to ensure that the petitioner received a fair trial,” Justice John Hutchison wrote in the majority opinion.