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11th Circuit Upholds Death Sentence Despite Jurors’ Bawdy Chocolate Gifts

Posted Sep 20, 2012 8:06 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An Atlanta-based federal appeals court has upheld a death sentence for a Georgia man despite the jurors’ chocolate gag gifts to the judge and bailiff.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant a new trial for Marcus Wellons, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. In a unanimous opinion, the court said the “tasteless and inappropriate” gifts did not affect jurors’ deliberations or the judge’s handling of the case. Some jurors had given the judge chocolate shaped as male genitalia and the bailiff chocolate shaped as female breasts.

“We … acknowledge that the ill-advised actions of a few thoughtless jurors could create the perception that this jury was too busy joking around rather than deciding Wellons’ fate,” the court said. “But these were two isolated incidents in the span of a multi-week trial and we cannot say, on the basis of this record, that the verdicts were tainted.”

The 11th Circuit opinion followed an evidentiary hearing, scheduled after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the appeals court to reconsider whether Wellons was entitled to discovery and a hearing on the chocolate issue. “From beginning to end, judicial proceedings conducted for the purpose of deciding whether a defendant shall be put to death must be conducted with dignity and respect,” the Supreme Court said in its 2010 opinion.

A juror testified in the hearing that a friend who ran a chocolate shop gave her the penis-shaped chocolate as a gag gift when she ordered chocolate turtles for the jury. Testimony differed on whether the judge asked to see the gag gift, and whether she obtained it directly from the juror or from court personnel after the trial.

The bailiff did not recall who gave her the gag gift. She said she may have received it because of a conversation about grandmothers’ bosoms.

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