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Jury notes spark Hoak's defense attorney's concerns

November 21, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Raymond Hoak's conviction on a voluntary manslaughter charge Tuesday morning in Jefferson County Circuit Court was later called into question after a bailiff found an unusual note mixed in with other notes jurors used during the trial.

The note was on a white piece of paper with penalties for second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter on it, according to lawyers in the case.

The note also appeared to contain information pertaining to a legal issue that was not covered in presiding 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr.'s pre-verdict instructions to the jury, the lawyers said.

The note was unusual in that jurors only are allowed to use a yellow, court-provided notebook to take notes with during a trial, said Paul G. Taylor, Hoak's attorney.

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Jurors are also not allowed to have any information about penalties on possible verdicts, Taylor said.

Taylor said the information in the note regarding a legal issue appears to be a dictionary definition of murder, but it is hard to determine if that is the case.

Taylor said there was not much he could do about the note Tuesday, but added he will probably bring up the issue in a Jan. 7 hearing before Steptoe in which he plans to address other issues pertaining to an appeal for Hoak.

"This sheds a whole new light on the integrity of the verdict," Taylor said Tuesday afternoon.

The white piece of paper was found by a bailiff who was destroying yellow notepad paper used by jurors, Jefferson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Larry Crofford said.

The note was found within an hour after parties involved in the trial had left the courtroom after the verdict was reached, Taylor said.

The bailiff showed the paper to Steptoe and Steptoe believed that lawyers in the case should be notified of it, Crofford said.

Taylor praised court officials for bringing the note to the attention of lawyers in the case and said it illustrates the "honesty and integrity" of the Jefferson County court system.

Crofford said Tuesday afternoon that it is unclear if the note was shared with other jurors or whether it affected their verdict.

But it is "very likely that it will have to be dealt with," said Crofford, who added that he has never seen something like this in his 25 years of legal work.

Taylor said it is unclear which juror had the note.

Crofford said it is possible that some research will be needed to determine if the note affected the verdict. It is possible that one or more jurors will have to be interviewed about the note, Crofford said.

Crofford said he does not intend to bring up the issue before the Jan. 7 hearing.

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