ANDERSON — Deputy Prosecutor Grey Chandler said there is nothing wrong with someone convicted of a felony crime to serve as a juror in a criminal trial in Indiana.
Chandler said Joshua D. Wooden, 37, answered yes on a Madison County Circuit Court jury questionnaire asking if he or any member of his immediate family had been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a state or federal crime punishable by imprisonment.
Wooden, who has an extensive criminal record, was excused from continuing as a juror during the trial of Dylan Tate on June 12 – two days before a jury convicted Tate of the murder and molestation of his girlfriend’s 18-month-old son, Harlan Haines.
In Indiana, a person convicted of a felony can be summoned for jury duty once voting rights have been restored. Voting rights can be restored once the person is no longer imprisoned or otherwise subject to lawful detention.
“In my experience, a lot of criminals that have been convicted of drug and alcohol related offenses are not going to let a murderer or child molester off the hook just because they got pinched for an alcohol or drug offense,” Chandler said. “In and of itself, his criminal record was a red flag, but it does not automatically make him ineligible.”
After more than five days of courtroom testimony, an investigation was launched into Wooden’s criminal background after The Herald Bulletin was contacted by a reader who said Wooden was a friend of Tate’s and had told people he was “going to hang the jury up.”
The newspaper passed the information along to a Madison County official and an alternate juror was selected the next morning to replace Wooden on the 12-person jury.
At the time of Wooden’s removal, Judge Angela Warner Sims said the juror was dismissed for not following or disregarding jury instructions.
To protect the integrity of the remaining jurors and the ongoing case, no further information was released by the court regarding the decision to excuse Wooden. Repeated attempts to contact Wooden after the trial to talk about his dismissal were unsuccessful.
Sims said a late evening conference took place with the state and defense attorneys the night they received the tip about Wooden.
“Obviously given the high profile of the case, and some of the emotional charge of the case, it was hard to really tell if there was more to that or not at that time,” Sims said of the allegations. “It was Chief Deputy Steve Koester that thought there might have been some connection.”
Sims said Koester reviewed incarceration records to see if Wooden or Tate had served time together in prison or in the same prison at the same time.
“It was determined they both did serve some time in prison around the same timeframe, but they were not in the same facility,” Sims said.
In 2004, Wooden pleaded guilty to Class D felony possession of cocaine and Class A misdemeanor possession of marijuana. That same year he also pleaded guilty in a different case to Class D felony theft, Class D felony possession of a controlled substance and Class A misdemeanor resisting law enforcement.
In 2008, Wooden pleaded guilty to Class D felony auto theft, Class A misdemeanor operating while intoxicated and Class A misdemeanor driving while suspended.
In 2012, he was convicted of a Class D felony for failure to return to lawful detention and was sentenced to three years at the Indiana Department of Correction.
Koester then contacted an agency that provides services to people exiting the Indiana Department of Correction, Sims said.
Both Wooden and Tate had used the agency at the same time and participated in some of the same programs or classes, she said.
Sims said both the state and defense attorneys agreed upon Wooden’s immediate removal.
She said a closed door hearing was then conducted and each juror was questioned individually to make sure the jury had not been tainted, which she said had not happened.
Sims did say jurors raised concerns about Wooden that gave validity to the court’s concerns.
“He clearly made it clear in the jury room that he was reading or he knew other things about the case or maybe even knew other witnesses,” Sims said. "He never really provided any details or gave that to them, but they at least had that sixth sense — if you will – that he may have known more than he let on.”
Sims said it was also hard for the court to believe, if both men were at the same agency receiving services, Wooden would not have remembered Tate who has distinct facial markings.
She said there was sufficient evidence to link Wooden to Tate so he was excused and the trial resumed without incident.
“Obviously the court of appeals will review those issues if raised on appeal to see if it was handled appropriately,” Sims said.
Like Chandler, Sims said an argument can be made that an individual with a felony conviction should be allowed to serve on a jury if they have learned a lesson from their actions and taken ownership for their actions.
“People do reform,” she said. “There are people that are rehabilitated. There are a lot of people who absolutely own up to the fact that they have made mistakes and they did break the law and they were punished accordingly and they would expect their fellow citizens to do the same.
“To me, this case was more than him just having that. The question really, here, was did he know the defendant or did he know of him? That is what got us closer to it not being a fair trial.”
Sims said the jury system has been revamped over the years to be as inclusive and as random as possible.
The first statewide jury list was created and approved by the Indiana Supreme Court in 2005, according to the Indiana Judicial Branch’s website.
In 2006, a list was made available to the courts created from a combination of Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the Indiana Department of Revenue records and then validated against a U.S. Postal Service database, according to the judicial system.
Sims said 130 people were summoned to serve as jurors in Tate’s trial. She said 10 jurors were granted deferrals before selection began.
Prosecutors were seeking a life without parole sentence if Tate was convicted and had 20 strikes to remove people from the juror pool. Sims said the state used 12 of its 20 strikes and the defense used all 20 of its strikes.
After five rounds of questioning the jury was seated.
Sims said jurors serve a crucial role in the justice system and her priority was to make sure the trial was a fair one.
“When people are not honest in the process, it impedes the court’s ability to carry out justice and that was the concern here,” she said.
Chandler said Wooden was removed because he violated the court’s orders, not because of an anonymous tip. He said the information was helpful, but not the cause of Wooden’s dismissal.
He said both sides were given a fair trial in Tate’s case despite the fact a juror was excused.
Follow Traci L. Miller @_TraciMiller on Twitter, email her at email@example.com, or call her at 765-640-4805.
Eligibility for jury duty
In order to be eligible for jury duty in Indiana, you must be:
• A citizen of the United States
• At least 18 years of age
• A resident of the county in which you are to serve as a juror
• Able to communicate in English
• Not suffering from a physical or mental disability that prevents you from performing your duties as a juror in a satisfactory manner
• Not under guardianship because of mental incapacity
• Not a person who has had your right to vote revoked and not yet reinstated as the result of a felony conviction
• Not a law enforcement officer, if the trial is for a criminal case