The Alabama Supreme Court today ruled that Larry Dunaway was denied a fair trial by an impartial jury because two jurors did not give true and honest answers during jury selection.
Larry Dunaway was born and raised in Louisiana and Texas. He was twenty years old and had lived in Alabama for only four months when he was charged with capital murder in the killing of his girlfriend and her son in 1997. Mr. Dunaway’s childhood was characterized by abuse, neglect, and extreme poverty, and evidence showed that despite his troubled background Larry functioned as a caring and loving brother and friend, and that he thrived in a structured environment.
Before trial, jurors were asked whether they or their family members had been victims of violent crime, because those experiences tend to bias a juror against the defendant in a capital trial. And Mr. Dunaway’s lawyers asked potential jurors whether they had any ties with the District Attorney because they were concerned that could bias jurors in favor of the prosecution.
EJI attorneys, who have been representing Mr. Dunaway for more than a decade, presented evidence that, despite direct questioning on the subject, one juror failed to reveal that her cousin was the victim of a recent attempted murder in Barbour County just nine months before Mr. Dunaway’s trial. The Alabama Supreme Court found there was an “obvious potential for bias in this case” given (1) the “close” relationship the juror had with her cousin, (2) the similarities between the two crimes, which both involved the shooting of a female in her home by a male, (3) the fact that the crime against the juror’s cousin occurred within two weeks of the crime Mr. Dunaway was charged with, and (4) the fact that proceedings relating to the trial of the cousin’s attacker began at the same time as Mr. Dunaway’s trial proceedings.
Another juror failed to disclose, despite direct questioning, that she had been a client of the District Attorney when he was in private practice. The District Attorney helped the juror to obtain custody of her granddaughter, and, as a result of his work, she was able to raise her granddaughter in her own home. She testified that the District Attorney “did very well” for her family in winning the custody dispute.
The Alabama Supreme Court found that the nature of the DA’s representation of the juror — “a custody dispute over [her] granddaughter — obviously implicates personal emotions. It takes no leap of imagination to assume that [the juror] carried a favorable opinion of [the DA] based on his representation of her when he was in private practice and that this opinion could have biased her view of Dunaway’s case.”
The Alabama Supreme Court concluded that these jurors’ failures to honestly answer questions violated Mr. Dunaway’s right to a fair trial. “The fairness of our jury system, particularly in criminal cases, depends on such answers. Dunaway, no less than any other accused defendant, was entitled to that procedural fairness.” Mr. Dunaway is now entitled to a new trial.