Orville Lynn Majors v. State of Indiana - Criminal Law (400 Level Course)


Orville Lynn Majors vs. State of Indiana - Criminal Law (400 Level Course)
773 N.E.2d. 231 (2002)

Facts: Majors worked as a licensed practical nurse at Vermillion County Hospital. In March of 1995, an investigation began into a series of suspicious patient deaths at the hospital. The investigation revealed that Majors was present at the sudden and unexpected deaths of seven of the patients, and that no one else was present at all seven. Investigators concluded that Majors killed these people by injecting them with potassium chloride. The state charged Majors with seven counts of murder.

The sequestered jury heard testimony for about six weeks and deliberated for more than three days. Near the end of the trial the judge became aware that a juror was making inappropriate facial expressions and instructed the bailiff to privately caution the juror to be more circumspect. Neither the juror nor parties knew that the judge sent the message. It found majors guilty on six counts and deadlocked on the seventh, resulting in a mistrial on that count. Majors’ was sentenced to a term of 360 years.

Majors requests a new trial because one juror ordered and drank two beers that a bailiff delivered to the juror’s hotel room on the evening after the third day of deliberations. The juror saw the bailiff running up and down the halls filling orders that he assumed others were drinking as well. Next Majors claims that the State took the jurors on two outings and claims that influenced the jury to favor the state After the trial Majors claims that the right to explore further his allegations of juror misconduct by deposing jurors who spoke to the State after the trial but chose not to speak with the defense counsel.

During the investigation police interviewed Andrew Harris. During Harris’ cross-examination, defense counsel elicited the fact that Harris had secured an immunity agreement. With the Court’s permission, the state then rehabilitated Harris on re-direct with testimony that the immunity agreement was a prerequisite to Harris’ agreement to submit to a polygraph exam that ultimately indicated that Harris had nothing to do with the murders.

Issue: 1. Whether or not the court erred in ex parte communications with a juror that would violate the defendant’s due process rights.
2. Whether the court erred in establishing juror’s misconduct, which would then result with a new trial.
a. The juror who consumed two beers at the hotel
b. The gathering that the Judge and Bailiffs held.
c. The comments about the attorneys.
3. Whether or not the court erred in not allowing the taking of juror depositions.
4. Whether or not the court abused the discretion to admit evidence regarding the polygraph examination of defendant’s roommate.
5. Cumulative error

Holding: The court held that:
(1) trial court’s ex parte communications with juror did not violate defendant’s due process rights;
(2) evidence did not establish juror misconduct which would warrant a new trial;
(3) post- verdict juror depositions were not warranted; and
(4) trial court had discretion to admit evidence regarding polygraph examination of defendant’s roommate.
(5) Because the Court found no errors, cumulative effect analysis is inapplicable. Judgment of the trial court was affirmed.

Rationale: (1).
The mere occurrence of an ex parte conversation between a trial judge and a juror does not constitute a deprivation of any constitutional right. The defense has no constitutional right to be present at every interaction between judge and a juror. (2a). A full night had passed after the juror drank the beers, none of the jurors showed any effects related to alcohol consumption. (2b). The court stated that friendships may have developed between the security officers and the jurors here; nothing in the record indicates that Majors suffered prejudice as a result of the two outings or the modest birthday gift. (2c) The Court basically stated that it did not matter what the juror stated. The Court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by rejecting Majors’ claims of juror misconduct. (3). The State obtained affidavits from all eleven jurors and three alternates.

None offered any evidence of alcohol consumptions during deliberations, improper prejudicial information, or any outside influence, which are only subjects to which jurors may testify under 060(b) and many denied any such activity. (4). The probable impact of the polygraph evidence was minimal as another witness provided testimony that Majors admitted that he killed patients at the hospital using potassium chloride. The most damning evidence against Majors came from the medical staff and experts, who established that six of the victims died an unnatural death. (5) Because the court found no errors, cumulative effect analysis is inapplicable.

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