Federal jury selection in suspended Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill’s trial was completed Wednesday. Hill faces seven charges of violation of rights under color of law. A superseding indictment alleges Hill caused seven pretrial detainees, who were in the Clayton County Jail awaiting trial, to be strapped into restraint chairs as punishment, which is illegal.
Hill has pleaded not guilty.
Twelve jurors and two alternates were selected after both sides struck potential jurors from a list of 55 late this afternoon.
Judge Eleanor Ross ordered the jurors to report by 9:15 a.m. and that opening statements would start promptly at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, October 13.
None of the jurors chosen are from Clayton County.
Jury selection began with Ross questioning the jury pool as a whole and potential jurors holding up their numbers if a question applied to them. Juror 38 knew the defense attorneys. Eighteen potential jurors indicated they knew of or had heard about the case. Five were dual citizens or non-U.S. citizens. Juror 19 had difficulty speaking, reading, writing, and understanding English. Twelve potential jurors had hardships or conflicts. Juror 4 faced a felony charge outside of the U.S.
Then, federal prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office of the U.S. Northern District of Georgia and members of Hill’s defense team took turns questioning each prospective juror about their written responses to the jury questionnaire. That questionnaire contained a paragraph about the basic facts of the case.
Some prospective jurors who expressed concern over the fact that seven people had allegedly been strapped into restraint chairs as punishment were stricken from the list.
Juror 32, who himself is a family law attorney and friend of both Findling and defense attorney Marissa Goldberg, was dropped. “This guy is dangerous,” Findling said, citing the juror’s “lack of knowledge” about constitutional law. Ross agreed. “[Jurors say] ‘ I want to hear the defendant’s story,’ not realizing the defendant doesn’t have to do anything but show up.”
Juror 24, who had said he works for the City of Atlanta, follows politics, and had been tracking Hill since his stint in the Gold Dome, also was eliminated from the jury pool after both sides raised concerns about the man’s strong disapproval of Hill. The man had called Hill “egomaniacal.” Findling asked him to define what he meant by that word. “Attributing that kind of description, that kind of personal profile, and to have that thought process before the first witness is called is extremely problematic and highly prejudicial,” Findling told the court. “He is just too dangerous to put into the jury pool.”
“I don’t think I could be fair to you”
Juror 13, who directly told Hill that she did not feel she could be fair to him, was cut. “I’ve just seen [stories about the case] on the local news,” she said. “Every time you turn it on, it’s Victor Hill, Victor Hill, Victor Hill, always something with Victor Hill on the news.” She said, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” adding, “I have to apologize to you, Mr. Hill, but because I’ve heard your name on the news associated with so many things, I don’t think I could be fair to you.” She was immediately stricken. “I certainly don’t want to influence anyone,” she said. Ross cut her off: “And you’re not going to, so just end it there.”
Other potential jurors who did not make the list included Juror 7, who was a no-show; Jurors 19 and 26, who were excused by both sides; and Juror 37, who was excused because either she or her children had COVID-19.
- Juror 3: Covington, 14 years, before that lived in New York. New hire trainer. Married to UPS driver. One child has own business. High school graduate with accounting certification, Never served on jury. Dual Jamaican citizen. Knew about case because “I saw a clip at the end of one of my recorded shows.” Leans toward thinking police misconduct is a serious problem in the U.S. recognizes Hill entitled to fair trial and won’t hold that belief against him. Favorable view of FBI but can put all witnesses on even playing field. No news reports affect her one way or the other: “I don’t take much stock into it. I don’t really watch the news.” Defense attorney Drew Findling asked whether her interest in the YouTube series “Jail” would affect her ability to hear evidence from real law enforcement officers; she said no. She feels that justice is influenced by the administration in power “based off the previous administration.” She thinks every citizen should cooperate with law enforcement: “Ultimately, if no one cooperates, then we don’t have safety. The police are there for a reason.” She visits restaurants in Clayton County. She feels some people are wrongly convicted, citing someone who was recently acquitted after 25 years in prison.
- Juror 5: Ball Ground, UPS compliance supervisor, hires and fires, oversees contract compliance. Husband over 25 years in Air Force, “still works there,” married 25 years. Daughter 8 years into a 35-year prison sentence at Carswell Federal Prison in Texas. GSU student, one year to go, graduated from Chattahoochee Tech with a human resources certificate, no jury experience. U.S. Attorney said she thought her daughter’s sentence was too long and asked whether she understood punishment not her responsibility. “Yes. My daughter was justly charged. I just have an issue with the sentence. The FBI, everybody did their jobs.” Last saw daughter before COVID epidemic and “due to visit her this weekend.” Familiar with federal security measures. Daughter was in local jail, run by federal contractor, two and a half years. She had to drive seven hours to see her daughter for 30 minutes once a month. Asked whether any of those security measures would impact her consideration of evidence from the Clayton County Jail, she said, “Security measures were followed to a T.” Does not feel daughter mistreated. Feels strongly that people should cooperate with police: “It’s a respect issue. If you’re stopped by a police officer…you are to respect each other and you are to obey the law.”
- Juror 6: Retired architect, Atlanta native, Georgia Tech graduate. Worked for about 15 different firms on “every type of project, including jails.” retired 3 years ago. Consulted on Atlanta Housing Authority, MARTA projects, worked on senior living. Married about 44 years, wife retired, 3 daughters, 1 grandson. Oldest is a UGA graduate in design. “You’re proud of her,” the government said. “Even if she went to the dark side,” he replied, drawing laughter. Middle daughter is a vet tech. Youngest is a sociology grad from Emory. Has served on civil and criminal juries. Had a bad experience when a rookie cop stopped him as he was driving his dad to the hospital for an emergency MRI after Emory’s machine had broken. Her supervisor testified in court but she had been the one who had pulled him over and she said nothing while sitting in court during that case. Still, very supportive of police. Testified in Superior Court case after he and others were conned out of large sums of money (about $6 million) and the GBI had contacted him about the scam: “The man stole from his mother. It was a very sad case.” Feels people should cooperate with police:
“Generally. when we put police in police cars in this city and they don’t have any backup like they do on TV, one should do everything to set them at ease. By the same token, I read in my book club accounts of some communities being targeted to have stops made upon them as a pretense to do further searches. I’m against that and I can see where that might be extremely annoying.” Knows Hill was elected sheriff of Clayton County. Said law enforcement officers are more credible witnesses because they are trained to observe. “As an architect, I have a bag of tricks and experience….so I appreciate people who are experts in their area.” Ross interrupted: “Let me cut you off, sir, because we need to get through several more jurors.”
- Juror 9: Lives in Gwinnett County, retail supervisor at Lanier Island for 8 years, single, no kids, 2 years’ college, no degree, no jury experience. Suffers from a bad back due to scoliosis. Ross asked if it would help her to stand; she said, “Moving around a lot helps.” Ross asked whether seating her at the end of the jury box would help; she said yes. She also gets headaches about three times a week. Medicine doesn’t help, but “eating a little protein and drinking a lot of water helps.” Ross asked whether providing that would help her; she said yes. She has fewer concerns than the average person about police misconduct: “I don’t really know about any cases. I don’t know much of anything about the police or the FBI.” She doesn’t like to make decisions and likes to work with other people. Findling said, “You said you have no understanding of the legal system. That kind of makes you perfect because Her Honor is going to explain the law at the beginning and end of the trial.” She feels strongly that people should not argue with police: “I think if people cooperate, it would go easier, and there wouldn’t be a huge thing about it. It would just go smoother.” Off-duty Hall County Sheriff’s deputies and private security work “mostly at Margaritaville. There is the Land Shark Bar and Grill” to manage people drinking too much, and she has been respectful and cordial to them.
- Juror 10: Villa Rica 15 years, logistics manager at Amazon for eight years, doesn’t hire/fire, single, no kids, B.S. Accounting, no jury experience. Experience with law enforcement officers “more good than bad.” Says there are “police incidents every day but we only hear of a few.” Comfortable holding law enforcement officers accountable that need to be held acountable. Familiar with restraint chair from the movie “Silence of the Lambs.”
- Juror 12: Lawrenceville, surgical tech at Northeast Georgia Gainesville. “Happily divorced.” Daughter is a high school senior. Associate degree, Lanier College, never served on jury. She said politics is “behind most everything,” according to Findling, and stated, “Everything is politically motivated.” Findling said. “Sheriff Hill is an elected official and it’s political and he’s being prosecuted here. Could you elaborate?” She replied, “I think who wanted him in this position was able to get him in that position.” Findling asked, “And who would that be?” She answered, “Whoever.” She also repeatedly answered “Maybe” to questions about whether she could be fair and rely on the evidence to reach a conclusion. “Will that affect you?” Findling asked. “Again, I would listen to all the evidence,” she replied. “Maybe.” Ross denied the defense’s later motion to strike Juror 12.
- Juror 17: Lawrenceville, 18-19 years, grew up in DeKalb County. Works in purchasing and accounts payable for 23 years, no hiring/firing power, husband is “unemployed but does odd jobs when they’re available,” 15 year old daughter in high school, never been on a jury.
- Juror 21: Lithia Springs.
- Juror 23: Lawrenceville.
- Juror 25: Covington, legal assistant.
- Juror 27: Speech language pathologist.
- Juror 30: Stockbridge, 14 years.
- Juror 25: Loganville.
- Juror 39: Chamblee, 2 years.
- Juror 40: Decatur. Commercial truck driver from Nigeria: “My accent is very, very strong. You will have to listen well.”
The prospective jurors, along with a handful of reporters, supporters of Hill, and onlookers packed the small courtroom. In the afternoon, a class of law students also piled in around the fringes to observe. Ross apologized because the HVAC was not cooling properly.
After court adjourned for the day, reporters gathered around the back door of the courthouse but Hill did not appear before the cameras.
The Clayton Crescent is covering the trail and will update daily. Please check back for more details on each juror’s voir dire statements.
More to come.
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