October 28, 2019 10:00 AM
This week’s Courier Herald column:
In January of 2015, Bud and June Runion left their Marietta
home for a short day trip to McRae Georgia in Telfair County. Their 200-mile day trip was to look at a
vintage Ford Mustang convertible advertised on Craigslist. Instead of purchasing a car, prosecutors say
that the grandparents were robbed and murdered by Ronnie Adrian “Jay” Towns.
The car never existed.
Now, after a 7-2 ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court, neither does the
March 2015 indictment of Towns.
Towns was indicted in Telfair County for capital murder,
with prosecutors seeking the death penalty.
On the day that the grand jury that was to hear the case for the indictment
only sixteen of fifty prospective grand jurors responded to their summons to
appear at the courthouse.
According to the Associated Press, the presiding judge asked the court clerk to both find more of the summoned jurors, but also to supplement the pool for the grand jury with those summoned to appear for trial juries.
The clerk in the case testified that she chose supplemental jurors
based on who she felt most likely to appear.
Georgia law requires those serving on grand juries to be selected at
random. The ruling of the trial judge and
upheld by the Supreme Court was that this process did not meet that burden.
Oconee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tim Vaughn says he
will re-indict Towns according to the same report. Though he remains in jail, the process to
prosecute Towns for murder must start over four and a half years after his
Reaction in social media seems to be focused on the
technicality dismissing the case, and not the lack of jurors who failed to
respond to a legal summons to perform a civic duty. The indignation is
If Towns is found guilty and then on top of that the jury
unanimously decides to sentence him to death, it would likely be only the
beginning of one to two decades of legal proceedings that will focus fully on
technicalities. Such is the nature of capital
When a citizen’s life is on the line, “close enough” is not
The direct problem here is the lack of response to calls to
serve on a jury. The percentage of those
who responded to Telfair County’s subpoena in the winter of 2015 isn’t
unusual. Court clerks across the state
are finding it more and more difficult to fill panels.
True, the per diem paid to jurors in most counties is meager,
and in some cities jurors must even pay out of pocket to park. Compared to days or even weeks of missing
work, many face a true financial hardship for this required appearance.
Our duties as a citizen do, and should, require occasional
sacrifice. If we are to be a nation that
is self-governed, then active participation is required. The notion that “I’m busy, other people can
handle it” is an open dereliction of civic duty with direct consequences.
In the case of the Runions, it’s a four-year delay in
justice that will likely be decades more in the making. That’s four additional years of them having
to relive tragic events via motions, verdicts, and headlines.
In other cases, it could mean dismissals of those who should
be found guilty, or convictions of those who had a jury that didn’t fully
explore the evidence submitted at trial that pointed to acquittal. Jury service requires a solemn duty if our
justice system is to work for both the accused and for the victims.
Yes, jury duty is often inconvenient. When calling upon all of the powers of the
state to be used upon the future rights of a citizen, both the accused and the
victims are owed our inconvenience.