The attorney for Justin Jones, the man convicted in the shooting killing of Hikeem King two years ago, is asking the judge to set aside the verdict and grant a retrial.
Richmond-based attorney Jason Anthony claims juror misconduct took place when Jones was found guilty in January of first-degree murder and use of a firearm in commission of a felony in the March 10, 2019, shooting death of King, 17.
“It’s the most unbelievable situation I’ve ever seen come about,” Anthony said during a hearing on the motion in Danville Circuit Court on Tuesday afternoon.
Anthony claims the juror, Brittany Hightower, was biased in the case because she had a professional relationship with the prosecutor in the Jones case, Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Newman, due to the fact she is to be a witness in a separate murder case and investigators found K-2 in her residence around the time of that crime.
She also testified before a grand jury in that separate murder case in which Guren L. Clemons is accused in the May 25, 2019, shooting death of Caleb Henry Morris. That case is set to go trial May 5.
Hightower’s status in that case and the fact that faced a possible charge created a bias on the jury during Jones’ trial, he claims. Her cellphone had also been seized, Anthony pointed out.
“She asked if she had anything to worry about and she was told that if she told the truth in the murder case [the case separate from that of Jones],” she would not face charges of possession, Anthony told the Danville Register & Bee.
“The commonwealth is exerting a tremendous amount of power over her,” Anthony added during an interview after Tuesday’s hearing.
Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Petra Haskins noted in court that Hightower was never convicted or even charged.
“If we kicked off everybody [off the jury] who’s ever had a search warrant against them, then we would kick out a lot of people,” Haskins said.
During jury selection in the Jones case, potential jurors were asked if they had any type of relationship with or were a client or former client of any of the attorneys in the case.
Hightower did not answer, and only one potential juror did, Haskins said.
Judge Joseph Milam said to Anthony, “You need to show that she was intentionally dishonest.”
Haskins pointed out that in nearly two hours of phone conversations between Hightower and an inmate at the Danville City Jail following the Jones trial, the only mention she made of the case was to say that Newman was looking at her.
Hightower has no relationship of any kind with Newman and did not recognize any of the names of investigators in the Jones case, Haskins said.
Anthony and Haskins are to turn in their memoranda to the judge by March 16. Milam will make a decision after reviewing the material.
"It's the most unbelievable situation I've ever seen come about."