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VOL. 37 | NO. 5 | Friday, February 01, 2013

Nashville DA says grand jury foreman was felon

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Nashville's top prosecutor said Thursday he is expecting a flood of appeals after it was discovered that a 2011 grand jury foreman was a felon and ineligible for jury service under state law.

The Tennessee grand jury led by Eugene Grayer returned 967 indictments during its three-month term.

Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson said at a Thursday news conference that about 800 of those cases have been resolved, mostly on guilty pleas. About 90 cases still are pending.

Since the discovery of Grayer's 35-year-old conviction arising from a theft scheme was made two weeks ago, Johnson said prosecutors have been working to repair the pending cases - either by getting new indictments from the current grand jury or issuing a criminal information, which bypasses the grand jury process but requires the consent of the defendant.

Of the 700-or-so other cases, Johnson said, "The worst-case scenario would b e that all the cases and defendants are sent back to court and their cases are redone. ...In the best-case scenario, that would only happen in cases where the defendant could show he was somehow prejudiced by the fact that Mr. Grayer was on the grand jury, something I think would be exceedingly difficult."

Johnson said that there is no precedent in Tennessee for this scenario, and it will ultimately be up to the state appeals courts to decide whether Grayer's conviction invalidates the indictments.

But he said that in the past when errors have been committed that affect many cases, there has not been a mass of retrials.

All trial court jurors and grand jurors are screened for eligibility with the exception of the grand jury foreman, Johnson said. Unlike other jurors, who are selected randomly from eligible members of the public and compelled to serve, grand jury foremen are appointed by criminal court judges and can chose whether to serve.

Grayer was a ppointed by Judge Monte Watkins, who declined to comment on the situation.

Johnson said he did not know whether the judge asked Grayer if he was a felon. The prosecutor said Watkins was "very surprised" when he was told about it by the district attorney's office.

According to court records, Grayer was convicted in 1978 of a charge called "attempt to commit a felony" for his role in a scheme to steal items shipped by UPS, which was his employer. Grayer was sentenced to five years of probation.

In 2010, Grayer applied for a handgun permit. On his application, he checked a box affirming that he had never been convicted of "a criminal offense punishable for a term exceeding one (1) year." The state Department of Safety denied the application, citing Grayer's conviction, and sent a copy of the denial to the district attorney's office as a matter of routine.

Johnson said on Thursday that a clerk who was filing new handgun permit denials came across Grayer's name two weeks ago and remembered him from his time on the grand jury. That clerk alerted prosecutors.

A call to the phone number listed on Grayer's handgun carry permit application rang unanswered, as did a call to a number listed for him in a directory.

In the summer 2011 grand jury report written at the end of its three-month term, Grayer's fellow jurors praised him. They wrote that Grayer's "detailed questions to presenters, attention to detail of documents, outstanding guidance to his fellow Jurors, his insight of the operations and policies of Law enforcement and criminal justice systems was outstanding."