2 D.C. murder convictions overturned

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Local,DC,Freeman Klopott
The District's highest court has overturned two murder convictions because of errors made by two D.C. judges.

Deandre Hobbs was found guilty of killing 19-year-old Aaron Teeter with a gunshot to the head

in April 2007. Dontrace Blaine was convicted of taking part in a December 2006 gunbattle that left a bystander dead.

But the D.C. Court of Appeals has ruled that both will get new trials.

In Hobbs' case, the D.C. Superior Court judge replaced a juror with an alternate shortly before deliberations began. The appeals court ruled it did not have "confidence that the outcome would have been the same" had the original juror remained. The trial judge in Blaine's case read the jury instructions that tipped the scales toward the prosecutors, the appeals court said.

Just before Hobbs' trial started on Sept. 17, 2008, "Juror 180" informed Judge Robert Richter that she had to take medicine at lunch that made her sleepy, court documents said. When Richter questioned her further about her ability to decide on the case, the juror said she had concerns about "how truthful" police officers are.

Prosecutors immediately asked Richter to remove the juror, but Richter allowed her stay. Four days later, and after the evidence had been presented, Richter decided to remove the juror "out of an abundance of caution," documents said. Despite the victory, the prosecutor told Richter, "I just feel like we're either guaranteeing, or creating a significant chance of ... a verdict that does not reflect the accurate deliberations of the jury," documents said. Later, the appeals court agreed and sent Hobbs' first-degree murder charge back to Superior Court for trial.

The jury in Blaine's second-degree murder trial was deliberating for four days when it sent a note to Judge Geoffrey Alprin asking him to better describe "reasonable doubt" from the jury instructions. Over objections from Blaine's attorneys, Alprin read a third definition of reasonable doubt to the jury. The jury convicted Blaine two hours later.

By making the addition, "there is a reasonable likelihood that the jury came to an understanding that impermissibly lowered the burden of proof," the court of appeals wrote. Adding, it was likely the jurors were left with the "impression that the trial judge was restating the instruction in the government's favor."

fklopott@washingtonexaminer.com

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