published Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Jurors: Police probe blamed for hung jury in slaying trial

Prosecutors believe a woman who sat on a jury for a Chattooga County, Ga., man's murder trial last week knew the accused killer and could have influenced the hung jury.

But several jurors and the defense attorney for William Bob Packer said the jury was unable to decide whether Packer acted in self-defense or purposefully killed James "Pee Wee" Kirby in 2010 because police botched the investigation.

The weeklong trial for Packer, accused of shooting his neighbor and friend, ended Friday in a mistrial after jurors agreed unanimously to drop a felony murder charge. But jurors were split on the malice murder and aggravated assault charges, with eight "not guilty" to four "guilty" votes.

Chris Arnt, Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit assistant district attorney, said he discovered after the trial that one female juror didn't mention in questioning that she knew the defendant and discussed matters that weren't presented during the trial with other jurors.

But several jurors said that wasn't true. They said they were conflicted because of the lack of evidence and wondered why lead investigator Kandy Dodd didn't testify at trial.

"Whoever did the investigation did a crappy job," said Jeff Edge, a juror who voted not guilty.

Arnt declined to comment on why he didn't call Dodd to testify.

No phone records were presented and no toxicology report for what was in either Packer's or Kirby's systems was shown to the jury, he said.

Packer told the jury he acted in self-defense after the two men argued and fought on Oct. 6, 2010, over whether Kirby stole $100 from Packer. After the fight, Packer's attorney, Arnold Palmour, said, Kirby came back to Packer's home in Summerville, Ga., and pulled out a knife. But prosecutors argued that Packer planted the knife and the wounds on his arms were self-inflicted.

Palmour said there is no way to prove what happened because the Chattooga County Sheriff's Office didn't take photos of Kirby's body or document what happened before they moved him. They also lost evidence, Palmour said. And in court, one investigator admitted he kicked a knife out of Kirby's hand.

The knife could have proven that Packer was acting in self-defense when he shot the other man in the chest, Palmour said.

Dodd defended her investigation. She said on Tuesday that officers moved Kirby's body when they did CPR. But when asked about the knife and what happened to it, she did not answer.

Vicki Moss, a juror who voted not guilty, said no one on the jury panel talked about anything that wasn't in trial and no one acted as if he or she knew Packer. Instead, she said most people seemed confused by conflicting testimony from the sheriff's office.

"There was so much that didn't make sense," she said.

Dodd faces a federal lawsuit in a separate case on allegations that she copied a search warrant by faking a judge's handwriting to search a pawnshop owner's home and seize property.

Meanwhile, Arnt said he hasn't decided whether to retry Packer's case, but will be reviewing the transcript.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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