As the jury remained deadlocked in the trial of Army Master Sgt. Christopher “C.J.” Grisham, rumors and speculation circulated throughout the courthouse as to how many jurors were holding out and what their backgrounds could be.
For Grisham’s supporters, many of whom attended the trial all week, the lack of reliable information Friday was almost as irritating as being locked out of the courtroom.
“After 14 hours of waiting while the jury deliberates, it feels extremely frustrating to see the jury come in and out and to be excluded from the proceedings,” said James Everard, a Grisham supporter.
Judge Neel Richardson closed the courtroom when deliberations began Wednesday afternoon, barring the public and media from observing the proceedings.
Lloyd Brown, a spokesman for the Texas State Bar Association, said Richardson was within his legal rights to close the courtroom.
“Judicial proceedings aren’t covered by the Open Meetings Act,” Brown said. “It is up to the judge’s discretion to allow the media or the public to enter.”
County Attorney Jim Nichols said courtroom procedure is determined by each individual judge and Richardson may have had some concerns about the jury’s ability to hear the gallery, or vice versa.
“The courtroom and the jury room share a common wall,” Nichols said, adding that the decision to lock out the public and the media wasn’t something his office requested.
Blue Rannefeld, Grisham’s defense attorney, said the decision to bar the public and the media from the courtroom during deliberations and the jury’s receipt of supplemental instructions was made unilaterally by Richardson.
Rannefeld also said that because access to a courtroom is at the judge’s discretion, he didn’t feel that it rose to the level of judicial misconduct, but comments Richardson made in both open court and in chambers during the trial did.
“I believe that his comments made it more difficult for the jury to reach a verdict,” Rannefeld said. “I will make sure that this judge will not be on the next trial.”