Defense attorneys for Brian Gale asked a judge at a hearing Tuesday to grant him a new trial because of the text messages. One message the juror sent to the victim's older brother said: "Dude. We're doing everything we can."
A McIntosh County jury in October convicted Gale, 41, of voluntary manslaughter and depriving a minor. His 15-year-old stepson, Daniel Head, was found dead in March 2010 lying face-down in a swamp near coastal Darien the day after the two went scouting for wild turkeys. Gale testified they got lost and he left his stepson at nightfall to seek help after the boy refused to keep moving.
The Georgia Times-Union reports that juror Michael Sinclair sent messages during the trial to Christopher Head, the victim's brother who had known the juror in high school. He also sent a message to the Head brothers' mother, Susan Bennett, who was married to Gale when her son died. Bennett said the message read: "Hi. How are you? I hope the trial goes well."
Both Bennett and Christopher Head testified as prosecution witnesses at the trial. And the judge instructed jurors not to discuss the case with anyone.
"What you have heard is an outrageous disregard of the instructions you gave Mr. Sinclair," defense attorney Carlton Gibson told the judge Tuesday.
On the witness stand, Sinclair insisted his correspondence with Christopher Head had no influence on the trial's outcome.
"He did not persuade me in any way to bring a guilty verdict," Sinclair said.
Prosecutor Greg McConnell argued the juror's messages don't prove that he ever discussed the case with the witnesses. One of Sinclair's text messages to the victim's brother said he couldn't talk about the trial but would be happy to discuss other things.
"Mr. Gale is entitled to a fair trial, but he's not entitled to a perfect one," McConnell said.
Superior Court Judge Jay Stewart called the text messages "an irregularity" but said he won't rule until he gets a transcript of all the court testimony, which could take weeks.