Chattooga County jury to get Carlton Vines case today

Carlton Vines

A mistrial was declared late Thursday in the voter fraud trial of suspended Chattooga County Judge Carlton Vines after the jury could not reach a unanimous decision.

Jurors deliberated for more than four hours before deciding at approximately 4 p.m. no more progress could be made.

Vines was charged with unlawful possession of ballots, conspiracy to commit election fraud and making false statements in connection with filing notice of candidacy.

The charges stem from a close race for State Court judge that Vines won in 2006.

The jury first reported to the court it was deadlocked at around 2:30 p.m. At that time, Judge G. Carey Nelson instructed jurors about considering all opinions and the desirability of a verdict.

“We are a part of the country that’s pretty hard­-headed,” defense attorney Bobby Lee Cook said. “If it’s deadlocked, it’s deadlocked, but I’ll leave that up to the court.”

Nelson chose to give the jury more time to reach a decision.

Two hours later it was official, and Nelson declared a mistrial.

“I’m extremely reluctant to (declare a mistrial), but this case has got to be resolved,” Nelson said. “The progress is not progress toward unanimity.”

Prosecutors said they plan to retry the case as early as May but would not comment on Thursday’s proceedings.

Cook said his team is ready for the next trial. Vines declined to comment.

The jurors react

Jurors reported the results of three votes. The first was 10-2; the second was 6-4 with two undecided; and the third was 7-3 with two undecided.

Jury forewoman Rachel Edge said the jury was leaning toward a guilty vote, but a couple of jurors would not be budged.

“(The holdout jurors) felt (Vines) was set up — they wouldn’t say guilty because they thought he was set up,” said juror Lisa Kirk.

Kirk said the defense’s arguments, especially the mention of an allegedly stolen voter registration card, convinced the holdout jurors not to convict Vines.

“If you’ve got principles — you’ve got to stand on them,” juror Jimmy Bennett said. It was difficult to reconcile differences in the testimony of the GBI and Secretary of State’s office investigators, Bennett said.

The jury sent out a number of questions during deliberations, mostly about election law, and the judge re-read the explanation of the law as given in the jury charge.

Jurors later said a copy of the law concerning Vines’ charges would have been helpful in reaching a decision.

“It would have definitely probably helped us come to a verdict if we would have had the law in front of us,” Edge said.

“The law is a little gray, and (not being able to see the law) didn’t clear anything up with us,” Bennett said.

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