October 16, 2012
Jurors sitting in the courtroom of the Albemarle County Circuit Court heard one day of testimony in the murder trial of 24-year-old Joseph Harris. But on the second day of the trial, the judge told everyone to go home. The trial, delayed for more than a month.
"It's not unheard of, but it's very, very unusual to have a delay this long after a jury has already been seated and already heard opening statements for attorneys," said Scott Goodman, a Charlottesville lawyer.
The reason for the delay boils down to a dispute over evidence. Harris is facing murder charges in the death of Anthony Lorenzo Johnson, who was found dead near Darden Towe Park six years ago. The Commonwealth's Attorney, Elliott Casey, plans to use a taped conversation between a prison informant and Harris as evidence.
The judge agreed to allow the tape entered as evidence in the trial, back stepping a previous decision to bar it. The defense team, led by Andre Hakes, was caught off guard, and asked for more time to prepare. In the meantime, Johnson's family is left waiting for closure.
"To come to court, anticipating a resolution and then finding out there is going to be a month delay is very difficult for the family," said Goodman. "I know the Commonwealth's lawyers met with the family to try to console them and explain to them that they are doing the best they can."
The delay is also tough on jurors, who must go about their business for the next month before hearing the rest of the case. The judge also ordering them to avoid reading articles or watching news segments related to the case. "They have a good idea of what the case is about, they are just not supposed to think about it for a month, which is difficult," said Goodman.
Harris is already behind bars, serving a 14-year sentence on drug charges. He is facing two life sentences for Harris' murder. The murder trial is scheduled to pick back up on November 26.