Ashley Parnell’s blood boils and her tears flow when she talks about how one juror’s vote prevented her and 10 others jurors from holding a former George County jail nurse accountable for the death of insulin-dependent jail detainee.
“I feel like I failed this family,” Parnell said Wednesday when discussing how the lone holdout caused a mistrial in the case. “We let a lady go that should really be in jail and it’s all because we had one juror that would not follow the laws. She just kept saying she had made her mind up and there was nothing we could to do to change it.”
Parnell later left a message on the Facebook page, “True Justice for Joel,” to let the family know the majority vote was for a conviction.
“I thought about it a lot,” she said. “I mean I really did but this family hurts and I really felt like we failed them as our duty to put this lady away... I know they don’t have as much peace in their heart as they want to because this lady is still walking on the street, but I feel like I can give them a little peace knowing that 11 of us really felt like this woman should go to prison.
Parnell and two jurors sat down with the Sun Herald this week to talk about deliberations in the manslaughter trial of Carmon Brannan, the former nurse accused of causing the Sept. 24, 2014, death of inmate William Joel Dixon.
Dixon died after he spent seven days in the jail without the daily insulin he needed, even though his insulin was at the jail.
Brannan was one of two jail nurses at the time and the only registered nurse. She was ultimately in charge of treating inmates and deciding whether to send them to a doctor or hospital for treatment.
On Monday, a judge declared a mistrial after the jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of a conviction. Under state law, once deliberations begin a judge cannot replace a juror with an alternate.
The three jurors Parnell told the Sun Herald that the lone holdout seemed to have made her mind up to acquit Brannan before the trial ended.
Brannan maintains her innocence.
Prosecutors say Brannan ignored repeated requests to help Dixon because she felt like he was going through drug withdrawals from a methamphetamine addiction. Among those who testified at the trial were jailers who said Dixon was unconscious on the floor of his cell the morning of his death.
During deliberations, the juror who favored acquittal kept saying “guards lie” because they had lied about someone she knew, said jurors Parnell, Adrienne Smith and Lillian Browne.
“This juror made comments days before the day of deliberation that had clued me in to the fact that she was going to be the one who gave us trouble,” Smith said. “There was one specific day where the defendant actually testified and the defendant the whole time... looked at this juror in the eye.”
In the jury room after Brannan testified, Smith said, that juror “made a comment that she heard all she needed to hear, that guards lie. ‘They don’t tell the truth and I can’t convict somebody when the guards could have done something too.’”
Before deliberations began, the judge instructed jurors to consider several factors, including whether Brannan’s behavior amounted to “inaction, maltreatment or negligence.”
Each of them said the most damning evidence was a jail video that showed Brannan’s last check on Dixon the morning of his death.
The video shows her peaking through the jail cell window for less than one second, though Dixon was already dead on the floor.
Brannan claimed Dixon was “sitting up” that morning.
“It was very hectic,” Smith said of the jury deliberations. “We all tried to come together because we know two families are hurting in this situation. It’s not just one family. It’s two. We all took that into consideration and tried to look at all the evidence. One person would not compromise in any shape or form with us. My conscious is clear. I feel like I stood up for justice.”
The holdout juror sent the Sun Herald an unsolicited email to explain her decision.
“This is the lone not guilty verdict,” she wrote. “For yours and everyone else’s information, most of the jurors that voted guilty never even looked at the evidence in the jury room. I read most of it twice.
“I have a right to my verdict. That is why they have 12 jurors. To make it fair. There is no way for Ms. Brannan to get a fair trial in George County. Some of the jurors that knew Joel Dixon and his family had their mind made up by day two.
“I did finally stop talking to everyone about hour four. I had been told I was uneducated, coldhearted and cussed like a dog. That is the true story. I am a fair and impartial person.
“I listened to every piece of evidence, which by the way was incorrect on a lot of things. I came to my verdict. It’s my right to do that.”
Two times, the judge sent the jury back into deliberations after they sent notes saying they could not reach a unanimous verdict.
“She was not going to compromise,” Parnell said.
All three said the hardest thing they had to do was leave the courthouse that day knowing justice had not been served.
“On the way home, I was crying,” Browne said. “That’s all I could think of.”
She spent the drive praying the case would make it to trial again.
“Lord, Lord, please let this move forward,” Browne said. “Don’t let us be the last word because 11 of us felt she was guilty.”
District Attorney Tony Lawrence plans to retry the case.
Defense attorneys Jim Dukes and Bud Holmes point to testimony that Dixon suffered from other health problems, including pancreatitis, took painkillers for a previous back injury, and didn’t go to his doctor for diabetes for a year.
Despite the defense arguments, prosecutors said Dixon had no drugs in his system at the time of his death and the cause of death was due to complications from diabetes.
Brannan, however, repeatedly told jail officials Dixon was “faking” his illness.
At the time of his death, Dixon was in jail on two charges of child endangerment, and one charge each of possession of a controlled substance, DUI other; driving with an expired tag and driving without insurance.