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Man receives probation for aggravated robbery after strange twist in case

Jasper County District Attorney Steve Hollis says a man who was convicted of aggravated robbery on Wednesday has agreed to a sentence of 10 years of probation, which was brought about because of an incident involving the jury.

30-year-old Michael McLain Lawrence, of Jasper, was found guilty of the November 10th, 2014 crime by the eight woman/six man jury. He had stood accused of being one of two men who held shotguns on Cynthia Johnston outside of a house in Brookeland and demanded narcotic pills.

The other defendant in the case, Lonnie Burns, also 30, had previously entered a guilty plea in exchange for a 12 year sentence, and he had also agreed to testify against Lawrence at trial.

District Judge Delinda Gibbs Walker dismissed court on Wednesday afternoon and the trial was set to resume Thursday morning with the punishment phase. It was a few hours later when the incident occurred.

Hollis said that Lawrence's defense attorney, Kirbyville lawyer Dennis Horn, received a very strange phone call on Wednesday night, which he then disclosed to Hollis and Judge Walker when court resumed Thursday morning.

Hollis said "The defense lawyer, Dennis Horn, got a call last night from one of these juror's husband. It (name or number) didn't show up on caller ID, he wouldn't identify himself, he would only say that he's married to one of those jurors and 'She's so tore up about that verdict, she didn't even agree with it in the first place'. So, she pretty much sat on her hands when they announced the guilty verdict".

Hollis said in this particular trial, neither the prosecution nor the defense requested for the individual jurors to be polled after their verdict was rendered, which is strictly optional.

In layman's terms, very often in a criminal trial a prosecutor or defense attorney will request a poll of the jury and the judge will ask each individual juror in open court if they were in agreement with the decision that the jury foreman presented. By polling the jury, an individual juror can then reveal if he or she didn't actually vote for the unanimous verdict that was presented to the judge, or, they can reveal that they were coerced or even threatened to vote the same as other jurors.

Hollis went on to say "We could have sent them back to deliberate some more with this same juror, but I don't think that would've done a whole lot of good. Or, we could have just done a start from scratch with a new trial, but all these other cases need trying, I don't know if we want to do that".

Hollis then explained how the offer of probation came about. Hollis said "We got the guy to agree to take ten years in the pen and probate that for ten years and I figured, you know, the way this particular juror was, I feel like they were probably going to do something along those lines anyway. I didn't see her agreeing to send this guy off to the penitentiary if she didn't even think he was guilty in the first place".

KJAS News attempted to contact defense attorney Dennis Horn for comment, but there was no answer at the listed number for his office.

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