Jurors deliberated about five hours Friday without reaching a verdict in the murder trial of ex-DeKalb County Police Officer Robert “Chip” Olsen.
The 7-woman, 5-man panel will resume deliberations on Monday. The jurors must decide whether Olsen had a reasonable fear for his safety when he fatally shot Afghanistan War veteran Anthony Hill, 26, on March 9, 2015.
Hill, who had stopped taking medication for his mental illness, stripped naked outside his Chamblee apartment complex. Olsen arrived at the scene around 1 p.m., responding to three 911 calls from the manager of the complex.
Jurors had some questions before they broke for the day. They returned to the courtroom to watch cellphone videos taken by onlookers at the scene before and after the shooting.
The six-count indictment against Olsen, 57, includes two charges of felony murder. If convicted of either count the former cop faces a sentence of life in prison.
Before deliberations began, defense attorney Don Samuel accused prosecutor Lance Cross of engaging in “race-baiting” during his closing arguments on Thursday. Samuel asked Superior Court Judge LaTisha Dear Jackson to address it when she gave the jury her instructions.
During his passionate closing, Cross told jurors that they should talk about whether this incident would have happened in any other community.
“You put this in an affluent suburb, does it happen?” Cross asked. “I know this is the South and we’re supposed to be polite and there are things sometimes we don’t talk about in mixed company, right? Back in that room y’all need to talk about all this.”
Cross continued, “Because if your answer is, ‘No, it wouldn’t have happened. That’s somewhere else. Maybe at the Heights at Chamblee (apartments), but maybe not up in an affluent suburb.’ That tells you this is what: This is unreasonable. Because justice is the same everywhere. No matter where you live, no matter who you are.”
Cross was out of line when he said that, Samuel said.
“It’s race-baiting,” the defense attorney said. “It really was. An affluent suburb is another way of saying had he been white it wouldn’t have happened. That’s really what that message was and it was inappropriate.”
In response, Cross denied the accusation. “What I was talking about was strictly socioeconomic,” he said. “I don’t equate the affluent suburbs only with white people.”
Dear Jackson declined to address the matter to the jury, even though she indicated she didn’t necessarily approve of Cross’s statements. But the defense failed to object to them at the time, she noted.
“I think there were some times where an objection would have been warranted and possibly sustained,” the judge said.
As the jury deliberated, Dear Jackson made time to mete out some punishment.
Decatur lawyer and social activist Gerald Griggs appeared for a contempt of court hearing. During the first week of the trial, he sat in the courtroom, took a photo of the proceedings and posted it on social media. A sign outside the courtroom door says no one can take photos or videos of the proceedings without a signed order from the judge.
Standing before Dear Jackson, Griggs said he did not see the posted notice when he took the first photo and stopped taking pictures after he did notice it.
“When this was brought to me, it was very disappointing,” Dear Jackson told Griggs.
She then fined him $200 and told him to pay it by close of business on Tuesday.
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