Court allows questions about bawdy chocolate gift in death case

The federal appeals court in Atlanta on Monday directed a federal judge to find out why a juror gave bawdy chocolate "gifts" to a Cobb County judge and a bailiff at the end of a death-penalty case.

"No court that has reviewed this case has been comfortable with these gifts," Judge Charles Wilson wrote for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court issued its order in light of a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in January that halted the execution of Marcus Wellons on claims a juror sent chocolate shaped like a penis to Superior Court Judge Mary Staley and in the shape of female breasts to the bailiff. Wellons was sentenced to die in 1993 for the rape and murder of 15-year-old high school sophomore.

The court told Senior U.S. District Judge Willis Hunt to allow Wellons' lawyers to try and determine what happened and hold a hearing, if necessary, "in view of the extraordinary circumstances of this case, and for the purposes of this case alone."

In February, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed Staley and a number of jurors, including Mary Jo Hooper who gave Staley the anatomical candy. Hooper said there was no attempt to make light of the wrenching case. No chocolate breasts were given to the bailiff, she added.

During the trial, jurors were sequestered in a hotel, and Hooper said she asked a friend who ran a candy shop to send her some handmade chocolates shaped like turtles. The friend included a chocolate penis as a joke. The package was screened by the bailiff, who told Staley about the bawdy gift. Later, the bailiff told Hooper that Staley wanted to see the gift after the trial. When the jurors were preparing to leave, Hooper said, she quickly handed  it to the judge. That, she said, was all that occurred.