(Photo: Shutterstock)

 

When 71 oxycodone pills went missing at the end of a drug-possession trial in the Franklin County courthouse in Ohio, a defense lawyer pointed his finger at the jury.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that attorney John David Moore Jr. said the disappearance of the pills, which were part of the evidence used against his client, taints the verdict. In a statement, Moore claimed that the jury rushed to judge his client guilty “so they could get out of the Franklin County courthouse quickly before it was noticed that the oxycodone pills were missing.”

Prosecutor Ron O’Brien countered that it was premature to blame jurors for the apparent theft, and the missing pills shouldn’t affect the outcome of the case. “Until the sheriff’s office completes its review, there’s no reason to believe anything went awry with the jury,” he said.

A bag and box containing prosecution evidence were placed in the jury room during their deliberations. That evidence included the pills. Jury deliberations took nearly three hours. After the verdict was pronounced, O’Brien said, an assistant prosecutor secured the evidence in a locked courthouse office. The envelope containing the pills was discovered missing the following morning, after the evidence was brought to the prosecutor’s office for a routine inventory.

O’Brien also said the jurors took breaks twice during their deliberations, and the box could have been left unattended during that time. The Franklin County courthouse’s jury rooms are located in back hallways and are equipped with surveillance cameras. Footage from those cameras will be reviewed as part of the investigation.

None of the other evidence in the case, including large amounts of methamphetamine and heroin, was missing, O’Brien said.

The incident has prompted a general review of procedures for securing drug evidence. O’Brien said his office is looking into using clear acrylic boxes that can be locked, in order to provide an extra layer of security between jurors and evidence.

In Columbus, prosecutors and judges in the federal court are more reticent to allow jurors access to any kind of evidence considered contraband. “We try not to have contraband go back there,” said assistant U.S. Attorney David DeVillers, “whether it’s drugs, guns, cash, ammunition, knives or child pornography.”

O’Brien disagrees. “I have found that giving a jury the ability to see and touch and examine the marked exhibits is beneficial to the state and the defense,” he said.

U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. called the news of the missing pills “the kind of thing that gives judges nightmares.” He told the Dispatch that after hearing about the incident, he met with his courtroom deputy to review policies and procedures for securing evidence.

In filing a motion for a new trial, Moore made it clear he wasn’t blaming the prosecutor’s office or the judge. “I’m not making them the bad guys for letting this happen,” he said, “but let’s all be good guys and let this guy go and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”