Attorneys for William (Bull) Evans-Smith, the former American University official convicted last month of second-degree murder in the strangling of his wife, demanded a new trial yesterday, claiming a juror had improperly consulted an almanac and thus tainted the jury's verdict.
Juror Christine E. Nelson said in an affidavit filed in Loudoun County Circuit Court that information another juror cited from the almanac during deliberations caused her to "unwillingly surrender" to the 11 other jurors who were convinced that the 65-year-old Evans-Smith had killed his wife of 43 years.
The jury, acting in what prosecutors said was a largely circumstantial case, recommended that Evans-Smith serve five years in prison for strangling his 64-year-old wife Barbara on the morning of April 15 at their rustic farm near the village of Hamilton.
"I never changed my mind, I changed my vote," said Nelson, 27, in an interview at the Merle Norman store she owns in Leesburg. "I basically exploded. I said: 'Take your unanimous vote before I take it away.'"
Nelson said an unnamed juror cited his almanac as indicating that the sun would have been up at a time when Evans-Smith said he used the headlights on his car the morning of his wife's death. That was a critical finding for the jury, she said, as was a statement that the proposed sentence would most likely force the retired Army officer to spend no more than a year behind bars. One juror, Nelson said, predicted that Evans-Smith would be sent to a "white collar prison" more like a resort than a prison.
Defense attorneys Blair D. Howard and David H. Moyes maintained in their pleading yesterday that the guilty verdict should be set aside because the information from the almanac and statements jurors made about how much time Evans-Smith might have to serve were not matters that the jury should have considered.
Commonwealth's Attorney William Burch, who prosecuted the case against the former director of AU's Foreign Area Studies program, said he could not comment on the motion. "The jury returned a unanimous verdict, and the jury was polled," he said.
Jurors said in interviews several days after the verdict was announced that their first vote was 8-to-4 in favor of finding Evans-Smith guilty. But as they sifted through the evidence and the testimony of over 90 witnesses, the vote quickly changed to 11 to 1.
Christine Nelson said yesterday she was the holdout. In her affidavit she said some of the jurors cited testimony stating there was only one set of tire tracks in the driveway of the couple's Crooked Run Farm the morning of the murder.
Evans-Smith testified during the 10-day trial that he drove down his driveway that morning to get his newspaper, drove back up and then back down it again to commute to Washington, or a total of three times. He also said that when he was getting the paper his headlights picked up a supicious van parked down the road.
"General consensus of the 11 jurors seemed to be that Mr. Evans-Smith had walked for the paper and lied about driving his car," Nelson's affidavit states. "When I questioned their scenario, since there was no evidence showing it was light enough to walk when Mr. Evans-Smith went for the paper, the other jury members had no concrete explanation to my question."
Nelson said that the next day an unnamed juror told her he had consulted an almanac to determine if it was light enough to walk for the paper at about 5:20 a.m. on that date and had determined it was.