The Washington Post

Pr. George’s trial in fatal police chase tossed because of juror’s religious beliefs

Adrian Morris, the Prince George’s County police officer who died Aug. 20, 2012, when his cruiser crashed on the Capital Beltway. (Prince George’s County Police Department)

A Maryland judge declared a mistrial Thursday in the case of a man accused of causing the death of a 23-year-old Prince George’s County officer during a police chase, after a juror declared that she could not participate because of her religious beliefs.

The juror sent a note to the judge about 1 a.m. on the day deliberations were supposed to resume in the trial of Kevon Neal, 24, of Fort Washington. Neal is facing manslaughter and other charges in the death of Officer Adrian Morris, who was killed Aug. 20, 2012, when his cruiser crashed during the chase on Interstate 95 in Beltsville.

The note — which came well after deliberations were underway and after three days of testimony — said that the juror was a Jehovah’s Witness and that her religious beliefs did not allow her to “sit in judgment of another human being,” Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said.

When asked to elaborate, the juror told Circuit Court Judge Michael R. Pearson that “she didn’t have a dog in this fight” and that she wasn’t sure whether there was enough evidence and she didn’t want to be involved, Alsobrooks said. The juror then said she didn’t alert the court sooner because she needed to “do research about her beliefs to discover what her beliefs are.”

Three alternate jurors had been released before deliberations began Wednesday afternoon.

Alsobrooks, who did not identify the juror, said the judge could find her in contempt if he determines that there was a deliberate attempt to be uncooperative. The juror must report for a contempt-of-court hearing Feb. 24, officials with the state’s attorney’s office said.

“I think this was disgraceful on the part of this juror,” Alsobrooks said. “We expended tremendous resources presenting this case.”

Neal is alleged to have been driving a stolen car that Morris and his partner were pursuing when the fatal crash occurred. Morris lost control of his cruiser on Interstate 95 near Powder Mill Road and was thrown from the vehicle.

Morris’s family had attended the trial along with county Police Chief Mark Magaw and other members of the department.

Alsobrooks and Magaw said the case would be retried, although a new date has not been set.

“It’s been a painful three days, not only for the police department but also for Adrian’s family,” Magaw said. But if a retrial “is what we need to do to uphold his memory and honor him, that’s what we’ll do.”

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.

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