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Death Sentence of 'Big Evil' Gang Leader Tossed by Cal. Sup. Ct.

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on December 06, 2011 5:47 AM

The California Supreme Court has unanimously overturned the murder conviction and death sentence of Cleamon "Big Evil" Johnson, a notorious Los Angeles gang leader. He led the 89 Family Bloods in the 1980's and early 1990's until he was convicted of murdering two rival gang members in 1997.

Big Evil appealed that conviction, arguing that the trial judge had improperly dismissed Juror No. 11 during deliberations. The Cal. Supreme Court agreed, finding that the judge abused his discretion. There was no evidence that the juror had prejudged the case or relied on outside evidence.

Just after deliberations began, two other jurors accused Juror No. 11 of the following:

  • Saying that, while he was currently undecided, he felt that "when the prosecution rested, she didn't have a case."
  • Claiming that a witness was lying because "Hispanics never cheat on timecards."

After interviewing the entire jury, the trial judge dismissed Juror No. 11, replacing him with an alternate. That jury then convicted and sentenced Big Evil to death.

But judges can only dismiss jurors for good cause. Here, the court says that Juror No. 11 did not act improperly. Jurors may have a "preliminary view that a party's case is weak" so long as they are open to further consideration. It's also okay to use one's "life experience" when interpreting the facts.

It may seem silly to appeal a conviction on these grounds. After all, Juror No. 11 was replaced with an alternate who had sat through the entire trial. But as the court explains, removing a juror can upset "the delicate balance of deliberations." And without concrete evidence of misconduct, it can also leave one questioning the validity of the final verdict.

If Juror No. 11 didn't engage in misconduct, why did the other Big Evil jurors complain? Was it because they were trying to get rid of the lone dissenter? Or did they sincerely believe that he had done something wrong?

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