LAWRENCEVILLE — Twelve members of a Gwinnett County jury now have the fate of Jason Dozier in their hands — and, thanks to an unusual development, fear in the back of their minds.
Attorneys on both sides of the case against Dozier, the first of seven suspects to be tried in the February 2012 murder of 15-year-old Nick Jackson, delivered their closing statements Monday afternoon, bringing the heart of the six-day trial to a close. Before that, though, Judge Tom Davis made an unsettling announcement.
Davis said following Monday’s lunch break that three different jurors reported seeing an unknown man photographing them as they left the courthouse. The man — described only as a light-skinned black male in an orange T-shirt — then fled down a nearby hill, Davis said.
The judge made the incident known to Assistant District Attorney Mike Morrison and defense attorney Andrew Margolis, who did not raise any objection to the jurors’ continued participation in the case.
Davis said the court had made “sufficient deputies present to escort jurors to their cars” for the remainder of proceedings.
Dozier and most of his six co-defendants have checkered criminal pasts, and, according to evidence presented over the last week, Dozier is well-connected in the drug world. Nick Jackson I, the victim’s father, is a convicted large-scale drug trafficker whose activities allegedly drew the suspects to his Norcross home.
With that specter looming over the jury, Margolis and Morrison delivered their closing arguments.
Dozier is not accused of firing the shot that killed Jackson but the prosecution is alleging he fired several shots during the would-be robbery, reportedly fueled by rumors of at least $1 million cash stashed inside. Dozier has been charged with murder, felony murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and weapons charges.
Experts testified during the course of the trial tying at least three shell casings to a Kel-Tec .380 handgun. Others testified that Dozier’s DNA and thumprint were both on that gun. A recorded jailhouse phone call between Dozier and his father have the defendant admitting he “did some shooting.”
At issue is the controversial testimony of Timothy Johnson, a co-defendant in the case who pleaded guilty last week in exchange for his testimony against the other alleged members of the robbing crew.
Margolis warned jurors against believing his testimony, which connected dots and filled holes left by the state’s evidence. He maintained that Johnson would say anything to get the reduced 15-year sentence offered by the prosecution.
“Forget a grain of salt,” Margolis said during his 40-minute closing. “I urge you to take Tim Johnson’s testimony with a ton of salt, and realize that he did what he had to do to save himself.”
Morrison didn’t dance around the history of the key witness, who is the step-brother of the man — not charged in the case — who proposed hitting the Jackson house. The prosecutor reiterated that Johnson volunteered his confession prior to being offered a deal.
“Timothy Johnson would put a bullet in the back of someone’s head just as soon as Jason Dozier would,” Morrison said. “However, the facts in this case corroborate what Timothy Johnson said.”
Johnson, the alleged driver, was not in the house when Jackson was killed. He said that Dozier confessed to firing shots alongside co-conspirator Anthony Lumpkin.
All seven men have been charged with various counts of murder and felony murder as parties to the crime.
Margolis maintained that there was no proof that Dozier actually fired a weapon inside the Jackson home, and that he certainly did not kill the teenager.
A fiery Morrison rebutted in his own closing argument.
“I submit to you it’s not for lack of trying,” he said. “Three shots. So he gets off because he’s a bad shot?”
The jury was charged just before 5 p.m. Monday. It was unclear if it would begin deliberating or wait until Tuesday morning.