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'For most of us, it was the text': Jurors in police assault case on what swayed jury to guilty

The seven-day trial ended in a guilty verdict for one and a mistrial for another in assault of a colleague who was working undercover as a protester in 2017
Credit: Trial Evidence

ST. LOUIS — They spread the more than 100 8-by-10 photos across the table — the color versions, and black and white copies.

They watched surveillance videos over and over on a large-screen TV that had already been shown multiple times at trial.

They recreated whether a police asp could damage a cellphone as prosecutors had alleged, and agreed virtually every police officer who testified was unreliable.

And they went over the notes they took for 14 hours as they tried to determine whether two former St. Louis officers participated in the assault of a colleague who was working undercover as a protester in 2017.

After all that, the jury was still deadlocked 6 to 6 as to whether Dustin Boone aided and abetted in the deprivation of Detective Luther Hall’s civil rights. And were split 7 to 5 in favor of a not guilty verdict for Christopher Myers, who had been charged with destroying evidence to impede an investigation by smashing Hall’s cellphone.

In a note to the judge Thursday, jury members said they were hung on both defendants after about 12 hours of deliberations.

A jury in March hung on both of those charges against those officers as well.

In the end, the second jury convicted Boone and the 7 to 5 split on Myers remained even after the judge delivered what’s known as the hammer instruction to the jurors, asking them to try and reach a unanimous decision once more, according to two jurors who spoke to the I-Team on the condition of anonymity fearing any repercussions that could come from anyone upset with their verdict.

“We figured we'd eat lunch and tell the judge again after lunch that we were still deadlocked, however, after going down and seeing how full the court was and that there were court marshals everywhere, I think that really affected many jurors.

“When we got back upstairs and were waiting for our lunch, one juror was quietly in tears. You see, many of these not guilty jurors felt they were both guilty, but they didn't have their smoking gun to ease their conscience in voting guilty. We honestly had a great group of jurors that wanted to get this right.”

It came down to the absence of one word from a text message exchanged between Boone and his father to convict him, "So it sounds like you put a good whooping on him?" Boone’s father asked.

Boone replied: "Yeah, and not one I'm proud of."

“Initially many people had read that as, ‘So it sounds like you GUYS put a good whooping on him’ and had assumed the conversation had meant more of a general meaning of the police force put a good whooping on him, not just Boone,” the juror said. “The one not guilty juror who had been crying when we came up for lunch got very teary-eyed again and said, ‘That changes my vote.’

“She really didn't want to have to convict anyone, but she also wanted to be honest. I felt really bad for her. We discussed that text exchange and then a few others and the not guilty votes changed to guilty.”

Another juror said they were in favor of convicting both officers, saying photos taken at 8:54 p.m. Sept. 17, 2017, by St. Louis American photographer Lawrence Bryant helped sway them into finding Boone guilty from the beginning along with the text messages in which Boone uses the n-word.

“We looked at foot to curb, hip to box, timing, someone else could not have been there and then replaced in less than a minute,” the juror said. “For most of us, it was the text."

Those who were holding out against Myers “wanted photo proof,” that he destroyed the cellphone, the juror said.

One of the jurors agreed to a Q&A with the I-Team:

- Did the jury take an initial vote when you first started deliberations to see where everyone stood and if so, what was the split?

We did take an initial vote. The split for Boone was 6-6 and the split for Myers was 7-5 for not guilty. Everyone said they were leaning in those directions for both and were open to having their opinions changed after discussion and review of the evidence. 

- What was the split when the first note came back at 12:30 p.m. Thursday saying the jury could not reach a unanimous decision on either defendant?

There had been much discussion with a few people going back and forth on their decisions for both. If I remember correctly, the splits were ultimately the same as the first vote. Some people did initially change their votes but ended up back at their original votes. 

The kicker for many of the not guilty votes was their interpretation of reasonable doubt. Many wanted to be 100% completely certain. They wanted the smoking gun so to speak. 

 At the end of Wednesday we were still deadlocked at 6-6 on Boone. Many of the not-guilty jurors felt he was guilty but wanted more. 

- What was the most important piece of evidence and/or testimony you heard that helped you reach your decision?

For me, personally, there wasn't one single piece of evidence or testimony that helped me reach my decision. Any single piece on its own wouldn't have been enough for me to convict. It was the amalgamation of all the evidence and witness testimony together that helped me reach my decision.

- Were you among the jurors who changed their mind to convict Boone? If so, what made you change your mind? If not, what made the holdout or holdouts change their mind?

I had always thought serving on a jury would be an interesting experience. Not fun or entertaining, but interesting. So when I got the letter in the mail for jury duty I was actually somewhat excited. I dreaded the drive and was nervous about it, but I was still very intrigued. I answered the questionnaire I received to the best of my abilities. I don't have any family or friends in law enforcement. I don't have any family or friends who have been assaulted or in prison. I've never had any exceptionally good or bad experiences with police. I've had one traffic ticket. And while I do lean toward the side of thinking the police are too harsh toward minorities, I was very much open to looking at the evidence as objectively as possible. The police have a very difficult job. One that I could never do. I do appreciate them risking their lives every day.

So at the end of the trial, I was leaning toward guilty for both Boone and Myers, but was definitely open to changing my mind once we had a discussion and reviewed the evidence. I was more strongly guilty for Boone than I was for Myers based on the evidence, but ultimately my mind was not swayed. I kept my guilty vote the entire time. 

The holdouts that ended up changing their mind came down to a single text message conversation. We had ordered lunch and were still deadlocked on both so we sent down the note saying so. We knew we would get told to go back and try to come to a decision. We figured we'd eat lunch and tell the judge again after lunch that we were still deadlocked. 

We did discuss being amused when the judge told us to go back and try again, "without violence" (or something to that effect). There was only one instance I can remember where two jurors snapped at each other for talking over one another, but that was it. Even after that, they were friendly to each other. There was no yelling or people accusing others of having ridiculous opinions. Everyone was respectful of everyone else's decisions. Our jury foreperson was fantastic at keeping the conversation on topic and making sure everyone had a chance to speak. 

So, while we were eating, the not guilty people were asking those of us that voted guilty what made us so sure. We said it was all the evidence put together. Not just the pictures or videos, which is what I think they were stuck on. We had included the witness testimony and the text messages and other evidence. When all put together it made sense to us. Much to my surprise, many of the jurors had dismissed the witness testimony saying they were unreliable, as well as the texts saying they were just meant to inflame us. 

So, we went back to the texts. The one that flipped all the not guilty's was the text exchange between Boone and his father…We discussed that text exchange and then a few others and the not guilty votes changed to Guilty. I do wish more jurors would've held the texts and some testimony to a higher weight initially, but that's just my opinion. 

- Were you among the jurors in favor of convicting Myers? Why or why not?

Yes, I was. I was leaning guilty for him from the start, but was more moveable to not guilty for him than I was on Boone. That said, on Thursday, when we began review the evidence for Myers, we had Hall's actual phone to examine and an asp and a riot baton (not the actual ones, but ones submitted into evidence as examples). One of the jurors picked up the phone and asp to demonstrate if the asp could've potentially done the damage. She quietly gasped and said it all fit perfectly. I had to see for myself so I got up and took my turn to examine the phone and asp and was honestly shocked. The size of the middle part of the shattered part of the phone screen fit perfectly with the asp. And to add to that, it fit perfectly with what the prosecution said happened because the way the phone was broken on the edge of the glass demonstrated how it was hit on the edge and flipped. And even more shocking to me was the dent on the back of the phone. It matched up perfectly with the size and shape of the asp. 

Unfortunately, many of the not guilty (jurors) weren't so convinced. The one woman who had been so upset about Boone refused to believe that it was for sure an asp that broke the phone. She, and others, said it could've been anything. Plus they weren't sure when the phone was broken. We reviewed the photos of where Myers was and the video from Hall's phone many times trying to connect it all together. For those of us who said guilty, the photos, video, and the testimony from Sgt. Joseph Marcantano made sense and put the pieces together for us. The not guilty's weren't convinced by Marcantano, saying they felt he was unreliable.

- Did the split on Myers change at all between the two notes saying the jury was deadlocked? In other words, did more deliberations on Myers change the split at all? If so, what did the split become and what were the reasons given by those who changed their minds?

There were a couple people who couldn't make up their minds on Myers. They really wanted to vote Guilty, but they were struggling really hard and couldn't bring themselves to do it. Even though two people switched their votes, one from Not Guilty to Guilty and one from Guilty to Not Guilty, the rest of us were unmoveable.

- Why do you think that hammer instruction changed the jury’s mind on Boone after sending that initial note saying the jury was deadlocked on both?

I honestly don't think it was the hammer instruction that changed the jury's mind. We knew it was coming. I think it was seeing the atmosphere of the courtroom that made the not guilty group feel like they needed to try some more. There was zero pressure from the guilty group. The not guilty group wanted to change their minds because they felt he was guilty, but they wanted to be sure. I think once they opened their minds to the text messages and putting it all together made them change their minds.

- What have you learned about this case since reaching the verdict and what do you think of it?

After I got home, I looked up more about the case. We knew from testimony that this was a re-trial but we didn't know why. I learned that Myers was acquitted of the same charge as Boone on the last case which is surprising. We had discussed being confused as to why Myers wasn't also being charged with aiding and abetting. Had he been for us, he likely would've been convicted. I didn't know about the other officer acquitted and would be curious to know more about his case and which officer he was in the photos/videos. I also learned more about Myers and Boone's text messages that weren't entered into evidence this time and am even more confident now that my vote of guilty for him was correct.

- Were there any witnesses you wish you would have heard from, but didn’t? If so, who and why?

Possibly Officer Randy Hays, but I don't think anyone would've believed him since many jurors didn't really care about most of the witness testimony.

- The prosecution was gravely concerned about an all-white jury presiding over this case. How much did race enter the deliberations and your mind? How big of a factor did you think race was in this case?

For me, personally, it was a part of my decision. It showed Boone's character and state of mind. I think I may have been the only one who felt that way though. Almost everyone else said while they thought what he said in those text messages was abhorrent, it just showed he was a racist, not that he actually committed this crime. And I can see that. If there had been no other evidence, then I couldn't have voted guilty on those texts alone as much as I felt sick by them. But with all the other evidence, those texts did make me lean further toward guilty. That said, even without the racist texts I would've voted guilty.

- What do you want the public to know about this case and the deliberations?

This was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I came home in tears on Wednesday after deliberations. Not because of arguments or hard feelings during deliberations, but because it was all just so much. I cried again on my way home Thursday. It was all too much honestly. Even though I felt they were both guilty, and still feel confident in my decisions, hearing the guilty verdict read in court made me want to throw up. It is a very physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing process, and honestly, even though jury duty was something I had initially wanted to experience, now it is something I never, ever want to do again.

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