Published on: Wednesday, January 12, 2022

An Ohio death-row inmate is entitled to a hearing to explore whether the foreperson at his trial, who worked as a local child-abuse investigator, was biased, the Sixth Circuit said (article available here).

Well after the trial, at which Jeronique Cunningham was convicted, the jury’s foreperson, Nichole Mikesell, told a private investigator that she’d seen Cunningham’s file at work and that he was an evil person with no redeeming qualities. Mikesell also told the investigator that some of her coworkers knew Cunningham and were afraid of him. But during voir dire she said she could be unbiased.

The state courts denied Cunningham’s request for a hearing to explore Mikesell’s comments, and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio denied his habeas corpus petition. Cunningham is entitled to a hearing to show if Mikesell had private communications with her coworkers during the trial, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on Monday.

Another juror said that as foreperson, Mikesell pressured her into voting to convict Cunningham by repeatedly referring to her work and dealing with victims’ families, and saying the families deserved a guilty verdict. But Cunningham was denied state relief to explore the possible juror bias.

The case is Cunningham v. Shoop, No. 11-3005 (6th Cir. Jan. 10, 2022).