A Hall County man who said he didn’t understand the big deal about skipping out on jury duty was given a tough lesson in civic responsibilities Tuesday.
Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal made Dustin Reece sit in a holding cell for an hour and a half Tuesday — the same amount of time Reece made his fellow jurors wait last week for a rape trial to start.
Deal also sentenced Reece to five days in jail but suspended the sentence on the condition Reece perform 40 hours of community service and write letters of apology to the jurors and attorneys in the case.
On March 8, Reece was selected to serve as a juror in the trial of Chris Richard Gravitt, but the following morning, when the trial was scheduled to begin with opening statements, Reece called in to the clerk of court’s office to say he was sick.
Court officials were immediately suspicious because Reece had earlier expressed a desire to get out of jury duty, according to Assistant District Attorney Wanda Vance.
A clerk of courts employee told the judge it sounded as if Reece was making the call from a car.
Officials eventually tracked Reece down to his job at a local heating and air conditioning business, where he had reported to work. He was summoned to court to answer in front of the judge but denied some of the things he earlier told clerk of courts employees, and told the judge he “didn’t see what the big deal” was.
According to Georgia law, a juror who neglects to attend jury duty can be sentenced in contempt of court by the presiding judge.
During a rare juror contempt hearing Tuesday, with Gravitt’s trial over, Deal told Reece why his service on the jury was “serious business.”
“Mr. Gravitt was on trial for his life,” Deal said. “That was the big deal. Of all the people who were interested in your showing up for jury duty, he had the most interest. It was especially high-stakes in Mr. Gravitt’s case.”
Prosecutors were seeking to have Gravitt sentenced as a recidivist if convicted of rape, which would have meant an automatic life sentence. With an alternate juror substituting for Reece on the panel, Gravitt was acquitted of the rape charge after eight hours of deliberations. He was convicted of false imprisonment and sentenced to 10 years.
Reece apologized to Deal Tuesday.
“I just want to say I’m sorry I wasn’t honest with you,” Reece told the judge. “I am a U.S. citizen trying to pay my bills. Any time I am called for jury duty again, I will be here.”