CLEVELAND — The jury was out in the murder trial of Jonathan Hart on Wednesday. And Thursday. And Friday.
In what is believed to be the longest period of deliberation in a criminal case in White County in many years, jurors were scheduled to return to court at 9 a.m. today to continue pondering Hart’s case. They have spent more than 18 hours in the jury room over three days discussing whether Hart, 22, is guilty or not guilty in the July 2008 shooting death of his estranged wife, White County 911 operator Stephanie Hart.
Neither White County Sheriff Neal Walden, District Attorney Stan Gunter nor veteran defense attorney Charlie Brown have seen a jury take longer on a murder case.
The typical deliberation time for area juries deciding murder cases is about two to four hours.
Despite the unusual amount of time taken by Hart’s jury, its members have yet to tell Superior Court Judge Lynn Alderman that they are deadlocked. The judge could declare a mistrial if she found the jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision.
Alderman received a note midday Friday from the jury foreman requesting that another juror be replaced with an alternate. The note did not specify the reason for the request.
Alderman closed the courtroom to the public to question the foreman about the request. Juror deliberations resumed a few minutes later with no one being removed from the original panel of 12.
Gunter said he could not comment on what the foreman told the judge.
If an alternate juror did step in, the jury would have to start deliberations all over.
At 5 p.m. Friday, jurors indicated in a note that they wanted to keep deliberating until 8 p.m. and requested pizza for dinner. The note also indicated that if a verdict wasn’t reached by Friday night, jurors were prepared to come back to court Saturday morning.
Hart was arrested in Monroe, La., after he fled the state following his wife’s death, White County Sheriff’s officials said. Investigators said they found divorce papers near Stephanie Hart’s body inside her husband’s Cleveland home. The couple was living apart at the time, and Stephanie Hart reportedly went to the home off Ga. 115 to finalize a divorce.
Jonathan Hart took the witness stand in his own defense, saying the shooting was an accident and he meant to threaten suicide with the gun.
More than 90 exhibits of evidence were presented during the two-week trial.