DOUGLASVILLE, GA -- A Douglas County jury was unable to reach a verdict in the death penalty phase of the Tracen Franklin murder trial. As a result, a judge will sentence 20 year old Tracen Franklin to life in prison. The judge will schedule a sentencing hearing next week. He will decide whether Franklin will have the option of parole.
This came after a juror sent a note to the judge late Friday afternoon saying "the jury is gridlocked. We cannot come to a decision." Judge William McClain questioned the jury foreman about the panel's progress, then dismissed the jury.
The jurors spent about three days deciding whether to send 20-year-old Tracen Franklin to Georgia's death row. The same jury convicted Franklin last week for the murder of 18-year-old Bobby Tillman. Franklin was one of four teens accused of beating Tillman to death during a house party in Douglasville in November 2010.
The jury began deliberating Franklin's sentence late Tuesday. Jurors spent three weeks on the case.
Thursday, jurors asked to view, for the second time, a videotaped interview police conducted with Franklin in the hours after Tillman's death. In it, Franklin initially denied any involvement in Tillman's killing. He eventually conceded that he punched and kicked Tillman during the melee.
Franklin told police that his friend Emanuel Boykins started the fight. Prosecutors said Boykins targeted Tillman at random after getting angry at some girls during a party. Boykins and two other co-defendants have arranged to plead guilty in exchange for sentences of life without parole.
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Friday morning, the jury foreman sent a note to Superior Court Judge William McClain citing "mounting frustration" and said the jury was "unable to come to a unanimous decision." The jury had the option of life without parole, life with the possibility of parole, or death by lethal injection.
In the note, the foreman told McClain that the jury was deadlocked 10-2, but gave no indication which verdicts were being considered.
After reading the note in court, McClain called the jury into the courtroom to read what he called a "modified Allen charge" to the jury. The Allen charge is frequently read to deadlocked juries deciding verdicts; it's an admonishment that the jury has a "duty" to reach a decision.
However, in this case, the jury had to option to not decide; if a death penalty jury cannot decide a sentence, it removes the death penalty as an option. The judge in the case would then decide between a sentence of life with the possibility of parole, or life without parole.
Over the objections of defense attorney Bruce Harvey, McClain told jurors they have an "obligation" to reach a decision "if you can." He said he would return them to the jury room "for a reasonable time" to try to make a decision.
"If you can't, let me know," McClain told the jury.
The jury deliberated for another hour, then took a lunch break. It deliberated again following the 90 minute break. It returned to the courtroom at 5pm Friday, at which time the foreman told McClain it would not be able to reach a sentencing verdict.