After more than 4 1/2 hours of deliberation, a jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict in the trial of a former Huttonsville Correctional Center inmate Thursday in Randolph County Circuit Court.
Justin Eric Marcum, 22, currently an inmate at Mt. Olive Correctional Facility, was on trial for charges stemming from a May 19, 2011 incident in which he allegedly ripped a sprinkler head out of the wall in his cell at the Huttonsville Correctional Center, causing water to spew out of the defaced sprinkler and into his and other prisoners' cells.
While jurors found Marcum guilty of count one in the case -- destruction of property, a misdemeanor -they were split 7-5 over whether he was guilty of count two in the case: an offense committed by an inmate, a felony. Marcum is currently serving a prison term of one to 15 years for burglary breaking and entering.
During opening statements, Marcum's attorney, James Hawkins, conceded that Marcum was guilty of destruction of property, but said he was not guilty of the felony charge.
One of the ways a person may be found guilty of an offense committed by an inmate is if a jury determines he or she "renders any correctional facility or jail less secure as a place of confinement," according to West Virginia Code. The impact of Marcum's actions on the overall security of Huttonsville Correctional Center was at the center of the debate between the prosecution and defense Thursday.
"What this case boils down to is how did that act [Marcum pulling the sprinkler head out of the wall] cause that place [Huttonsville Correctional Center] to be less secure, and what does that really mean?" Hawkins asked. "There was water coming through the hallway, but that's a distraction, that's inconvenient, but that's not making the prison less secure."
However, Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker contended that Marcum's actions did, in fact, make the prison less secure. Parker asked his first witness, John Murphy, associate warden of security of Huttonsville Correctional Center, what dangers might arise from an inmate behaving in the manner Marcum did.
"When something like that happens, inmates tend to feed off negative or bad behavior," Murphy testified. "In this particular case, they were screaming, yelling, kicking the doors of their cells and that creates a domino effect where it could lead to a more dangerous situation." Murphy also testified that the sprinkler system had to be turned off until the defaced head was fixed, eliminating the unit's fire suppression system.
Murphy and Capt. Thomas D. Harlan - a correction officer and the shift commander on duty at the time Marcum defaced the sprinkler head - also said that Marcum's misbehavior forced them to move correction officers from other sections of the prison to assist in subduing Marcum. That redistribution of manpower left a less favorable guards-to-inmates ratio, Harlan and Murphy said.
During his cross-examination of Murphy, Hawkins asked him if Marcum's actions "actually" rendered the facility less secure.
"No officer was injured, no inmate was trying to escape, no weapons were found, is that correct?" Hawkins asked. "It could lead to a more dangerous situation. (Marcum's actions) did not in fact lead to a more dangerous situation on this particular day in question, is that correct?"
"That is correct, sir," Murphy replied.
The jury couldn't settle on an answer to the question of whether Marcum had created a less secure environment. They announced at 9:20 p.m. that they were deadlocked.
Randolph County Circuit Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong told the jury that although they were hung, they had nothing to hang their heads about.
"No position is better than the wrong position," Wilfong remarked. "We know as a jury you took your duty and obligation very seriously and not reaching a verdict is nothing to think badly of."
Despite their failure to reach a verdict Parker said he was appreciative of the jury's diligence in its decision-making.
"I respect the seriousness with which the jury decided this case and appreciate their time in performing their civic duty," the prosecuting attorney said in a written statement. "As Mr. Hawkins indicated during the trial, the code section that was the subject of this trial is fairly vague, and I think that is reflected in the length of the jury's deliberation. Although I was confident in the state's case, I respect the jury's verdict and our jury system that we enjoy in this country."
Hawkins said he is still confident that the defense will win the case, should Parker opt to tackle it again.
"If the state elects to try this case again," he added, "we'll prevail that time."
Contact Katie Kuba by email at email@example.com.