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Juror's tweets get death row inmate new trial

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday tossed out a death row inmate's murder conviction and said he deserves a new trial because one juror slept and another tweeted during court proceedings.

Erickson Dimas-Martinez's attorneys had appealed his 2010 conviction for the death of 17-year-old Derrick Jefferson after a robbery, according to CBS affiliate KFSM in Fort Smith, Ark. Dimas-Martinez received the death penalty for the murder of Jefferson, and life in prison for aggravated robbery. During the time, the defense claimed Dimas-Martinez was mentally handicapped during the crime, but the jury voted unanimously that he did not have a learning disability and was responsible for the crime.

However, Dimas-Martinez's attorneys claimed that one juror sent tweets despite the judge's instruction not to post on the Internet or communicate with anyone about the case. The lawyers also complained that another juror slept.

In one tweet, juror Randy Franco wrote: "Choices to be made. Hearts to be broken...We each define the great line." Less than an hour before the jury announced its verdict, he tweeted: "It's over."

Other tweets by Franco made passing references to the trial, with posts such as, "the coffee sucks here" and "Court. Day 5. Here we go again."

The court said Franco, known as Juror 2 in court documents, violated general instructions to not discuss the case.

"Because of the very nature of Twitter as an ... online social media site, Juror 2's tweets about the trial were very much public discussions. Even if such discussions were one-sided, it is in no way appropriate for a juror to state musings, thoughts, or other information about a case in such a public fashion," Associate Justice Donald Corbin wrote.

An assistant attorney general had argued before Arkansas' highest court that the tweets were merely about the juror's feelings and not about specifics of the trial.

Courts in Arkansas and around the country are grappling with problems caused by jurors using Twitter, Facebook or other online services during trials. In 2009, a Washington County judge dismissed an attempt to overturn a $12.6 million judgment against a building materials company, despite the firm's complaint that a juror's Twitter posts showed bias.

In the Arkansas case, the justices said, Franco had been given specific notice that tweeting was taboo.

"More troubling is the fact that after being questioned about whether he had tweeted during the trial, Juror 2 continued to tweet during the trial," Corbin wrote.

The justices sent the case back to a lower court for a new trial.