BOULDER, Colo. — The 2019 triple-murder conviction of a Boulder man was tossed out due to misconduct by two jurors, according to a court ruling issued this week.
Garret Coughlin was found guilty of three counts of first-degree felony murder and guilty of one count of aggravated robbery on June 17, 2019. He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences, without the possibility of parole, on the three first-degree felony murder convictions and to 10 years for aggravated robbery.
The charges stemmed from the killing of three friends: Wallace White, Kelly Sloat-White and Emory Fraker, at the Whites' home in the foothills near Boulder in 2017. Prosecutors accused of him of killing them because he wanted to steal money and marijuana to feed his drug addiction.
"On April 13, 2017, Wallace White, Kelly Sloat-White, and Emory Fraker were murdered in cold blood at the Whites’ home in Coal Creek Canyon. The trial jury worked hard to reach the right verdict and hold this defendant responsible for ending their lives," said Boulder DA Michael Dougherty in a statement.
"My heart goes out to the victims’ families who, just days after the anniversary of these tragic murders, learned that the trial court was vacating the conviction due to juror misconduct."
Ten days after his conviction last summer, Coughlin filed a motion for a new trial based on allegations of juror misconduct.
The alleged juror misconduct was initiated on May 30, 2019, during the initial jury selection process when the panel of potential jurors completed a written questionnaire, according to court documents.
Question 10 asked: “Have you, a family member or close friend ever been charged with or convicted of a crime other than a minor traffic offense? Who? When? What type of crime?”
Jurors identified in documents as "M.A." and "R.H." each answered “no” and both were selected to serve as part of the jury of 12, plus four alternates, according to the ruling.
It is "undisputed" that M.A. and R.H.’s responses to Question 10 were not truthful, according to the court documents.
One of the jurors has three children, all of whom had criminal convictions, the court ruling says. The other juror and her husband were both arrested in Iowa in 1994 on child abuse charges related to injuries their 3-month-old child sustained, the documents show. The woman's husband spent three years in prison there related to the abuse charges, according to the ruling.
Defense attorneys asserted the misrepresentations by the two jurors were "deliberate and dishonest" and therefore entitled Coughlin to a new trial.
In their response, prosecutors argued that M.A.’s non-disclosure was "inadvertent" and did not impact her ability to be fair and impartial. They conceded that R.H.’s non-disclosure was "intentional," but said it did not effect the fairness of the trial, the court ruling says.
Prosecutors also questioned whether the defense knew about the misconduct prior to the conclusion of the trial. The judge ruled that there was no evidence to conclude the defense had that information prior to then.
The judge ultimately vacated Coughlin's conviction due to the misconduct.
"The court decided that the non-disclosures by the juror were intentional and rendered the trial unfair and prejudicial to the defendant. Our office is currently exploring all of our options," said Dougherty. "The District Attorney’s Office will continue to fight for these three victims, their loved ones and the community – all of which were tragically impacted, based on the trial jury’s verdict, by the decisions the defendant made in April of 2017.”
The 2004 conviction of Michael Blagg for the death of his wife was also overturned due to juror misconduct. He was granted a new trial after the defense discovered one of the original jurors lied about being a victim of domestic violence.
He was tried again in 2018 and convicted of killing his wife Jennifer for a second time.
Mesa County prosecutors convinced the jury that Michael Blagg murdered his wife, wrapped her body in a tent and tossed it into a dumpster at his office on November 13, 2001 — three days before their 10th wedding anniversary.
The defense had argued that someone else — possibly a child predator — killed Jennifer Blagg and took the couple’s 6-year-old daughter, Abby Blagg, who has never been found.
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