A Black juror revealed jurors were split mostly along racial lines in the decision not to convict a white former Georgia cop of murder for shooting and killing a Black unarmed veteran suffering from mental illness.
“I don’t know what happened this morning. They probably had some good coffee. I don’t know what happened,” Juror 31 told reporters of the Monday they came to a decision in Robert Olsen’s trial. “But they just came in the room, and I said I’m sticking with what I want, and I’m ready to ride this thing all the way to December if I have to.”
Olsen shot Anthony Hill while responding to a domestic disturbance call about a possibly mentally disturbed individual wandering around naked March 9, 2015, at the Heights at Chamblee apartments in DeKalb County, a suburb of Atlanta, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Olsen, 57, claimed Hill, who was naked at the time, lunged toward him, prompting him to shoot the Air Force veteran.
A jury composed of seven women and five men convicted Olsen Monday of two counts of violation of oath of office, one count each of aggravated assault and making a false statement.
Juror 31 was the only Black man on the jury of five white people and four Black women, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“There was only so much I could do. I was disturbed,” he said. “At some point in time, just hearing him say self-defense and hearing people in my (jury) saying self-defense was … one of the hardest things that any man of color could endure.”
Juror 31, who contended he wanted to convict Olsen on all six charges, said the group struggled to come to an agreement on the two counts of felony murder Olsen was charged with.
“It was very, very difficult. Very, very difficult,” Juror 31 said. “Because we’re dealing with people on one side that says (it was) defense and we’re dealing with people on the other side who said it wasn’t self defense, it was pretty much fighting a brick wall.”
Jurors started deliberations in the case Friday, Oct. 4, and they continued for about 27 hours over six days before coming to what Juror 31 called a compromise for “his camp,” 11 Alive reported.
One Black woman on the jury broke down in tears when she realized there would be no conviction on the felony murder counts, Juror 31 told reporters.
“We had to talk to her and try to get her to understand that, we’re the best that DeKalb County probably is going to find to put on this jury team,” he said.
“I let her know that we can be part of something that could make a change, or we’re not going to be part of something that makes a change,” he said.
Olsen’s sentencing is set for Nov. 1.
He was taken into custody on a $80,000 bond Monday and released the same day, according to jail records from the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office.
He could serve up to 35 years if DeKalb Superior Court Judge LaTisha Dear Jackson gives him the maximum penalty on each of the counts he was convicted of, the AJC reported.
Juror 31, a forklift operator from Lithonia, said he believes Olsen deserves significant prison time based on Officer Lyn Anderson’s testimony that Olsen told him he shot Hill because Hill was pounding on him.
Everyone at the scene said Hill never touched Olsen, Juror 31 said.
He said he counted six lies Olsen made during an interview with the GBI.
“Once you lie, it’s hard to believe anything else,” he said. “That’s what I was going off — the lies and the lies and the lies. It helped me make my decision a lot more quickly.”
The verdict triggered emotional responses from those in the courtroom.
Olsen’s face turned red and he squeezed his eyes shut tightly, according to CBS News.
Hill’s mother, Carolyn Giummo, wiped away tears and asked the judge to deny bond for Olsen.
“It’s been four years that we’ve been waiting for this,” she said. “My son is no longer here. … I just feel like it’s time now.”
Hill’s wife, Kathy Olsen, was so inconsolable when the verdict was read that a deputy had to escort her out of the courtroom, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
“No! No! No!” she cried.
She could still be heard sobbing even after being escorted out, according to the AJC.
A spokeswoman for the family later thanked the public during a rally Monday night and asked people to pack the courthouse during Olsen’s sentencing.
Juror 31 said he felt compelled to talk to Hill’s mom after the verdict was read.
“I have a son, and it hit me close. So, I had to talk to her and give her a clear understand of the reason why the verdict is the way it is,” he said. “Because if I didn’t let her know, all kinds of stuff was going to go through her head.”
He also said that, conversely, there were jurors who felt the case should not have even been tried because it was clear self-defense, 11 Alive reported.
“There was people that felt like, ‘this is ridiculous,’” he said.
Juror 31 said his team had to put a sketch together at one point to convince them.
“A naked man, nude, doesn’t pose a threat to a trained, professional cop,” he said. “But some people didn’t find that justifiable.”
Juror 31 said he felt the case was an example of what’s wrong with the criminal justice system.
“Cops that’s ready to (go) from zero to ten very quickly, we don’t need cops like that out there,” he said.