The actions of a grand jury have been called into question after the discovery of a convicted felon as jury foreperson.
District Attorney General Torry Johnson went before the media on Thursday to discuss the details.
“However this turns out, this is a bad situation,” Johnson said.
Two weeks ago, an assistant in Johnson's office recognized a name on a gun permit denial letter. Eugene Grayer was denied a handgun carry permit in May 2010 because of a felony conviction. One year earlier, Grayer was the foreperson on a Davidson County grand jury.
“In order to serve on a jury, whether that's a trial jury or a grand jury, you cannot be a convicted felon,” Johnson said.
Grayer was convicted in 1977 of grand larceny, possession of a firearm without a serial number, and theft from interstate shipment. He received probation and a suspended sentence.
More than a quarter of a century later, he was appointed as a grand jury foreperson for a summer term.
From July to September 2011, Grayer's grand jury reviewed and returned more than 900 indictments for criminal cases.
Of those, 800 have been resolved, many through guilty pleas, while 90 are still pending. His role in the grand jury process could impact many of those cases.
“There is not a pre-existing case to resolve this matter,” said Johnson.
Attorney David Raybin told Nashville's News 2, “Where there is a defect in the grand jury, [it] could potentially void a conviction.”
Raybin was the prosecuting attorney in Grayer's felony case, and understands the potential impact to the grand jury cases.
According to Raybin, individuals who submit a guilty plea waive any appeal that would relate to a defect in the grand jury process. However, any individuals who went to trial could have an argument for retrial or a new indictment.
“It's not going to effect 900 cases,” Raybin said. “It may involve several dozen. Unfortunately, some of those may be serious cases.”
Despite what Raybin calls an “unfortunate event,” he supports the appointment system that put Grayer on the grand jury.
“It is not a loophole in the process,” he said. “This is an important position. The good that having individual appointments has outweighs this snafu, so-to-speak.”
Under the current system, 12 members of a grand jury are selected from a pool of candidates that have undergone a background check through the district attorney's office.
An additional member, known as the foreperson, is selected and appointed by a judge to oversee the panel. That member does not come from the pool and does not undergo a background check.
Grand juries are only responsible reviewing cases and returning indictments to criminal court. An indictment requires 12 affirmative votes, which allows the foreperson to refrain from voting in most cases. Grand jury members are not responsible for convictions.
The scope of Grayer's participation on the grand jury and the validity of the 900 indictments returned will ultimately be decided in appeals court.
Going forward, DA Torry Johnson promised to do background checks on judge-appointed forepersons to avoid a similar situation.
“It's something that should not have happened, and certainly won't happen in the future,” he said.
Judge Monti Watkins appointed Grayer to the summer 2011 grand jury. Because the matter is still being investigated, Judge Watkins could not comment.