|Charles Todd Henderson|
That is in keeping with Sibley Reynolds' reputation as perhaps the most corrupt state judge in Alabama -- and there is a lot of competition for that "honor." It also should force an automatic reversal of Henderson's conviction on appeal -- and it could lead to Henderson actually taking the office he earned with a victory over incumbent Brandon Falls in the November 2016 election.
It's a fundamental principle of criminal (and civil) law that a judge cannot communicate with a deliberating jury outside the presence of the defendant and counsel. How important is this principle? A 2015 case from Georgia provides insight:
Unquestionably the trial judge should not in any manner communicate with the jury about the case, in the absence of the accused and his counsel, pending the trial; and the better practice is for the judge to have no communication with the jury on any subject except through the medium of the sworn bailiff in charge of the jury; and the communication should be restricted, in the absence of the accused and his counsel, to matters relating to the comfort and convenience of the jury. There should be no communication which would tend in any manner to prejudice the accused ․; and unless the character of the communication clearly shows that it could not have been prejudicial to the accused, the presumption of law would be that it was prejudicial․ We state again: “[a]ll communications with the jury are to be discouraged except in open court with all persons present․ . . .”
This Court cannot sanction communications of a substantive nature between a trial judge and a jury outside the presence of the defendant and counsel in a criminal trial, and it should not do so in a civil trial as such actions are no less a violation of a party's right to be present during trial. . . . There is a personal element to the right to be present. The right is based not only on what the party can do to the case, but on what the case will do to the party. It is the party's interests that are being determined by the jury and the judge, and it is the party's life that will be directly affected by the outcome of the case.
Why did Reynolds violate such a fundamental rule? We can only think of one reason: He is a rotten, corrupt judge, and he's been treating the rule of law with disdain for so long that he probably has no idea how to handle a case in a lawful manner. And how about this for an oddity: There was no bailiff on duty at the Henderson trial. Reynolds apparently took that to mean he could act as his own bailiff, handling communications with the jury.
Jurors in the Henderson case reportedly had been deliberating for quite some time when they sent word to the court that they were not close to a decision. Reynolds visited the jury room, over objections from Henderson's counsel, and about 30 minutes later, jurors returned (several of them in tears), with a guilty verdict.
Sentencing in the Henderson case is set for March 8, and prosecutors reportedly are seeking six months in the county jail as punishment. That's ironic because prosecutors did not come close to proving guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and chief prosecutor Matt Hart surely knows that -- unless he's as dumb as a turnip. Now we know Henderson likely would never have been convicted without unlawful intervention by Judge Sibley Reynolds.
Will the travesty of a guilty verdict in the Henderson case eventually be overturned, replaced by a lawful not-guilty verdict, so the person who actually won the DA election in Jefferson County can serve as DA? That would involve achieving justice in the Alabama court system, and that never is an easy outcome to reach.