COLUMBUS, Ga. — Three men are exonerated after standing trial for murder. The jury cleared 36-year-old James Daniel, Jr. and 53-year-old Daginald Wheeler of all charges in connection with the 2015 death of 33-year-old Dominic Mitchell. As for 48-year-old Demark Ponder, he was cleared of all charges except one.
The jury’s verdict came after a hectic and heated second day of deliberations. A juror admitted to calling her spouse’s friend about the trial. She says the friend was a former member of the Outcasts motorcycle club. He is not currently a member.
The juror, who also served as foreperson, shared this piece of news with the rest of the jury. However, at least ten members of the jury disapproved of the foreperson’s actions. The judge learned of the fault, and he swiftly dismissed the foreperson following testimony from another juror.
An alternate replaced the foreperson, and deliberations began again around 11 a.m. The defense motioned for a mistrial because of the former foreperson’s actions. However, the judge denied the motion because he didn’t believe the jury compromised the trial in any way.
Around 4:15 p.m. EDT, court reconvened as the jury had come to their conclusion in deliberations. The judge read their verdict, acquitting Daniel of eight charges. He faced malice and felony murder, aggravated assault, robbery, weapons possession, and three gang-related charges. Wheeler was also cleared. He faced the same eight charges, as well as one additional gang-related charge because he was President of the Outcasts.
Ponder was acquitted on similar charges. However, he was found guilty for making false statements to police. A mixed bag of emotions filled the courtroom after the jury rendered their verdict. The defense is resting easy that their clients are acquitted. Meanwhile, the murder victim’s family must find peace and justice elsewhere.
“They’re free to just walk home like nothing happened,” Mitchell’s mother Penny Bennett said. “I’m a Jehovah’s Witness, and I do have faith in the Resurrection. I’m going to see my son and I know where true justice will come from. It’s just so shocking because they had all the evidence right there.”
Bennett cried, screamed, and had to have Muscogee County Sheriff’s Deputies escort her out of the courtroom.
“Put me in [jail]! Put me in there! They murdered my son,” Bennett said.
Bennett believes the jury was in fear, claiming the evidence was in front of them the entire trial.
“It’s unbelievable,” Bennett said. “Charged with nothing? That’s unbelievable, it’s like I’m still in a daze. The one juror went berserk at the last second and it’s all a setup.”
The defense is thankful that the two-and-a-half week long murder trial is over, and they’ve come out on top.
“It’s been exhaustively tried by both sides,” defense attorney Stacey Jackson said. “Fortunately, the jury ruled in our favor.”
Attorney Rod Skiff agreed with Jackson. He says the jury was convinced Ponder shot Mitchell in self-defense at the 4th Quarter Sports Bar.
“Georgia’s law on justification and stand your ground won the day,” Skiff said. “Obviously you can’t read jurors minds. But at the same time I got a feel they were receptive to Georgia’s justification and self-defense law.”
Regardless of the law, Penny Bennett feels the loss of her son. It’s a pain that will haunt her for the rest of her life.
“It was like he was being murdered in front of my face all over again,” Bennett said.
Ponder could face anywhere from one to five years in jail for making false statements to police. Daniel and Wheeler will be processed out of jail immediately. Judge Peters plans to hold a contempt hearing for the juror who disobeyed orders by discussing the trial outside of the courtroom. The hearing will likely come soon. The juror could face a fine or jail time as a result.