Grand jury fails to return ‘true bill’

Published 6:25 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Lunenburg County grand jury did not return a “true bill” on an indictment against Jason Lee for first-degree murder during proceedings Monday.

The indictment will be presented again to the next grand jury on Aug. 1.

Lee is accused of the Thursday, March 17, slaying of 19-year-old Jamel Williams, of Poorhouse Road.

It was the first slaying Kenbridge has seen in years.

The proceedings of a grand jury are secret, and the jurors are sworn to not discuss the proceedings with anyone, so there is no way to determine the mindset of the four men and two women, Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Clement said

Clement said his guess is that they had some problem with the legal concept of premeditation.

Although the grand jury has the option of asking the commonwealth’s attorney or the judge for legal advice, they did not do so, Clement said.

Had they asked, Clement said he would have informed them that the legal definition of “willful, deliberate and premeditated means a specific intent to kill, adopted at some time before the killing, but which need not exist for any particular length of time.”

“Under the law, premeditation can be formed within minutes, or even seconds,” Clement said. “It is not uncommon for the average citizen to think that premeditation means planning a murder out for days or weeks.”

During a jury trial, the jurors are given instructions on the law by the judge before deliberations, so they better understand the legal terminology, he said.

They also did not realize that the first-degree murder charge includes the lesser-included offenses of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter, Clement said.

Also, he said, sometimes a grand jury does not understand that the standard of proof at the grand jury level is “probable cause,” not “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” as in the actual trial.

“The General District Judge had already heard evidence at the preliminary hearing and determined that there was probable cause,” Clement explained.

The judge certified the first-degree murder charge to the Circuit Court on May 4.

“That is the best measure of whether or not there is probable cause,” Clement said. “The district judge knows the law and hears much more of the evidence than the grand jury.”

Clement said he has seen this happen only two or three times in 34 years, but the law allows the case to be presented to the next grand jury and that usually takes care of the matter.

Lee will remain in jail.