Updated: 1:40 p.m.
The Davidson County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing hundreds of cases from 2011 after it was discovered two weeks ago that Eugene Grayer, an appointed grand jury foreperson, was a convicted felon. A felony conviction is a disqualification from serving on the grand jury — and now the criminal cases involved with his term could be subject to appeal.
“This is clearly, however this turns out, is a bad situation, I don’t think there’s any question about it,” said District Attorney Torry Johnson. “But it happened, and we’re in the situation of saying we’ve got to make the best of a bad situation. ... It’s still too early to say just how dramatic this will be.”
During Grayer’s grand jury session, more than 900 true indictments were returned (meaning charges were filed against defendants). Of those, about 800 cases were resolved, mostly via guilty pleas from defendants. Roughly 90 cases from Grayer’s term in 2011 are still pending in court.
“Those cases ... are the ones we’ve spent the most time identifying and taking corrective action,” Johnson said. The corrective measures include sending cases back to the current grand jury for a new review.
Johnson said the impact could cover a “broad spectrum.” The Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals could send all of the cases back to court — what Johnson called a “worst case scenario.” Johnson also said that cases could be retried only if a defendant was able to show prejudice due to Grayer’s status as a convicted felon.
“That will be a matter of litigation, I’m sure, over the next several months,” Johnson said. “We’re only limited by the imagination of defense lawyers as to what they can claim.”
The case came to the DA’s attention when an employee was combing through files two weeks ago. The employee spotted Grayer’s name on a 2010 letter from the state saying that he had been denied a hand-gun permit due to his felony conviction. The employee recognized Grayer’s name and brought it to Johnson’s attention.
Grayer was convicted of an attempt to commit a felony after scheming to commit theft.
Johnson said Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins, who appointed Grayer, was “very surprised” to learn that Grayer had a felony conviction. Judges personally choose the foreperson, while the 12-member grand jury gets selected after a background check.
“We do not and have not done [background checks] on forepersons ... we just assumed that they — the judge — would determine whether they were qualified,” Johnson said.
Background checks will now be done on grand jury forepersons, Johnson said.