William Darelle Smith was convicted of killing his girlfriend in 2010.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -
A convicted murder may win his freedom because of a Facebook chat during his trial.
William Darelle Smith was convicted of first degree murder in March 2010 for the shooting death of his girlfriend Zurisaday Villanueva, in 2007.
Smith was sentenced to life in prison.
Villanueva's body was found on the side of the road near the Ashland City exit on Briley Parkway in Nashville.
The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Smith may be entitled to a new trial because one of the jurors in his case contacted Dr. Adele Lewis.
Lewis is an assistant medical examiner who testified at Smith's trial.
According to court records, Scott Mitchell contacted Dr. Lewis via Facebook during the trial.
Dr. Lewis notified the trial judge about the conversation after the jury retired to deliberate.
She emailed the judge:
I can't send you actual copies of the emails since Facebook is blocked from my computer here at work, but here is a transcript:
Scott Mitchell: "A-dele!! I thought you did a great job today on the witness stand . . . I was in the jury . . . not sure if you recognized me or not!! You really explained things so great!!"
Adele Maurer Lewis: "I was thinking that was you. There is a risk of a mistrial if that gets out."
Scott Mitchell: "I know... I didn't say anything about you … There are 3 of us on the jury from Vandy and one is a physician (cardiologist) so you may know him as well. It has been an interesting case to say the least."
I regret responding to his email at all, but regardless I felt that this was a fairly serious violation of his responsibilities as a juror and that I needed to make you and General Miller aware. I did not recognize the above-referenced cardiologist or any other jurors.
Following the disclosure, Judge Seth Norman did not hold a public hearing to discuss the interaction and determine if the contact prejudiced the jury.
The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that was an error and overturned a previous ruling from an appellate court that denied Smith a new trial.
"The whole purpose of a jury system is to make sure people are found guilty or found not guilty based only on competent evidence presented at trial," criminal defense attorney Alex Little said. "We don't want any extraneous influence. We don't want things that happen outside the courtroom influencing things that happen in the court room."
Little, of Bone McAllester Norton, is not affiliated with the Smith case.
He is a former Federal prosecutor and has extensive experience with social media issues in the legal system.
At one time he helped prosecute a juror who was live tweeting during a Federal trial.
"The [Tennessee Supreme] court has said the state has the burden to prove that the contact was not improper," he said. "So there is going to be a hearing to determine if there was some misconduct on the part of the juror or on the part of the witness."
He continued, "Right now the burden is on the state to disprove that and prove that if there was misconduct it was harmless because there would be a guilty verdict anyway."
The Davidson County courts will have to set a date for a hearing to determine if Smith will get a new trial.
"It means he has a chance at freedom," Little said. "The judge who presided over his trial will have the opportunity to hold a hearing to determine if this contact that happened between the juror during his trial prejudiced his trial and made it somehow less fair."
It could be several weeks before a hearing date is set on the docket.
Smith remains incarcerated at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary.
Dr. Lewis declined to comment on the Supreme Court's decision.
Attempts by Nashville's News 2's attempts to reach Mitchell for comment where unsuccessful, Wednesday.