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April 25, 2012

Court overturns tainted cockfight verdict

COLUMBIA, S.C. (UPI) -- An appeals court overturned a South Carolina cockfighting conviction due to a juror's Internet research during deliberations.

The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the juror's actions violated the six defendants' right to trial by an impartial jury.

"We do not set aside a jury's verdict lightly," the three-judge panel wrote in its unanimous opinion, which as issued Friday. "However, the Sixth Amendment 'guarantees to the criminally accused a fair trial by a panel of impartial, 'indifferent,' jurors.'"

The (Columbia, S.C.) State said Tuesday the juror had accessed the Internet from home amid the 2010 deliberations and researched the term "sponsor" on Wikipedia. The word was an element in the prosecution's case, which attempted to prove.

The juror shared his findings the next day with fellow jurors prior to the guilty verdicts being reached.

The 4th Circuit said in its ruling, which was issued Friday, that while there was no direct evidence the information on Wikipedia influenced the verdict, the Web sites anonymous sources of information made it inherently unreliable. "The danger in relying on a Wikipedia entry is obvious and real," the panel wrote.

The U.S. Attorneys office South Carolina had no comment on the ruling, but one of the former prosecutors in the trial said it illustrated the growing issue of jurors turning to the Internet to gather information not presented in court.

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