CANTON, Ohio – After spending their first full day considering evidence in the trial of a former police officer who killed his pregnant lover, jurors couldn't wait until morning to ask a judge a question — one that revealed they may be getting closer to a decision.
The 12-member panel resumed deliberations Thursday after spending the night sequestered in a local hotel. Before heading to their rooms Wednesday evening, they asked a judge what might happen if they had all signed off on a verdict in one of the most serious charges — an aggravated murder count accusing Bobby Cutts Jr. of intentionally causing the death of Jessie Davis on June 14.
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They wanted to know if a juror who might need to be released Thursday could be replaced by an alternate and, if so, whether they would have to start deliberations over, the court administrator said Thursday.
"If count one has been decided and signed by the jurors and a juror is replaced the next day would count one need to be re-deliberated," the jury note asked.
Thirty-eight minutes later, the jury sent the judge another note and said without elaboration that the issue had been resolved.
They returned to the courtroom to ask the questions about an hour after the judge had released them for the night.
Jurors have more than a week of testimony to consider, including Cutts' emotional testimony that he accidentally killed Davis, who was carrying their second child, with a blow to the throat as he attempted to leave her northeast Ohio home against her wishes.
But prosecutors say he choked her, and the jury has been left to decide whether her death was a horrible accident or murderous strangulation.
Stark County Common Pleas Judge Charles E. Brown Jr. consulted with attorneys and told them no alternates could step in now that deliberations have started.
The jury is considering two other aggravated murder counts, one involving the termination of a pregnancy and the other involving the death of a viable, unborn child. They also must determine whether Cutts is guilty of aggravated burglary, two counts of gross abuse of a corpse and child endangering.
Cutts, who resigned as a Canton patrolman after his arrest, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
If convicted of aggravated murder, Cutts, 30, could receive a death sentence, life in prison without parole or life with parole eligibility after 20, 25 or 30 years. The count includes intent to kill with prior calculation and design.
The jury also could convict him of the lesser charge of murder, which carries a penalty of 15 years to life in prison.
The jury also asked the judge to provide examples of the difference between aggravated murder and murder, but Brown only referred them to instructions they had been given upon the close of testimony. He also directed them to the instructions when they asked if there was a charge lesser than aggravated burglary that they could consider.
The judge also granted jurors' request to see an exhibit of what was inside Davis' purse, which was found on her kitchen floor, and to listen to a taped statement of a witness.
Cutts acknowledged wrapping Davis' body in a comforter, putting it in his truck and dumping it in a park. Then he waited nine days to tell authorities her body's location as thousands searched for her.
Prosecutors say Cutts strangled Davis, 26, to avoid making child support payments for a fourth child. Besides being the father of Davis' toddler son and unborn daughter, Cutts also has a child with his ex-wife and a child with a former girlfriend.