Juror dismissed from Dowdye murder trial denies making Masonic gestures
Published: October 31, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - A juror accused of making covert Masonic signals to a murder defendant during a 2007 trial was brought back to V.I. Superior Court on Tuesday to answer questions from a judge and attorneys about his conduct.
Joel Lloyd, a juror in the 2007 trial of Joel Dowdye, said under oath Monday that he did not make any gestures to Dowdye intentionally.
"I had no knowledge of any gestures," he said.
Lloyd became the subject of controversy when he was dismissed late in the trial of Dowdye, a former police detective found guilty of murdering his ex-girlfriend, 22-year-old Sherett James, and trying to kill her companion, Daren "Bogle" Stevens, in a room at the Bunker Hill Guest House on March 25, 2006.
Witnesses said Dowdye, an eight-year veteran of the police force who was off-duty at the time of the incident, shot James once in the head shortly after 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Stevens, who was with James at the hotel, was shot three times - in the abdomen, shoulder and back - and left clinging to life on the floor of the hotel room. The hotel co-owner and staff revived Stevens and prayed with him until an ambulance arrived.
Dowdye was convicted of six of the eight felony charges he originally faced, including first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and first-degree assault. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, plus 40 years.
Dowdye appealed his case to the V.I. Supreme Court in 2009, arguing that a lengthy process of questioning jurors prior to the trial about their membership in the Freemasons organization, along with Lloyd's late-stage dismissal from the jury, violated Dowdye's right to a fair trial.
In a split opinion issued last fall, the high court concluded that an "overwhelming and compelling suspicion" of improper contact between Lloyd and Dowdye warranted further scrutiny. The Supreme Court remanded the case back to Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar, who oversaw Dowdye's trial, to determine whether the removal of Lloyd was justified and whether he lied about being involved with the Freemasons.
Under questioning Tuesday from Hollar, Assistant Attorney General Sigrid Tejo-Sprotte and Dowdye's attorney Dolace McLean, Lloyd denied any improper conduct.
He told the judge that he did not disclose any connection to the Freemasons "because I'm not involved with that." He also denied knowing Dowdye, who has a Masonic symbol tattooed on his chest, according to police records.
Lloyd said he only found out why he was dismissed by reading the newspaper afterward.
"I found out later that they suspected me of being a Mason," he said.
Hollar, who described the Masons as "a society of secrets," asked the former juror whether was aware that he had been observed making "wiping gestures" to his face, then focussing on Dowdye, and that Dowdye was then observed mirroring those gestures while making eye contact with Lloyd.
"No, I wasn't," Lloyd said.
Lloyd said any gestures he made to his face had to do with making sure he stayed awake and attentive during the trial.
"I was probably tired and uncomfortable," he said. "I may have touched my face, but I do that normally."
Hollar, who later said she personally observed the wiping gestures by Lloyd and Dowdye, asked Lloyd whether he found the case to be "very boring." After a long pause, Lloyd said he found there was "a lot of repetition."
After confirming that Lloyd grew up and still owns property in Tullahoma, Tenn., Hollar asked Lloyd whether he was aware of the Masonic temple on a street corner near where he lived as a young man.
"The caucasians control that building," Lloyd said when he was showed a photograph of the temple. "There were no black people in control of that building."
In addition to denying that he was intentionally making gestures to Dowdye, Lloyd said if he happened to be looking at the defendant, it was probably only to see his responses to questions.
The court also heard testimony from the prosecutor in the case, Nolan Paige, and from William Curtis, then a V.I. Justice Department investigator who, according to Hollar's statements in court Tuesday, was also the president of the Masons at the time.
Hollar asked the prosecution and defense attorneys to brief the issues further before she makes a ruling.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email email@example.com.