UPDATE: After 5 hours of deliberation, Kenneth and Shelley Walker were sentenced to 25 years in prison for injury to a child.
The verdict was unanimous.
TYLER (KYTX) -- The punishment phase of the trial for Kenneth and Shelley Walker was delayed Wednesday by allegations that a family member of the Walkers approached a jury member during a court recess and made an inappropriate and threatening statement. The Walkers were found guilty Tuesday of injury to a child, a first degree felony, for scalding their granddaughter's feet in hot bath water in February of 2010.
Judge Jack Skeen Jr. called each juror into the courtroom individually to question them under oath about the incident. Most of them said a single juror had heard the remark and then relayed it to them in the jury room during deliberations.
They all said the statement was something along the lines of:
"Sorry people like you should be shot."
The judge asked each juror whether knowledge of that incident would prevent them from acting impartially for the remainder of the case and whether they would hold it against the defendants. All of them said they would be able to continue to act in the expected capacity as jurors.
Following the jurors' testimony Judge Skeen ruled that the trial could go on without unfairly impacting the Walkers.
Defense attorney Cameron Castleberry made a motion for a mistrial, noting that he felt death threats against the jury were highly improper and prejudicial.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham said he agreed with the judge's decision.
The court then resumed the standard sentencing procedures. Assistant District Attorney Jason Parrish declined to make an opening statement and simply asked the jury to reconsider the evidence presented previously in the trial. He rested his case.
Defense attorney Cameron Castleberry declined to make an opening statement and called Herschel Sloan, Kenneth's step son and Shelley's son, to testify.
Castleberry asked what Sloan thought of his father.
"He's very loving and caring," Sloan said. "He never raised his voice to me."
Sloan said he'd never been disciplined by Kenneth and only grounded by Shelley. He said there was never any physical discipline.
"Do you agree with the jury's verdict that the Walkers are guilty of injuring their granddaughter?" Castleberry said.
"No," Sloan said.
"Do you respect it?" Castleberry said.
"Yes," Sloan said.
Parrish asked a brief series of questions relating to where Sloan lived in recent years. He said he had not lived in East Texas since 2007.
The defense then rested its case.
Judge Skeen read the official charge to the jury, noting that Kenneth and Shelley have filed applications for probation based on them having no history of felony convictions. They will be eligible for probated sentences on prison terms assessed at ten years or less. First degree felonies are punishable by up to 99 years in prison.
Parrish then began his closing argument by thanking the jury for their guilty verdict handed down on Tuesday.
"They've had their day," Parrish said. "Do not feel sorry for them."
Parrish reminded jurors that probation and parole are two different things, with parole meaning that the Walkers would "walk out the door" following the sentencing.
"What do they deserve for hurting [their granddaughter]?" he said. "They don't deserve probation. That's for sure."
Castleberry then began his closing argument. He thanked the jury for their service.
"I think we need to start by talking about the goals of punishment," Castleberry said. "Some people are career criminals and we need to protect society from them."
"But some people just need supervision after making a mistake and that's what is appropriate here," he said.
Castleberry said he did not believe that the little girl who was injured would want revenge on her grandparents. He said there was no evidence that the Walkers would ever commit another criminal act.
"If you have a fear about the Walkers I think you can take care of that with supervision," Castleberry said. "When [that little girl] looks back on this I think she'll thank you for giving her grandparents a chance."
Parrish said that was a bad argument because the little girl already knows what happened and has to live with it.
"She has to take off her socks an look at her little feet," he said. "What does she deserve? They knew better. She had to go through second after second after second of pain."
He contended again that probation is inappropriate in this case. He told the jury it's their job to tell the community what happens to people who abuse children.
"Come out with your head held high," Parrish said. "Your verdict should be strong and proud."
The jury began deliberating at 11:25 a.m.