Court says wrong jury oath doesn't spoil murder convictions

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — The highly publicized murder convictions of a Detroit-area man were reinstated last Thursday as the Michigan Supreme Court said a wrong oath given to jurors didn’t affect the integrity of his trial.

The oath is “but one component — as important and as symbolic as it may be — in a larger process of fair and impartial adjudication,” the court said in a 5-2 decision written by Justice Stephen Markman. “Because the record before us indicates that defendant was actually ensured a fair and impartial jury, we conclude that his constitutional rights were upheld.”

Brandon Cain was convicted of killing two women and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Abreeya Brown and Ashley Conaway were stuffed in a car trunk at gunpoint before they were killed in 2012.

Jurors typically are sworn-in by agreeing to follow the law and evidence. But as Cain’s trial was starting, a clerk gave the oath that’s used when jurors are interviewed during the selection process. Wayne County Judge Vonda Evans didn’t catch the error, but it was discovered by attorney Kristina Dunne, who was scouring the trial transcript for issues that could be raised on appeal.

Besides Cain’s rights, Markman said the state’s highest court had to consider the public’s reaction to upsetting a major verdict based on a wrong oath.

Justice David Viviano, joined by Justice Bridget McCormack, said he would have granted Cain a new trial. He started a 33-page dissent by quoting Sir William Blackstone, an English judge in the 1700s, who said “little inconveniences in the forms of justice” are the price of liberty.

“Swearing the jury is no technicality,” wrote Viviano, a former trial judge in Macomb County. “It goes to the heart of trial by jury and is a key component to a fundamentally fair trial.”