"When does a hung jury occur?"
That was the question sent to Judge Stephen Kouri about an hour after the jury went behind closed doors to decide the fate of Aunterrio Barney, a Chicago man accused of setting a deadly fire at a Peoria home in 2010. The panel, asked to find Barney guilty of four counts of felony murder and three separate arson charges, seemed deadlocked on finding a verdict.
Curiously enough, not long after Judge Kouri requested jurors to keep trying to come to an accord, the jury came back with a "guilty" verdict across the board. Barney will serve the rest of his life behind bars for setting the blaze that killed four people, including a two-year-old child.
Greg Thomas says he was the one who prompted the question about a hung jury. He says he held out on a guilty verdict because he felt the murder charges went too far, even though there was no doubt in his mind that Barney was the one who started the fire.
"I don't think he intended that fire to kill anybody, I think he intended to cause some havoc, scare some people," said Thomas.
Under state law, intent is irrelevant in felony murder cases. As it applies to Barney's case, it appeared the jury could only come back with an "all or nothing" verdict; essentially, if Barney started the fire, then he was guilty of murder as well. The limited options didn't sit well with Thomas, even if he did eventually agree to convict on all counts after his brief protest.
"That was just my message to the prosecution and legal system that, yes, there is somebody on this jury who doesn't agree with the extent of the charge," Thomas said.
While he may have been the only juror to vocalize his concerns, Thomas says he feels others on the jury would have preferred having a lesser charge to pin on Barney. Ultimately, he says the evidence and the other 11 jurors convinced him to change his mind.
Barney was accused of dousing stairs leading up to an apartment above 1212 N. University in gasoline, then setting fire to them, during the early morning hours of April 21, 2010. Prosecutors said he lit the fire to settle a score with Youlandice Simmons, with whom he'd argued the night before. Simmons, her sister, Briana Simmons, and Darresse Roddy all died that morning. Youlandice Simmons' two-year-old son, Darryl Miller Jr., passed away the next day at a Springfield hospital.
Due to the nature of the crime, he faces a mandatory life sentence. He will be formally sentenced at a hearing next month.