(LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)
Brian Wilson, The Tennessean, Nashville
NASHVILLE -- The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that an under-examined Facebook message between a juror and expert witness is enough to overturn a 2010 murder conviction and life sentence and send the case back to trial.
In a 14-page unanimous opinion released Tuesday, the court sent the murder case of William Darelle Smith back to Davidson County Criminal Court because a necessary evidentiary hearing concerning the content of the message and its effects on the trial never took place.
The Facebook messages between assistant medical examiner Adele Davis and juror Glenn Scott Mitchell were reported by Davis shortly after the jury in the case began deliberations in Smith's case.
In the message sent by Mitchell that initiated the exchange, he complimented Davis on her testimony about the cause of death in the case and asked whether she had seen him in the jury.
Instead of calling a public hearing to examine the nature of the conversation, the trial judge in the case told both attorneys in the case about the communication and sentenced Smith to life in prison.
Smith appealed the case to the state Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court, arguing that the jury could not issue a ruling in the case unless it was established that the conversation had zero effect on their decision.
In June 2007, Zurisaday Villanueva was found shot to death along Briley Parkway. Smith, who was living with the woman at the time, told police he killed her, according to court documents.