New trial set for man convicted of attempted robbery

A man convicted of an attempted armed robbery at Leigh Jewelers on Ocean Drive in 2007 is getting a new trial, after the appeals court found that Judge Robert Pegg erred in his instructions to the jury.
The judicial errors were so stark that defendant Jamie Grant won an appeal after filing the paperwork himself, from his prison cell. Grant is still representing himself and intends to act as his own lawyer when his case goes before Judge Cynthia Cox in late October or possibly early November.

Judge Cynthia Cox presides.

Grant’s conviction for attempted armed robbery with a firearm was overturned and sent back for a re-trial because Pegg did not permit jurors to be instructed about possible lesser charges they could find Grant guilty of before sending them off to deliberate his fate.
Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals found that defense attorneys objected to the way the court was proceeding, but their objections were shut down by Pegg. The appeals court called the matter a “preventable error,” pointing out that even lay members of the jury tried to prevent the error during deliberations.
Jurors asked for clarification during deliberations and were told “to rely on the instructions they had already received,” the court noted.
Grant was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with a 10-year mandatory minimum because the crime involved a firearm. That 10-year minimum was also overturned by the appeals court because the court found the state had not proven Grant used a firearm in the commission of a crime.
Appeals court records summarize the case, stating Grant parked his car under a covered area at a nearby home and walked about 100 yards to Leigh Jewelers.
“Once at the store, Grant ‘forcefully’ yanked twice on the store’s entrance door with his left hand, while keeping his right hand in the front pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. The force of Grant’s tug was so ‘aggressive’ and strong that it ‘shook the frame of the store’ and alerted every employee to his presence.”
But Grant never got in the door.
“Unknown to Grant, due to a recent ‘snatch and grab’ incident, the store’s owner installed a security system which required customers to be ‘buzzed’ into the store by an employee. When the owner reached for the buzzer, one employee warned of Grant’s potential dangerousness while others yelled, ‘Don’t let him in,’”court records state.
“This reaction derived not only from Grant’s aggressive entry attempt, but primarily from the way he was dressed; despite being a hot day, Grant was wearing a hooded sweatshirt over his head, gloves, and a ‘do-rag’ covering his face from his nose down,” states the case summary.
Since June 2016, Grant has been out on $100,000 bond, thanks to bail money put up by his grandmother.
After serving five years in state prison, he’s now living under house arrest with a GPS anklet, working in the marketing field and preparing his case for trial. By court order, Grant is barred from contact with Mark and Barbara Leigh and cannot go within 100 feet of their store.
The Leighs were out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Jaime Grant represents himself in court on 8/25/2017.

Outside the courtroom after the hearing, Grant explained that he gave up on using public defenders after he was sentenced to an improper mandatory minimum sentence, and after the court sent the jury off without telling them that, should the burden of proof threshold for his charges not be met, they had not only the right but the obligation to convict on lesser charges.
The reading out of potential lesser charges as part of jury instruction is pretty basic stuff, especially in cases involving felony charges.
“We conclude that the court erred in failing to instruct on attempted armed robbery with a weapon,” the appeals judges opined in February 2016.
The errors in his trial and his mandatory minimum sentencing – both overturned by the appeals court – pushed Grant to become a self-taught, so-called jailhouse lawyer. “I started going to the library and reading. I went there five days a week,” said Grant, 33, who before the November 2010 incident worked as a truck driver and a gas technician.
The Fayetteville, North Carolina, native moved to the Vero area a decade ago with no college education whatsoever, and no training in the law. Grant said he graduated from high school in 2002 and then served in the U.S. Army for three and a half years before relocating to Florida.
He had two prior arrests on misdemeanors in Indian River County before the jewelry store incident. In May 2007, he was picked up for shoplifting and sentenced to time served in the Indian River County Jail.
Then in September 2010, he was arrested for driving with a suspended driver’s license. Court records say when he was pulled over after the jewelry store incident in 2010, he told police he was facing some dire economic circumstances.
He appeared last Friday morning in a suit before Judge Cox. He sat in the gallery and waited for his name to be called, then approached the defense attorney’s spot and spoke on his own behalf.
Cox thoroughly questioned Grant to make sure that he was aware of his right to a court-appointed attorney and that he did not want an attorney. Grant confirmed that he has no interest in being represented by a public defender. He said he’d looked around for a private attorney to represent him pro bono, but had no luck.
Grant wants to actively participate in his defense in the role of co-counsel, and that’s problematic for many defense attorneys.
Grant thinks he can win this time around. “I mean I’m nervous, but I’ve studied,” he said. “I’m claiming that there’s not enough evidence to convict.”
He says the Vero Beach police pulled him over illegally. A “be on the lookout” (BOLO) alert issued after the Leighs’ 911 call said there were two black males. Grant is very light-skinned mixed race and was traveling alone.
Appeals court records summarized Grant’s capture. “A search of Grant’s person revealed that he had hinged handcuffs in his right rear pocket and a purple velvet Crown Royal bag in his right front pocket. Following the search, Grant lamented to the detectives, ‘Times are tough, I usually don’t do this sort of thing.’ Additionally, from Grant’s car, officers recovered an unloaded .357-caliber revolver, a black hooded sweatshirt, sunglasses, a pair of gloves, and a ‘do-rag type face cover.’
“It looks horrible,” Grant told Vero Beach 32963 on Friday of what police found on him and in his vehicle. “I filed a motion to suppress all that evidence because the officer didn’t have a right to stop me. He said I was speeding but I wasn’t. My motion was denied.”
Assistant State Attorney Bill Long didn’t have much of a comment, other than to say that it’s been a long haul and that he’s preparing the case for trial – again.
Two accused murderers have been granted new trials in the past two years after convictions overseen by Pegg were reversed by the appeals court.
In April, Henry Lee Jones’ conviction for the murder of Central Beach resident Brian Simpson was remanded for retrial due to the court’s failure to allow questioning about interracial violence during jury selection.
Last year, the Fourth District Court of Appeals reversed and remanded Edward Gibson Jr.’s conviction for murder in the first degree, finding that Pegg abused his discretion in denying the defendant’s request to testify.
Prosecutors obviously don’t want to badmouth the judges they try cases in front of, but off-the-record, some of Long’s colleagues and some local law enforcement officers are quite frustrated with these serious felony convictions getting overturned on appeal due to technicalities and having to prosecute them a second time.
Pegg has been on the bench since being elected in 2006. He was re-elected in 2012 and his current six-year term expires in January 2019, so he could run again in 2018. In December 2015, judges of the 19th Circuit were routinely reassigned and Cox inherited Pegg’s ongoing felony criminal caseload.

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