Albrecht trial: How the jurors reached verdict
About an hour after deliberations began in the manslaughter, forgery and ID theft case of Gina Albrecht, who was charged with causing the death of George May, the jury foreman sent word out that they had reached a verdict.
“Actually, after the foreman was chosen, we reached verdicts on all of the counts in under 20 minutes,” said jury foreman William Sleeman, a retired general contractor from Duluth, MN, who now lives in Sebastian.
First, each of the six jurors gave their opinions on the less serious charges of ID theft and forgery against Albrecht, who allegedly used checks of May’s deceased wife to put over $16,000 in her own bank account.
Rather than begin with a discussion, jurors agreed to voice an opinion of guilty or not guilty on each of the four counts, and then if they disagreed or voiced concerns, they would take turns explaining their positions.
“But there was no need for any discussion because every one of us was totally convinced she was guilty of those charges,” said the foreman.
Then, each juror gave a “guilty or not guilty” opinion on the high-stakes manslaughter charge, which could send Albrecht to prison for decades if found guilty. Again, the word “guilty” rang out six times in the juror conference room. A brief discussion followed about why each of them chose to go with the higher manslaughter charge, as opposed to the lesser charge of negligence.
“Repeatedly, jurors used the words ‘planned’ and ‘calculated’ to describe how Mrs. Albrecht, as a home healthcare aide, got into Mr. May’s life and took control of his money, then watched him die of starvation and dehydration when he couldn’t help himself,” said Sleeman. “It was the planning and calculation that caused all of us to go with the higher charge.”
An alternate juror, who did not participate in deliberations, said that photos of an extremely emaciated George May in his bed after his death – “worse than the worst you’ve seen from Auschwitz” – still haunt him.
By the time on Wednesday that deliberations rolled around after eight days together, jurors said they had established enough trust to think that the polling of guilty or not guilty didn’t need to be done by secret ballot and read anonymously by the foreman. Instead, they agreed to speak openly.
“We had learned that we were smart and thoughtful people in the time we were together, and we trusted one another to form decisions based on the evidence and be reasonable if we differed,” said another juror, a retired railroad inspector from Pennsylvania who lives in Sebastian and asked not to be named.
“I wasn’t surprised at all with the unanimous guilty verdicts because the prosecution did a great job of putting on a very clear case, matching the evidence to the charges,” said juror Joan Campbell, who grew up in Vero Beach and retired to Sebastian after working as an English teacher and media librarian in the Atlanta area for years.
The jury of three men and three women ranged in age from the late 60s to the early 20s. The oldest was Sleeman and the youngest was a recent college graduate who majored in criminal justice and whose father is a bailiff in the courthouse.
Along with the age range there was also a range in political party affiliation: Some jurors were Republican, others Democrat, and there was one independent. At least four of the six were college graduates.
While there was little discussion during deliberations about the details of the case, jurors have begun exchanging thoughts and agree that detective Shawn Hoyt of the Indian River Shores police was an excellent, credible witness, along with May’s neurologist Leslie Huszar and medical examiner Roger Mittleman.
“All very professional and credible,” said Sleeman.
During his testimony, Mittleman said that May’s extreme emaciation was “among the worst” he had seen in his 35 years as a medical examiner. “He was demented, not capable of helping himself. Someone responsible should’ve made a cry for help,” said Mittleman who ruled the death a homicide.
“My guts still churn when I think of how Mr. May was taken advantage of,” said the retired railroad inspector, who cared for his own elderly parents well into their 90s.
Jurors agreed that defense attorney Bobby Guttridge worked hard to counter the evidence against Albrecht, but said there was just too much quality evidence presented by prosecutors for the defense to make a dent.
“The defense witnesses tended to sound argumentative and defensive and were not convincing,” said Sleeman.
“The prosecution did a great, thorough and easy-to-follow job, which made it easy for us to reach verdicts,” said Campbell.
Rob Stabe, Indian River Shores town manager, was chief of public safety in Indian River Shores where May lived and died, and his agency led the investigation.
“I am proud of the job my officers did, along with the state attorney’s staff and the sheriff’s crime scene detectives. The efforts of all those involved ultimately resulted in justice being served for Mr. May and his family,” said Stabe.
Albrecht, who will be sentenced in early September, faces 12 to 50 years in prison.