In trial of killer cop, Black jurors struggle for guilty verdicts

After 27 hours of deliberation over six days, the jury in the trial of Robert Olsen, a DeKalb County officer charged with killing a nude, unarmed Anthony Hill, delivered its verdict Oct. 14. It found Olsen guilty on four of the six charges, but not guilty on the most serious — two charges of felony murder.

Olsen’s claim that he had feared for his own safety when shooting the unarmed man — the often-used reason that self-defense is granted to police agents — found justification with some jurors. Numerous studies have shown that despite thousands of killings involving police, very few are indicted, and even fewer are convicted of any wrongdoing. There was hope that this time the circumstances surrounding Anthony Hill’s death would be different.

Trial testimony from multiple witnesses revealed that Hill, an Afghanistan war veteran, the quiet, likeable 26-year-old Black man, who lived in an apartment complex with mostly Latinx residents, had been acting most unusually on March 9, 2015.

He first appeared at the door of the leasing office, barefoot, wearing only shorts, unsteady on his feet and gesturing erratically.

Two maintenance workers approached him and told him he should go home. When he said he didn’t know where he lived, they guided him back to his apartment. Minutes later he appeared climbing down from his second-floor balcony, totally nude.

The staff of the complex saw him wandering in a playground area, crawling military style and peering around trees, and then crouched on a parking lot curb. Worried for his safety and well-being, they called 911 three times, seeking help for Hill.

Olsen got the call for a possible “demented person” and, upon arriving at the complex, observed a naked man sitting on the curb.

Hill, who had just been told by one of the maintenance workers that he should go back home because the police had been called, responded, “Don’t worry. The police are my friends.” He began moving toward Olsen with his hands outstretched. The cop drew his gun, shouted “stop” and fired two rounds into the naked Hill, killing him. 

Olsen initially claimed that Hill had physically pounded on his chest, forcing him to shoot. All evidence proved that to be a lie.

Olsen’s defense team offered no witnesses and rested.

The multiracial jury of seven women and five men deliberated for six contentious days while all the press gathered on the courthouse steps. It was the statements of Juror 31, the sole Black man on the jury panel, that received the most attention. He had decided to speak with Hill’s parents to let them know why Olsen was acquitted of murdering their son.

This unidentified forklift driver emerged as the leading voice in the deliberations for guilty verdicts on all charges, along with four Black women and another juror. He described to the media how difficult it had been to hear some jurors repeat that Olsen had acted in self-defense.

Once it became clear that it would be impossible to get a unanimous verdict on the felony murder charges, he said, this group of six stood firm that the evidence warranted guilt on the remaining four charges, including aggravated assault. 

Juror 31 explained why two of the Black women jurors cried when the verdicts were read in the courtroom. He had convinced them that making the compromise assured that Olsen would be found guilty of causing the death of Anthony Hill and would serve jail time. He told them that there was no guarantee that another jury would render justice and that “we can be part of something that could make a change.” (Interview,

Robert Olsen’s conviction on four felonies, including aggravated assault, violation of oath of office and lying, carries a maximum of 35 years. Olsen is 57.

DeKalb Superior Court Judge LaTisha Dear-Jackson will announce the sentence Nov. 1 to a courtroom that will be packed with the Hill family and community supporters.

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