HARTFORD - In the end, a judge ruled Tuesday that a Cuban American juror could remain on the panel in Mayor Eddie A. Perez's corruption case.
Superior Court Judge Julia Dewey said there was no evidence that the woman's actions as a crime victim in a separate case would affect her ability to be an impartial juror.
But it was the circumstances leading to Dewey's decision, including a prosecutor's admission that she thought the woman was "crazy," that made Tuesday's court hearing extraordinary. Defense lawyers Hubert Santos and Hope Seeley strongly objected to the hearing in the first place, saying there was no good reason to remove a juror who had been accepted by both sides on April 13.
But prosecutor Michael Gailor said he had information that the woman was untruthful in two answers during juror questioning — that her religious beliefs would not prevent her from sitting in judgment of someone and that she held police in high regard and admired them for the tough job they do.
Gailor on Tuesday called to the stand Adriana Venegas-McCormick, the victim advocate at the Hartford courthouse, and veteran prosecutor Vicki Melchiorre.
They testified that the woman was a victim of rape in 2002 and that her attacker was arrested on the basis of DNA evidence in 2009. They said that the woman did not believe that the state had the right man in spite of the DNA, and that she didn't want what had happened to James Tillman, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 18 years, to happen to this man. They said that she didn't want to be responsible for the outcome of the case, and that she wanted to put the decision in God's hands.
"I explained to her that DNA had exonerated Mr. Tillman and that DNA was inculpating her attacker," said Melchiorre. "She didn't understand DNA evidence."
Melchiorre confirmed that the woman had made a complaint against a detective in the case, accusing the officer of trying to steer her toward a specific photograph when viewing a photo lineup that included the suspect.
Melchiorre described the woman's habit of praying the rosary for long periods of time as a "a religious obsession," before changing the phrase to "religious beliefs" at the judge's prompting.
Under questioning from Santos, Melchiorre said she told Gailor after the woman was picked as a juror that she thought the woman was "crazy."
During juror questioning, the woman said she felt she could sit in judgment in the Perez case.
"It might be hard ... but I think I would have no problem with it," she said.
Gailor said that answer didn't square with her assertions to the prosecutor and the victim advocate in her case. Gailor also noted that she said that she held police in high regard, which appeared to conflict with the complaint she made against the detective.
But Santos argued that the woman was reluctant to identify her attacker for good reason — the crime was seven years old and she didn't think the state had the right man. And Santos said that her complaint against a specific police officer wouldn't prevent her from generally having a high opinion of police and the job they do.
Dewey said that the woman had made it clear during juror questioning that she was deeply religious and that the state had had a chance to ask her specific questions about the rape case, but did not.
"There, she was an accuser; here she is a juror," said the judge. "She said it was hard to sit in judgment. It is hard. ... It sounds like she was trying to be careful. It sounds like she was trying to be truthful."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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