Sequestered jurors’ hotel horseplay induces defense to challenge validity of verdict
Posted Feb 21, 2007 4:58 AM CST
By Brian Sullivan
Put a group of strangers together for two weeks--day and night--and something’s gotta give. Add a stressful obligation to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for... hijinks?
That was the case in November as jurors for an Indianapolis murder trial reportedly had food fights and played football and Frisbee during off hours. Their behavior, characterized by one juror as “giggly,” included men racing one another in a hotel hallway while wearing high heels.
When it was time for deliberation, the panel took less than an hour to find the defendant guilty. After interviews with the jurors, defense attorney Patrick Baker filed a motion for mistrial. The motion was denied.
“The jurors were drinking throughout the time they were sequestered,” Baker says. “They had cell phone access, which violates the judge’s order.”
Morgan County prosecutor Steven Sonnega denies the shenanigans “had anything to do with the jury’s ability to render a verdict based on the evidence.”
Jurors “asked hundreds of questions,” Sonnega says. “It was a very active jury in terms of their role of being fact finders.”
Baker says he will likely file a motion for a new trial.
“We had serious questions about the jury’s conduct,” he says. “We ultimately do not think [my client] received a fair trial.”
Sack of Trouble Ticketed teen proffers pro se protest, faces fine for bouncing bag to buddy
Kallen Ford--a 17-year-old high school senior--and a friend were violating the law at the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colo., in October. They just didn’t know it.
As Ford and his companion were lobbing a small beanbag back and forth, they caught the eye of police officer Colin Stephens. The officer informed the pair that they were in violation of a statute prohibiting the release of “projectiles” on the mall.
The beanbag--known as a Hacky Sack, trademarked by Wham-O Inc. --is used in a game in which participants attempt to keep it aloft by bouncing it off their bodies without using their arms or hands.
Ford was ticketed and faced a fine of up to $250. He called his mother, Margaret Pilcher, and tried to explain what happened at the mall. Pilcher was skeptical at first.
“He called, and I’m thinking no, something else went on,” she says. “I went to the mall police annex.”
Stephens claims that he intended only to issue a warning, but that Ford and several of his friends became verbally abusive. Pilcher says her son represented himself because “I did not want to pay a lawyer for this ridiculous case.”
In court in December, Ford was given a choice of a paying a $40 fine or performing seven hours of community service. Pilcher’s final thought on the matter: “It made Boulder look absurd.”
"Cabin Fever," February (2007), page 71, incorrectly stated that an Indiana murder trial took place in Indianapolis, when in fact it took place in a court in Morgan County. The Journal regrets the error.