Death Penalty

Jurors in death-penalty case not tainted by watching prison movie, state supreme court rules

The California Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of a convicted murderer, despite evidence that two holdout jurors on a deadlocked jury were urged by the foreman to watch a movie about prison violence during a break in deliberations.

The court, in a 5-2 ruling last week, said there was no indication the two jurors discussed the film, American Me, with other jurors or had been influenced by it during their deliberations, the San Francisco Examiner reports.

“The record shows the movie did not introduce any new facts or ideas into the jury room,” Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar said in the majority opinion (PDF). She also said testimony by the two jurors at a post-trial hearing suggested that the movie had been of “little importance” to them in their deliberations.

However, dissenting Justice Carol Corrigan said the two jurors had not only committed misconduct. She said the record as a whole “demonstrates a substantial likelihood these two jurors were actually biased in that they were influenced to impose the death penalty based on external information they intentionally acquired in violation of their oath.”

The defendant, Maurice Boyette, was convicted of killing two men in 1992 on the orders of a drug dealer who believed the two men had robbed him.

When the jury deadlocked on a sentence, the foreman suggested that the two holdout jurors watch American Me, which depicts a violent struggle over drug turf by prison gangs, so they could understand what prison life was like.

The next day, when the jury resumed deliberations, it reached a death verdict within 30 minutes.

Defense lawyer Lynne Coffin called the decision “outrageous,” and said Boyette would appeal the ruling in federal court.

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