Juries

New trial ordered after juror is overheard at bar using racial slur to describe defendants


Owners of three Mexican restaurants in Maine who were convicted on charges of employing undocumented workers will get a new trial after a juror was overheard in a bar using a racial slur to refer to them.

The restaurant owners—Guillermo Fuentes, 37, of Westbrook and Hector Fuentes, 39, of Waterville—were found guilty in federal court in March of conspiracy, harboring undocumented aliens for profit, and aiding and abetting document fraud, the Portland Press Herald reports.

But in an order this week (PDF), U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby granted the men a new trial and set a trial date of Oct. 7 after a defendant in another case overheard a juror use a racial slur to describe the Fuentes brothers while the trial was ongoing.

An acquaintance of the juror reported to a probation officer that he heard a juror refer to the defendants as “guilty wetbacks” while at the Eagles Club in Portland during the second day of trial.

Judge Hornby interviewed both the person who overheard the slur and the juror. At first the juror denied using the phrase, but later admitted he’d said it, but asserted he only did so after the trial. Judge Hornby chose to believe the probation supervisee and ordered a new trial.

In his ruling, Judge Hornby said the juror’s comment, which the judge believe was expressed beyond doubt, demonstrated that, “at that early stage of the trial this juror had already made up his mind that the defendants were guilty, and that ethnic stereotyping affected his judgment.”

In their retrial, the brothers face up to 10 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines if found guilty of employing undocumented workers. At their first trial, workers testified they worked 13 hours a day, six or seven days a week, with only one two-hour break, the Press Herald reports. The workers testified they were paid $300 to $500 a week.

Hat tip: Jur-E Bulletin from the National Center for State Courts.

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