Wednesday, February 4, 2015
By Bob McGovern
FALL RIVER - With two of the biggest trials in the nation taking place in Massachusetts, it's time to send a message to stealth jurors.
If you lie during jury selection, you should go to jail.
A woman - known to us simply as juror No. 96 - made it past all the safeguards in place to weed out bias and sat for two days of evidence in the high-profile murder trial of former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez.
She lied during jury selection, and had in the past discussed how it would be hard to convict Hernandez without a murder weapon, according to Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh.
"Over the last few years, the juror has expressed an interest in serving on this particular jury," Garsh said, in a measured tone. "Discharge of the juror is indeed in the best interest of justice."
Garsh bent over backwards to safeguard the jury-selection process, and up in Boston, Judge George A. O'Toole Jr. is doing the same to make sure accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev gets a fair shake.
But all it takes is one glory hound to derail the entire concept of a fair and impartial jury.
"The problem of stealth jurors is becoming so much more frequent than ever before," said J.W. Carney Jr., a criminal defense attorney not involved in either trial. "This undermines the integrity of the jury-selection process and denies the defendant the due process that the Constitution guarantees."
Garsh could and should set an example here. She could cite the juror for contempt of a court order and put it to the Bristol County district attorney to prosecute the case. If not Garsh, the DA's office could bring a perjury charge on its own.
If found guilty of either, a lying juror could spend time behind bars. That's what would happen to a witness who lied in front of a grand jury, and that's what should happen when jurors lie about their biases.
"This is the fear of both sides. If you have a juror who is motivated simply by the lure of the case and what he or she might get out of it, you really have an impaired process," said Brad Bailey, a criminal defense attorney not involved in the case. "Whenever you have a high-profile case, this is a big concern."
The damage a stealth juror can cause is devastating. Just ask the families of Gary Lee Sampson's victims. His death penalty sentence was thrown out because a juror repeatedly lied when answering questions during jury selection.
Now more than a decade after his murderous rampage, Sampson's new sentencing trial will take place in September. That's what happens when a juror lies for the limelight.