Testimony continued Thursday in a hearing to determine whether jurors engaged in discussions about the case of Thomas Murphy before deliberations began despite warnings from a judge that they were not permitted to do so.
Each of the seven jurors who testified denied that they had discussed the case despite claims by defense attorney Steven Politi that such conversations took place.
Three of six jurors Wednesday backed up Mr. Politi’s assertion, recalling moments where fellow jurors “shushed” each other from commenting on testimony heard throughout the six-week trial. Mr. Murphy was found guilty in December for his role in a 2018 drunken driving crash that killed 12-year-old Andrew McMorris of Wading River.
“At this juncture, it appears that many of the people have seen others speak about the trial testimony, but not one juror has yet to come in and be the juror who was actually speaking about it,” Mr. Politi said Thursday afternoon as the day’s proceedings concluded. “So that raises some eyebrows as to who’s telling the truth here.”
One juror Thursday said she never admonished her colleagues for speaking about the case, conflicting with testimony provided yesterday from another juror who said she and two other women at times reminded others of the court’s rule.
Another juror said he overheard a female juror tell someone to not speak about the case, but could not recall the specific comment it was in response to.
None of the jurors who have testified so far have said their opinions were swayed in the case.
As Juror No. 2 was called to testify Thursday, Mr. Politi attempted to expand the scope of the hearing to include the man’s actions during jury deliberations.
He pointed to testimony that suggests the juror made comments and rolled his eyes to express that he disagreed with portions of testimony given by Dr. Jimmie Valentine, an expert forensic toxicologist called by the defense at trial.
“[The misconduct] started in the halfway when he indicated to Juror No. 8 that my expert witness was wrong,” Mr. Politi said, adding that he believes that behavior continued as jurors entered closed door deliberations.
But Judge Fernando Camacho forbade Mr. Politi from probing what went on during deliberations, which he described as a “sacred” process.
On the stand, Juror No. 2 denied that he expressed any opinions about Dr. Valentine’s testimony, but said it’s possible that his body language may have inadvertently.
At times, the juror testified, a box of tissues was passed around a back room as testimony in the trial grew emotional. He assured that despite the “mood” of the room, nothing specific was discussed and the panel reminded each other that they were there to weigh the facts in the case.
Three additional jurors are expected to testify in court Friday. The hearing will continue Tuesday, Sept. 29, where an alternate juror will be called to give his account of jury conduct.
That juror was denied entry to the courthouse Wednesday due to a COVID-19 questionnaire that revealed he had been in close contact with a family member who traveled out of state and must quarantine for 14 days.
Judge Camacho ruled against hearing his testimony via Skype, citing that the witness’s credibility must be assessed as part of the hearing, based on their responses and body language. “[That’s] not possible on a computer screen,” he said.
Thursday’s proceeding again called attention to tactics used by private investigator Joseph Cornetta during post-verdict interviews of jurors. Some jurors have alleged that Mr. Cornetta insinuated a lengthy prison sentence could exacerbate Mr. Murphy’s health condition.
Mr. Politi contends that there was nothing improper about the way he or Mr. Cornetta conducted those meetings. “A lot of the witnesses who are now in full denial mode were jurors that didn’t speak to the defense, but did speak to the prosecution,” he noted.
Mr. Politi continued to argue Thursday that while he understands the emotional gravity of the case, he’s seeking to represent his client fairly. “This is a country that affords people rights and all I’m trying to do is make sure my clients’ rights are protected,” he said.
For the McMorris family, the continued delay is unbearable.
“This jury misconduct is just a deception — he’s muddying the waters,” Andrew’s father, John, told reporters after the hearing.
His wife, Alisa, echoed that idea.
“We had a trial and the facts were revealed,” she said. “They were deliberated by jurors and a decision was made on Dec. 18 … Andrew didn’t get a second chance.”