A state appeals court has ordered a new trial in a murder case because of a tainted jury.
Defendant Wayne Thomas, 36, was convicted in state Supreme Court before Justice Wayne M. Ozzi in Staten Island in August 2017 of two counts each of first-degree murder and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
Thomas was sentenced to life in prison.
Thomas was convicted of fatally shooting brothers Justin Ford, 28, and Terrell Ford, 27, outside an after-hours club on Oct. 4, 2015.
Thomas fled the scene and was arrested four days later inside an apartment where he was hiding under clothes in his girlfriend’s closet.
In a decision released earlier this month the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, Second Department, reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial.
“The defendant correctly contends that the Supreme Court erred in denying his challenge for cause to a prospective juror,” the Second Department wrote.
Prospective jurors can be challenged if they indicate that they won’t be impartial. If a prospective juror indicates that they are likely not impartial, they “must state unequivocally that he or she can set aside any bias and render an impartial verdict based solely on the evidence,” the court wrote.
“A prospective juror’s responses, construed as a whole, must demonstrate an absolute belief that his or her prior opinion will not influence his or her verdict,” the court wrote.
In Thomas’s case, during voir dire, one prospective juror, a firefighter who worked in the neighborhood where the crimes happened, told Justice Ozzi that he sees “a lot that goes on in the area,” according to the decision.
Initially, the juror said he could be fair and impartial, but he subsequently stated that the police in the neighborhood “defended us, stuck up for us,” and he added that he would “lean a little bit more to what (a police officer) had to say,” the court wrote.
The juror told Ozzi that he would treat police officers’ testimony the same as the testimony of civilian witnesses.
But, when he was asked if he was retracting what he said about “favoring police testimony,” the juror “did not answer in the affirmative,” according to the decision.
“Instead, he stated that he would evaluate police testimony based on what he had experienced,” the court wrote.
The prospective juror failed to provide an “unequivocal assurance” that he could set aside any bias and render an impartial verdict based on the evidence, the court wrote.
[email protected] / (585) 232-2035