Juror argues with judge, causes mistrial
Jurors typically aren't the ones hauled off to jail.
But that happened last week in Montgomery County, and now, a three-day attempted murder trial will have to be redone.
"You think you’ve seen everything, and now this happens," the county’s top prosecutor, John McCarthy, said Monday. "We're back to square one."
According to recordings of the trial, the juror erupted twice on Wednesday during breaks in jury deliberations in the trial of a man accused of shooting an acquaintance twice in the chest during a cookout last summer.
The juror argued out loud with the judge, asserting that he couldn't hold him any longer. He was then separated from the other jurors, who continued deliberating, which tainted whatever verdict they could have rendered.
"It gives new definition to a renegade juror," Circuit Judge Michael Algeo said from the bench. "Maybe we can make a reality show out of it, or a movie. But the sad part of this is this is reality, and everybody has been prejudiced and affected by it. And I don’t know that I have any choice but to grant a mistrial in this case."
The juror, identified in court documents as Uros Novakovski, said his outburst likely was due to errant blood-sugar levels.
"I’m sorry I made this commotion,” he told Algeo just before being sent away to jail. "Maybe my sugar is very high or very low then I don’t act quite normally … I guess this is serious. Please forgive me."
Novakovski spent about 24 hours in jail, and was released after someone posted a $5,000 fine on his behalf, according to court officials.
He did not answer the door of a North Bethesda address provided in court records, and he did not respond to a note left on the door. An acquaintance said Novakovski did not want to comment.
Montgomery County courthouse veterans said they'd never heard of a juror behing held in contempt of court and placed in jail.
The case before Novakovski last week involved Darrell Matthews, 38, of Odenton, who was accused of shooting Augustus Williams after a disagreement with roots in a previous cookout.
"Mr. Matthews walks up to him, very close, and says, 'Hey Gus, what’s up?' " prosecutor Ray Pilkerton told jurors in his opening statement. "Gus thinks this is round two of the fight. But instead, Gus takes two bullets in the chest."
Matthews's defense attorney, Michael Gambrill, told jurors his client had left the cookout well before the shooting. Gambrill pointed to problems in the prosecutions' case.
Both opening statements apparently left Novakovski wanting more.
"Do we get to ask questions? Do we get anything written?" he asked from the jury box.
No, Algeo said.
To go after Matthews's alibi -- that he'd left the cookout before the shooting and retired to his home -- prosecutors brought in a cellular telephone company official from New Jersey to help establish that calls from Matthews’ cell phone that night did not originate from his home.
Novakovski had no questions or outbursts in the second day of the trial, according to attorneys in the case. Jurors began deliberating at noon Wednesday.
At 4 p.m., they were still at it. Algeo brought them back into the courtroom to urge them to reach consensus. He asked them to go back into the jury room.
Novakovski balked, telling Algeo that he couldn’t be forced to deliberate.
“Return to the jury room,” Algeo countered.
That didn’t last long, at least for Novakovski.
He walked back into the courtroom and started to go through a bag. As Algeo would later tell attorneys in the case, he asked Novakovski to go back into the jury room, but Novakovski wouldn’t do so.
Algeo ordered sheriff’s deputies to take him into custody.
Gambrill, Matthews’ defense attorney, asked for a mistrial, noting that by the noises everyone could hear coming from behind the jury door, the remaining jurors appeared to be deliberating as an 11-person unit.
"This case has been irreparably tainted as a result of this juror’s conduct," Algeo concluded. "There’s just no way to put the box back together again."
The idea that the jurors were deliberating on their own was confirmed moments later, when Algeo was handed a piece of paper.
"Just for the cherry on the top, we have another note from the jury,"he said, reading what was before him. "The remaining members of the jury have agreed on all charges."
Algeo also asked the bailiffs to bring Novakovski back into the courtroom, and gave him a chance to explain himself.
"I came out just to take that stuff," he said. "… I just wanted to get the bag with my Granola bars and sugar and water..."
Algeo ruled the explanation didn’t square with Novakovski’s refusal to continue deliberating with his fellow jurors.
"This case has to be tried all over again because of your contempt for this system," he told Novakovski.
"I," Novakovski said.
"I don’t want to hear any more," Algeo said, cutting him off.
June 14, 2010; 9:00 PM ET
Categories: Dan Morse , From the Courthouse , Montgomery
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