The trial of a Mastic man charged with raping and killing a young Medford mother almost ended prematurely Monday after at least one juror expressed concern about prominent placards demanding justice for the victim in the Riverhead courthouse parking lot.
Before the third day of testimony resumed in the trial of Dante Taylor, 20, state Supreme Court Justice John Collins questioned all 12 jurors and three alternate jurors about whether they would be influenced by the posters, signs and decals on the cars of family members and friends of Sarah Goode, 21. She was stabbed more than 40 times in the early hours of June 7, 2014 in Medford.
Some of the signs demand “Justice for Sarah Goode.” Others echo social media posts that say “Never Free Dante Taylor.” Many of them include large photos of Goode.
Before jurors reassured him in chambers that they could continue to be fair and impartial, Collins said in court he did not know if the trial could continue.
The judge then gingerly but sternly lectured the large group of Goode’s family and friends about the issue before he spoke to jurors. He reminded them that they had been warned about this issue more than once before.
“I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the manner both families and their friends have conducted themselves in the courtroom,” Collins began. “I don’t know what happens outside the courtroom.”
He insisted that no one try to influence jurors.
“The decision in this case must be made by this jury, in this courtroom, based on the evidence alone,” Collins said. He noted that the law prohibits such signs within 200 feet of the courthouse, but added that it’s also against the law to try to influence jurors “whether it’s 200 feet away or 200 miles.”
Collins, a former homicide prosecutor, said he was aware that family members are emotional in such cases, but insisted they keep their emotions under control.
“The courtroom, the courthouse, the courthouse parking lot are not the places to let these emotions run amok,” he said, warning that if there are further complaints he will deal with it “as seriously as I’m permitted to deal with it. I’m trying to run a fair trial here – a fair trial to everybody.”
Family members were upset, but the posters and signs soon disappeared from the parking lot. A Facebook post by the family emphasized their distaste for the ruling, but stressed that it must be obeyed.
“Apparently a disgusting murderer has more rights than we do,” the post said. “We were told we are not allowed to show support for Sarah in this way. We were threatened with a mistrial by the judge if we didn’t adhere to these rules.”
When testimony finally resumed, defense attorney John Lewis Jr. of Farmingdale suggested during his cross-examination of forensic scientist Thomas Zaveski that the search for evidence near where Goode’s decomposing body was found wasn’t as thorough as the witness had suggested. Zaveski said the search of the large swath of woods was done in less than four hours.
Lewis also asked why no photo was taken of a palm print left on the hood of Goode’s abandoned BMW before evidence specialists processed it as a fingerprint.
Prosecutors have said the palm print was Taylor’s and was left by Goode’s blood on his hand. In his opening statement, Lewis suggested the print and the blood were left separately. He has conceded that his client was with Goode that night, but said he left her unharmed.