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Ruling in juror's attempt to 'Facebook' witness postponed

Karen Krell walks toward the courtroom of Judge

Karen Krell walks toward the courtroom of Judge Margaret Clancy. (July 30, 2009) Credit: Newsday File / Patrick E. McCarthy

Defense lawyers will have to wait until next week to find out whether a Bronx judge will throw out convictions in last year's Black Sunday fire trial because a juror used Facebook and e-mails to contact a firefighter witness.

A ruling, originally slated for today, was postponed until February 10.

Juror Karen Krell admitted in court in July that she disobeyed state Supreme Court Justice Margaret Clancy's jury instructions by contacting firefighter Brendan Cawley, of Manhattan, who was injured in the blaze on Jan. 23, 2005, and testified about it.

Two firefighters - Lt. Curtis Meyran, 46, of Malverne, and Firefighter John Bellew, 37, of Pearl River - died trying to escape the inferno in the East 178th Street apartment building.

Clancy must decide whether Krell unfairly influenced other jurors and the verdicts. Some legal experts have expressed concerns about jurors using networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to sway verdicts and to access news about their trials.

Krell, a schoolteacher, first tried to contact Cawley by sending him an electronic invitation to become her Facebook "friend." Then she persisted with e-mails.

In one message, Krell wrote to Cawley: "I just want you to know that we all fought our hardest for all of you."

Cawley responded after the verdicts were in, but then told prosecutors about the e-mails.

The jury found building manager Cesar Rios and the building owner guilty of criminally negligent homicide. Prosecutors said they failed to remove illegal, tenant-built walls that confused firefighters trying to escape.

After the trial, Krell e-mailed some other jurors to tell them: "So I finally found Brendon [sic] on facebook [sic] and we wrote some letters to each other."

When Rios' attorney David Goldstein asked Krell whether she had become infatuated with Cawley, she denied it.

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