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Defense in Etan Patz retrial raises new jury contamination claim

Juror Cateryn Kiernan (C) speaks during a press

Juror Cateryn Kiernan (C) speaks during a press conference after the verdict in the trial of Pedro Hernandez for the murder of Etan Patz, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Another juror from the Etan Patz re-trial has admitted learning that pro-conviction jurors from an earlier trial were sitting with Etan’s father Stan and the Patz family, adding ammunition to claims of jury contamination, according to a new filing from lawyers for defendant Pedro Hernandez.

Juror Cateryn Kiernan said she was “shocked” and “baffled” when she learned people who she had assumed were Patz relatives were actually part of the jury that ended deadlocked 11-1 at Hernandez’s first trial in 2015, according to an affidavit from a defense investigator.

“One need look no further than the impression Ms. Kiernan had that the jurors from the first trial were family members of Stanley Patz to understand the profound impression this had on jurors and how devastating it was to Mr. Hernandez’s constitutional right to the presumption of innocence,” defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein wrote.

Hernandez was convicted in February of murder in 6-year-old Etan’s long-unsolved 1979 disappearance on his way to catch a school bus in Soho. Hernandez, 53, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, who worked in a local bodega at the time, later confessed but the defense claimed it was a fantasy stemming from a mental disorder.

After the trial, juror Michael Castellon told Newsday that court officers had revealed the presence of previous jurors in court, and later an alternate confirmed to the defense that the jury knew. Justice Maxwell Wiley had said the new jury wasn’t supposed to be told of the earlier jury trial.

Kiernan, according to the new filing, told investigator Joseph O’Brien that she learned early in the second trial that prior jurors were attending, but only later — possibly during deliberations — was told that they were among the regulars who frequently sat with Etan’s father.

“Ms. Kiernan stated she was ‘shocked’ by the fact that the people … were jurors from the first trial,” the affidavit said. “Ms. Kiernan stated that she was ‘baffled’ by the fact that jurors from the first trial would attend all or almost all the second trial due to the highly emotional nature of the trial.”

Kiernan, the defense said, also noted the financial sacrifice of ex-jurors attending a trial that stretched over three months, but wasn’t sure where her information came from, saying it could have come from court officers but might also have come from “friends or something like that,” said the defense filing.

Fishbein said Wiley told jurors to report any out of court conversations about the case.

Jurors from the previous trial have said they felt strongly that Hernandez was guilty and attended the re-trial to provide support to the Patz family.

The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance did not respond to questions about Kiernan, but has previously argued that the defense claims of jury contamination aren’t a sufficient basis to overturn the jury verdict. Wiley has a hearing in the case scheduled for April 6.


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