11/21/2000

Alternate claims jury bias in first Ramparts trial

(LOS ANGELES) -- The convictions of three officers in the biggest corruption scandal to rock the police department were jeopardized on Oct. 17 when an alternate juror accused the foreman of deciding the defendants were guilty before testimony even began.

The foreman and another juror disputed her allegations and said they stand behind the verdicts.

The alternate also alleged that the jurors often discussed the case among themselves outside court before deliberations began - a violation of the judge's instructions.

Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Connor ordered more testimony on the matter later this month. Defense attorneys said the allegations are sufficient to warrant a new trial. The district attorney's office refused to comment.

The allegations came three days after the verdict in the first trial to come out of the scandal.

Sgt. Brian Liddy, Sgt. Edward Ortiz and Officer Michael Buchanan were convicted of conspiracy and other crimes Oct. 16 involving the framing of gang members four years ago. Officer Paul Harper was acquitted of all charges.

Alternate juror Wendy Christiansen, 30, who did not participate in deliberations, told the judge that on the day the jurors were selected, she had lunch with an alternate and foreman Victor Flores. "A comment was made that he believed the defendants were guilty," she said.

But Flores told KNBC-TV on Friday that he "absolutely" stood by the verdicts and denied concluding the officers were guilty before deliberations. "No, I did not say that; that wouldn't be something I'd even utter because the law says they're innocent until proven guilty," he said.

Christiansen also alleged that throughout the trial other jurors openly said they thought the prosecution's police witnesses were lying when they claimed they didn't remember things. And jurors often expressed their dislike for three defense attorneys, she said.

"Every time we'd come back from being out here (in the courtroom), there were a lot of comments being made about the defense attorneys. They didn't like the defense attorneys. The person they did like was (Joel) Isaacson," she said.

Isaacson's client was the officer who was cleared.

"Whether they like me or not I could care less," said Barry Levin, Ortiz's lawyer. "But whether you like an attorney or not, you can't take it out on the client. The crux of the judicial system is you're entitled to 12 unbiased jurors."

(iSyndicate; The Commercial Appeal; Nov. 18, 2000) Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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