Conduct of 2 Lam Jurors Might Have Tainted a Verdict

Times Staff Writer

Even if jurors in the trial of Minh Van Lam had reached a verdict, their decision could have been thrown out because two jurors may have acted improperly during the deliberations, members of the panel disclosed Tuesday.

Several of the jurors said one of their colleagues violated the judge's order that jurors refrain from investigating the case on their own, and another brought in a federal court jury instruction that apparently is contrary to the state court instructions that applied in the trial.

A mistrial was declared Tuesday after the jurors declared the deliberations deadlocked.

The two jurors named by colleagues as having acted in a manner that might have negated the jury discussions denied doing anything improper.

Several jurors in the case, in which Lam was charged with murder in the shooting death of Cal State Fullerton Prof. Edward Lee Cooperman, said they believed one of their fellow jurors erred by checking the defense version of events on his own, and recounting the results of his investigation to the other panelists.

They said that juror told them, during the deliberations, that his own findings clashed with Lam's claim of how long it took him to drive from the campus to Cerritos after the shooting.

Talked With Firefighters

They also said the juror told them he questioned firemen at a station next to the campus about how long it would have taken to reach Cooperman's office if they had been called immediately after the shooting.

Lam told investigators that after Cooperman was shot in his office on the Fullerton campus, he drove to Cerritos, picked up a girlfriend and took her to see a movie. He said he left before the movie ended, took his date home and then returned to Cooperman's office, at which time he called campus police and reported the shooting.

Juror Sharon Leroux of La Habra said that the juror in question, whom she would not name, disputed Lam's version of what happened. She said he contended that he often drove the route mentioned by Lam and has always made the journey more quickly.

She said the same juror asked Fullerton firemen how long it would take them to reach Cooperman's office, apparently to determine if the professor's life could have been saved had emergency help been promptly summoned.

Judge Richard J. Beacom, the Superior Court judge who presided over the case, told the jurors when the trial started not to do any investigating on their own. Beacom confirmed that he heard two jurors discussing the out-of-court action of one of their colleagues, and that one of the two told him about it after the mistrial was declared.

Judge Wouldn't Speculate

He would not say if the juror's action would have caused a mistrial due to juror misconduct if the panel had reached a verdict.

Other lawyers said a hearing would be required before it could be determined if the juror's action was grounds for a mistrial. The presiding judge of the Superior Court, Everett W. Dickey, said that whether a mistrial was declared would depend on the seriousness of a juror's action and how much it bore on an individual case.

Lam's attorney, Alan May, said that if his client had been convicted, he would have asked for a mistrial because of the juror's actions, and because another juror brought with him federal court jury instructions for a matter on which Beacom had already instructed the jury according to California law.

The jury foreman, Otto Christensen, said he heard a juror, whom he identified as Murrel Ledbetter, "say he did go up to the campus" and investigate aspects of the case himself. Ledbetter denied it. He said that although he lives in Fullerton not far from the campus, "I didn't drive nowhere to see about this. There's not a word of truth in this," he said.

Complaint of Defense

Juror Paul LaFollette, of Mission Viejo, a one-time FBI agent and former corporate attorney for Trans World Airlines, also denied any wrongdoing. May contends that LaFollette brought into the jury room an instruction for jurors used in federal court that is in conflict with the state court instruction Beacom gave to the jury.

LaFollette called May's claim "a damned lie." The juror said, "I brought my own knowledge as an attorney" into the deliberations, but "if that's a violation of the law or a violation of ethics, I don't know how you're going to curb a man's knowledge or experience."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
66°