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Penn Jurors Sequestered; Shocked by Abrupt Order

Times Staff Writer

Superior Court Judge Ben W. Hamrick stunned jurors in the murder trial of Sagon Penn on Thursday when he ordered them sequestered until they reach a verdict.

“I have been monitoring the news coverage on this case,” Hamrick told the jury on its 10th day of deliberations. “In an abundance of caution, so that the jury will not be influenced by the publicity, I’m going to sequester the jury for the balance of the deliberations.”

Hamrick did not elaborate on the publicity that prompted his order.

The expressions on several jurors’ faces indicated they were not pleased by Hamrick’s decision. Vernell Hardy, who gave birth to a boy May 20, broke down in tears and had to be escorted from the courtroom during a brief recess.

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Hamrick suggested that the jurors deliberate at the courthouse seven days a week from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Each evening they will be taken to a hotel, where they will remain until deliberations resume the next morning.

The jury had been deliberating six hours a day on weekdays, and members were permitted to leave the courthouse for a 90-minute lunch break.

“I trust you won’t find this too inconvenient, but I really think that it is necessary,” Hamrick said.

The order confronted the court with a logistical nightmare.

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All of the jurors had to make arrangements to get clothes and personal belongings. Eight of the 12 jurors needed to find a permanent place to park their cars downtown. Others said they had to pick up children from school or arrange baby-sitting. One had to take a relative to the doctor’s office Friday. One juror was scheduled to sign auto loan papers; another wanted to say goodby to a daughter who will be leaving San Diego next week for a monthlong trip.

Hamrick decided to let the jurors leave the courthouse Thursday afternoon to take care of any such errands. The judge said he would arrange for marshals to provide a “personal escort service” throughout the remainder of deliberations. He made county parking spots at the Sheriff Department’s downtown lot available to jurors. He also said he would allow Hardy to visit her infant each evening for one hour.

“I’m not making this decision lightly, and I’m not making it to put pressure on you,” Hamrick told the jurors. “I want you to take all the time you need to arrive at a verdict in this case.”

Penn is charged with murder in the March 31, 1985, shooting of San Diego Police Agent Thomas Riggs and attempted murder in the shootings of Police Agent Donovan Jacobs and Sarah Pina-Ruiz, a civilian who accompanied Riggs in his car. He is charged with a third attempted murder count for driving over the wounded Jacobs with a police car as he fled the driveway in Southeast San Diego where the shootings took place.

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The defense has alleged that the two officers used their night sticks to repeatedly beat Penn, a 24-year-old black man. Numerous witnesses have testified that Jacobs told Penn, “You think you’re bad, nigger . . . I’m going to beat your black ass.”


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