A juror who said he witnessed possible misconduct by fellow jurors and federal marshals in the recently completed Enrique Camarena murder trial “is entirely lacking in credibility” and his allegations are “rife with hearsay,” federal prosecutors have charged, hoping to block a mistrial motion in the highly sensitive case.
Defense attorneys have sought a mistrial based primarily on an Aug. 17 declaration by juror William R. Parris of Lancaster, who claimed that jurors frequently ignored the judge’s instructions to avoid news accounts of the trial while it was in progress. Parris also said a deputy marshal urged the six-man, six-woman jury to return a swift verdict on one of the defendants.
A lengthy brief filed recently by Assistant U.S. Attys. Manuel A. Medrano and John L. Carlton contends that the defense is not entitled to a hearing on Parris’ allegations. However, in the event that U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie decides to hold such a hearing, the prosecutors urged that each member of the jury be questioned individually behind closed doors.
Parris, a manager for an aerospace company, said the jurors skimmed newspaper headlines about the case on a daily basis and discussed information they heard on television about the trial.
Also, Parris said the jury viewed a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, who was a prosecution witness, as an American hero after learning that Mexico wanted him extradited because of his role in the kidnaping of a Mexican doctor, who is a suspect in the case. Parris said jurors worried about the safety of DEA Agent Hector Berrellez when they did not see him in the courtroom.
The prosecutors claim that attorneys for the four defendants improperly questioned jurors after the trial, searching for information about whether their deliberations were tainted by exposure to news media coverage or other extraneous influences.
The defense lawyers argued that a new trial is mandated where a reasonable possibility exists that jurors may have been influenced by information not introduced into evidence at the trial.
All four defendants were convicted earlier this summer after lengthy jury deliberations. The trial stemmed out of the February, 1985, kidnaping and murder of Camarena, a veteran DEA agent, in Guadalajara, Mexico. The murder and subsequent investigation of it by the DEA has placed a serious strain on U.S.-Mexico relations.
The possibility of problems during jury deliberations first arose on Aug. 2 when Rafeedie was informed by a court stenographer, Julie A. Churchill, that she had seen newspapers in the jury room when she had gone there to read trial testimony.
Several jurors acknowledged that there were newspapers in the jury room throughout their deliberations, according to a transcript of the hearing that was later released. Some jurors said they had taken newspapers into the jury room every day of deliberations, believing it was permitted.
However, all the jurors denied that they had read any stories about the Camarena case. Most said they believed that the jurors had followed the judge’s frequent admonitions not to read any news accounts of the trial.
On the other hand, two jurors, Parris and forewoman Peggy Dolan, said they were both under the impression that some of their colleagues had read articles on the case based on discussions that had taken place in the jury room.
At the Aug. 2 hearing in Rafeedie’s chambers, Parris and Dolan said they thought the jurors’ decisions had not been influenced by exposure to media coverage.
The two bailiffs said they had not noticed jurors taking newspapers into the jury room, although Deputy Marshal Jan C. Ashbrenner acknowledged that one of the jurors “has been bringing crossword puzzles to me.” Ashbrenner and her colleague, Clay Mitchell, said they had not been checking the jurors’ bags for newspapers.
The prosecution brief contends that Parris either misled Rafeedie on Aug. 2 or is doing so in his written declaration, adding that the latter is the “most plausible” interpretation because other jurors denied reading news articles.
The prosecutors also suggest that Parris’ declaration was motivated by “the possibility of personal resentment and animosity” because he was replaced as foreman of the jury in the middle of deliberations. Parris has acknowledged that he was probably the most skeptical juror at the start of deliberations, leading to some bitter arguments. However, in his declaration he swore that he was coming forward solely to document what he had seen and heard.