Judge Rejects Bid to Sequester Jurors
The judge in the David Westerfield trial Thursday turned down a renewed request to sequester the jury by the lead defense attorney who argued that the media are creating a “lynch-mob mentality” that could influence jurors.
With hundreds of journalists stationed outside the courthouse, the jury spent its sixth day deliberating without reaching a decision. Westerfield is charged with the kidnap and murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam.
Jurors on Thursday asked to review testimony from a police criminalist. The criminalist testified that fibers found on Danielle’s body--including one in her necklace--matched fibers taken from Westerfield’s home and recreational vehicle.
Defense attorney Steven Feldman said he is concerned that jurors will fear delivering a not-guilty verdict because they would be hounded by the media and scorned by neighbors and co-workers. “We’ve got to get the jury out of harm’s way,” he said.
But Superior Court Judge William Mudd said he believes that the jurors will follow his oft-repeated admonition not to read or listen to any accounts of the trial. He also rejected Feldman’s request to ban cameras from the court during the verdict and the penalty phase if needed.
Feldman singled out talk-show hosts from KFI-AM (640) in Los Angeles who broadcast their show Monday from outside the courthouse. The pair called jurors “broccoli” for not quickly convicting Westerfield and gathered a crowd by handing out stems of the vegetable.
“I suppose it’s entertainment in L.A.,” said Mudd. “I hope it stays in L.A.”
Sequestering jurors--requiring them to live in a hotel and avoid virtually all contact with their families as well as newspapers, television and radio--is rarely done in the San Diego court system. One reason is that sequestration led to considerable controversy in the political corruption trial of then-Mayor Roger Hedgecock in 1985.
After Hedgecock was convicted, his attorneys claimed that the bailiff who was sent to supervise the jurors improperly influenced them by supplying legal definitions. A photograph showed the jurors drinking, and there were indications that being together in the hotel led to friction and animosity among them.
Even as he was deciding not to ban cameras, Mudd continued to express annoyance at the media. He said his clerk and bailiff will no longer answer questions from reporters. “We’re not here for you, believe it or not,” Mudd told reporters.
Mudd and the media have had several clashes, including disagreements over the judge’s decision to seal documents and hold closed hearings and to oust a producer for a San Diego radio talk show that broadcast information from a closed hearing.
“Judge Mudd has got to come into the 21st century,” said Dean Nelson, journalism professor at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.
“You can’t control information like you could in the ‘40s and ‘50s,” he said. “He’s got to learn how to live in the information age.”