The fate of Beverly Hills fashion designer Anand Jon Alexander appeared sealed last year when 12 jurors found him guilty of sexually assaulting young women in a trial that made international headlines.
But nearly eight months later, the focus of the case has shifted from the charges against the Indian-born designer to accusations against one of the jurors who convicted him.
Juror No. 12, as he was known during the trial, stands accused of improperly contacting the defendant’s sister before the verdicts. The claim has thrown the conviction into doubt and raised the prospect of a repeat of the high-profile trial.
Defense attorneys allege that the juror, a seemingly mild-mannered Los Angeles City building inspector, twice reached out to the sister near the end of the trial, possibly seeking a date, and then voted for a conviction after she refused to meet him alone.
The accusation has sparked a series of highly unusual court hearings.
Defense attorneys have accused district attorney’s officials of sabotaging an investigation into the alleged misconduct. Prosecutors accuse the designer’s sister of working to subvert the verdicts.
The juror, Alvin Dymally, insisted at a recent court hearing that his contact with the designer’s sister came after the trial. But he invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination when defense attorneys produced a barely audible recording of a phone conversation they said was between the juror and Alexander’s sister.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Harland Braun, a veteran criminal defense attorney who is representing the designer’s sister. “It’s a terrible thing that this juror has done. . . . He’s basically jeopardized an entire criminal case.”
Prosecutors this week said they believed Dymally did speak to Alexander’s sister before the verdicts. But they said his contact amounted to little more than harmless flirting -- such as telling her, “I love your eyes” -- and did not affect the fairness of the trial.
District attorney’s officials noted that Alexander reported the contact only after her brother was convicted.
“She hijacked this juror in an attempt to derail the jury system,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Frances Young wrote.
Superior Court Judge David S. Wesley is scheduled to hear more testimony Monday before deciding whether to order a new trial. Prosecutors have raised concerns that the alleged victims might be unwilling to testify again at a new trial.
Alexander, 35, who goes by the professional name of Anand Jon, was once billed as an up-and-coming talent in the fashion industry. Newsweek magazine included him on a list of people to watch in 2007.
During the trial, the designer’s team of high-profile attorneys portrayed him as a victim of false accusations. Some alleged victims, they said, were angry at the way he had treated them while others were hoping to profit financially.
But prosecutors described Alexander as a serial predator who targeted girls as young as 14. They said he used the promise of modeling jobs to lure them to his apartment, where he acted out sadistic fantasies.
After listening to harrowing testimony from more than a dozen women, some of whom wept on the witness stand, jurors found Alexander guilty of raping one woman and sexually assaulting six others. The conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Defendants have a right to have their cases heard by 12 impartial jurors. To win a new trial, defense attorneys need to show that just one juror committed misconduct that prevented a fair trial, said Jean Rosenbluth, a law professor at USC and a former federal prosecutor.
“Common sense dictates that if everyone else thinks he’s guilty, then the guy is guilty, so why does it matter what this one juror did? But that’s not how our system works,” Rosenbluth said.
Both the juror and Alexander’s sister were subjects of controversy during the trial.
Several jurors complained to the judge during deliberations that juror No. 12 was refusing to properly deliberate and had made up his mind about the evidence. Prosecutors argued at the time that the juror should be replaced. But the judge sided with Alexander’s lawyers and ruled he should remain.
During the trial, prosecutors accused Alexander’s sister, Sanjana, of talking to jurors in the hallway and trying to intimidate witnesses. They also said she tailed two alleged victims one weekend in a short Robert Ludlum-type car chase.
She has denied the claims. The judge ordered her not to communicate with witnesses or jurors in the case and threatened to otherwise hold her in contempt, prosecutors said.
Sanjana Alexander, also a fashion designer, came to the United States from India in 1992 with her younger brother, whom she described in court papers as “my strength, my light, my calm, my shelter.”
She said she was in the court cafeteria toward the end of his trial when juror No. 12 handed her a piece of paper with his cellphone number. She said she later made a call from a public pay phone. The juror, she said in court papers, told her, “We know he is innocent, so don’t worry.”
Cutting a striking figure dressed in a white dress with a matching wrap, she testified in court that the juror approached her later in the courthouse and asked her to call him again. When she did, she said the juror told her, “We need to meet with you alone.” She said she refused and hung up.
Phone records confirm that calls were made to the juror’s cellphone during the trial from the two pay phones Sanjana Alexander said she had used.
Two months after the trial’s end, defense attorneys obtained approval from the judge to investigate her claims. They planned to secretly record the juror at a meeting he had arranged with her. The district attorney’s office was told about the proposed encounter and sent its own investigators.
On Jan. 7, Sanjana Alexander sat in a Starbucks on Wilshire Boulevard sipping a caramel Frappuccino and wearing a hidden recording device planted by a private investigator. But as the juror approached the coffee shop, district attorney’s investigators stopped and questioned him about the allegations. Shaken, the juror left without meeting her.
Defense attorneys accused the district attorney’s office of wrecking their attempt to learn more about the juror’s motive in contacting her. District attorney’s investigators testified they took their action after considering whether she had staged the meeting at Starbucks to undermine her brother’s conviction.
The judge ruled that the intervention by the investigators did not amount to misconduct, but he called their actions “troubling.”
Testifying in the same courtroom where he had sat as a juror, Dymally recently acknowledged giving Sanjana Alexander his cellphone number in the courthouse cafeteria but insisted that he did so after the verdict, saying he hoped to resolve lingering questions about the case.
Neatly dressed in a short-sleeved button-down shirt with a pen in the top pocket, Dymally, 46, stopped talking when a defense attorney played a recording that Sanjana Alexander said she made of their first phone conversation. Little could be heard beyond traffic noise except her repeatedly telling someone “thank you” -- something defense attorneys said she would not have said after the verdicts.
“Mr. Alexander did not get a fair trial because one of the jurors was more interested in either extorting money or sex from his sister than he was in reaching a fair verdict,” defense attorney Leonard B. Levine said afterward outside court.
Prosecutors said this week in court papers that they believed the juror lied and that he had violated a court order against talking to non-jurors in the case when he “gave in to his own selfish desires to try to flirt with a woman who made it clear she would welcome his advances.”
But they said an FBI enhancement of the recording failed to support Sanjana Alexander’s most serious claims, including that the juror said he believed her brother was innocent.
According to a transcript filed by prosecutors, the juror told her, “I’ll do every possible thing I can do,” and expressed an interest in meeting her after the trial. Much of the conversation gleaned from the recording, however, involved Dymally complimenting her looks.
“I think that you’re really sexy,” he told her, according to the transcript. “I love your eyes, and leave your hair long.”