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Judge halts murder trial, rips 3 jurors
Cites failure to disclose criminal pasts
By Jonathan Saltzman, Globe Staff | December 23, 2004

In a stunning conclusion to the five-week trial of two alleged street gang members accused of murdering 10-year-old Trina Persad, a Suffolk County judge declared a mistrial yesterday in the case of the man accused of shooting the girl after learning that three jurors had failed to disclose their criminal records.

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Suffolk Superior Court Judge Margaret R. Hinkle halted jury deliberations in the trial of Joseph Cousin, the 20-year-old Dorchester man prosecutors say fired a fatal shotgun blast that killed Persad in 2002. The judge's unexpected announcement was made a day after the same jury acquitted 25-year-old Marquis Nelson, Cousin's codefendant, of first-degree murder and several lesser charges.

Prosecutors said that Cousin will be retried in the case, but that the state cannot retry Nelson because of the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy.

At a press conference after the announcement, Persad's mother, Bernadette Fernandes, criticized the three jurors but expressed hope that a new jury would bring justice to her family.

"I believe that when your closet is full of dust, you have to clean it out and start again, and that's what happened today," she said, holding a large photograph of her smiling daughter. "I believe there's a lot of good people out there and bad people out there, and the right ones will be selected for Trina."

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley vowed last night to run criminal background checks on all potential jurors in future criminal cases. He said his office had routinely accepted the truthfulness of answers on the sworn jury questionnaires because people sign them under the penalties of perjury.

Massachusetts law permits people with criminal records to serve on juries, Conley said. But he said prosecutors would probably have opposed the seating of the three jurors if they had answered their questionnaires truthfully. A criminal background, Conley said, "points to an obvious bias against police."

Neither the court nor Conley would identify the jurors or details of their criminal record, though one of the three had a "voluminous record," he said. Conley declined to explain what prompted the background checks.

After interviewing the three jurors separately in her chambers and then dismissing them, Hinkle rebuked them in open court for violating the "integrity of our jury process."

"The lack of adequate disclosure of this information is particularly troubling in this case," said Hinkle, who learned about the jurors' criminal records from Conley's office yesterday.

The three jurors, Conley said, committed a "terrible injustice" by helping to acquit Nelson of murdering Persad on June 29, 2002, in what police called a botched drive-by shooting.

"That verdict will stand," Conley said. "Mr. Nelson was acquitted, albeit by a tainted jury."

In an impromptu press conference in the hallway, Cousin's lawyer, Willie Davis, said he was disgusted by the ruling. He called the timing of prosecutors' disclosure to the judge highly suspicious.

Davis pointed out that Nelson had been acquitted Tuesday in a verdict that surprised and disappointed prosecutors and police. Officials had privately expressed concern that Cousin also might be found not guilty.

"I can only question the timing of this," Davis said. "Wasn't there an acquittal yesterday? Do you have to be a PhD in applied mathematics from MIT to figure that out?"

Cousin's mother, Cindy Cousin, sounded a similar theme, saying that prosecutors brought this to light only after they "knew the jury was leaning toward acquitting my son."

Conley told reporters at the courthouse that prosecutors had first learned about the jurors' criminal records yesterday and were "duty-bound to bring that to the attention of the court."

He said he is considering charging the three jurors with perjury. Answering a jury questionnaire with a "willful misrepresentation" is a crime punishable with a fine of up to $2,000, Hinkle said in court.

First Assistant Suffolk District Attorney Josh Wall promptly told the judge that the state intended to retry Cousin "at the first available opportunity."

Long before a trial begins, prospective jurors are asked a series of questions to give the prosecutor and defense lawyers insight into possible biases. One of the questions, Hinkle said in court, asks individuals to briefly describe whether they or members of their immediate family have had "any involvement, past or present, as a party or a victim, in a criminal or civil case."

The three jurors did not disclose that information, she said.

The court was unable to replace them yesterday because there were only two alternates remaining. A third alternate had been seated Monday morning after the jury foreman had to leave because of a planned family trip.

William Bickerson, one of the nine remaining jurors, said he was surprised and disappointed the jury could not complete its work.

"We worked hard to reach a verdict and carry out the process," said Bickerson, 62, of Roxbury, who declined to say which way the jury was leaning in Cousin's case. "We didn't get to finish it."

Another juror indicated that Cousin's supporters may have been right in feeling hopeful about an acquittal. "I'm not sure anyone thought [Cousin] was innocent; there just wasn't enough evidence putting him there," said the juror, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I hope that when they try him again, that there's some conclusion for the mother, that she has some closure."

This is not the first time that jurors have been dismissed from a trial because they withheld their criminal records. Two jurors were dismissed in the October murder trial of Lord Hampton, who was charged with murdering 14-year-old Chauntae Jones and her unborn baby in 1999, according to the district attorney's office. But those jurors had not begun deliberating and were replaced with alternates. The jury ended up convicting Hampton.
 

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Dan Conley will keep going, it's unfortunate but it's not over yet!
 

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Did you hear the mother of the defendant, Joseph Cousin, preaching that her son is a "good boy", he was "trying to straighten his life out" and that he was "set up" by the Police. Is it me, or are these the typical responses


















































































































































































































































































































Did anyone see the mother of the defendant, Joseph Cousin, going on and on about her son being a "good boy, who is "trying to get away from the street" and that he was "set up" by the police and prosecutors? How come every time a gang bangin' thug or punk is arrested and prosecuted, they are portrayed as the victim by their family. Most times these are KNOWN gamg members and low lifes, like the scumbag above who are caught. I know that it is hard for a parent to admit that their child is a dirtbag but come on. Where were you when this happened to your son? Things like this don't happen overnight. Parents are trying to point fingers at everyone but themselves for the failures of their children. The OPRAH-FICATION of America continues.....everyone is the victim.

Unfortunately, the real victim, this poor little 10 year old girl caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and her family have to wait for their justice.
 
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