Perez Jury Selection Halted While Juror's Honesty Questioned
By JOSH KOVNER
April 19, 2010
HARTFORD - Jury selection was abruptly halted this afternoon in Mayor Eddie A. Perez' bribery and larceny trial after the prosecution questioned the truthfulness of a Cuban-born juror's responses, and the defense fired back that the state just wants to strike jurors of color.
It was the second legal clash regarding the racial composition of the jury since the selection of the panel began April 12.
The Cuban-born juror was questioned on April 13. At that point, it came up that she had been the victim of a rape. She also said, in response to routine questions from the prosecution, that she held police officers in high regard and thought they had a tough job. She was ultimately selected as a juror.
This afternoon, prosecutors Michael Gailor and Chris Alexy told Superior Court Judge Julia Dewey that they had learned that the woman had actually made a complaint against a police officer during the investigation of the rape. The prosecutors told the judge that the woman's complaint didn't square with her answer on April 13 about holding police officers in high regard. They told the judge they wanted to excuse the juror for untruthfulness.
Defense lawyers Hubert Santos and Hope Seeley objected, saying that the woman's answers were not untruthful and that, in any case, the state had the opportunity on April 13 to explore the subject in full.
Santos contended that the prosecution was trying to systematically remove black and Latino jurors. He said that since the Cuban-born woman and a Hispanic man were selected early last week, the defense had picked the rest of the jury accordingly.
Dewey scheduled a hearing for Tuesday morning.
The prosecution had asked that the Hispanic man ? a part-time bail bondsman ? be dismissed because he was too closely associated with criminal defendants. The defense raised a "Batson'' challenge ? arguing the state dismissed the man for reasons of race. Judge Dewey said the man's answers to questions about the criminal justice system were neutral. She ruled for the defense and impaneled the juror.
Meanwhile today, the first of three alternate jurors was chosen.
Selection of the regular panel of six jurors was completed last week. The mayor's corruption case goes to trial May 12.
The first alternate is a woman who was born and raised in India, and who has worked for 20 years as an engineer for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft. A married mother of a 26-year-old daughter, she lives in Manchester and received one of her multiple master's degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Hartford campus.
Seeley asked the woman whether she got into the city much, and whether she had an opinion of Hartford. It's a theme that both sides in the case have taken up with prospective jurors. The answers have run the gamut, from negative, to neutral, to positive.
The seventh juror was in the latter category.
"I like certain areas,'' she said. "I always want to come back.''
"So you're not afraid of Hartford ? some people just don't like cities,'' said Seeley.
"Oh, no ? I went to RPI here. I was fine,'' the woman said.
Jurors have also been questioned by both sides about what they think about politicians in general, about whether they have an opinion about the job that Perez has done in the city, and whether they have formed any opinion about the case against him.
Perez, 53, a three-term mayor, is charged with receiving a bribe, fabricating physical evidence and conspiracy to fabricate physical evidence. He is accused of accepting free or deeply discounted work on his home from a developer -- family friend Carlos Costa -- who has received millions of dollars in city contracts. The arrest warrant alleges that Perez paid about $20,000 for an estimated $40,000 worth of home-improvement work from Costa, writing a check to Costa nearly two years after the work was done. The payment immediately followed his first interview with investigators, during which Perez said he had already paid Costa, the warrant asserts.
After the interview, the warrant states, Perez took out a second mortgage from which he paid Costa. Costa told investigators that he didn't expect to be paid for the work, and that he had chalked it up to the cost of doing business with the city
Santos and Seeley are prepared to argue at trial that there was no quid pro quo, and that Costa had no more access to the mayor after he did the home-improvement work than before it.
Perez also is charged with criminal attempt to commit first-degree larceny by extortion and coercion for allegedly allowing political power broker Abraham Giles to maintain lucrative business arrangements with the city, including parking-lot deals that lacked valid contracts.
According to the warrant, the deals had the mayor's support even though, in one case, Giles' reluctance to abandon a parking lot off Main Street unless he was paid $100,000 ended up scuttling a developer's plans to build a mixed-use commercial building.
Giles also was paid to transport items from the curbside that belonged to people who had been evicted from their homes. He was paid a fee even if moves were canceled, as they often were, according to the warrant. In return for the business arrangements, the warrant charges, Giles, a former Perez adversary, threw his political weight behind the mayor.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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