With the six regular jurors now seated, the prosecution and defense in Mayor Eddie A. Perez's bribery and larceny trial need only select three alternate jurors to have a full panel.
The felony corruption trial is scheduled to start next month. The fifth and sixth jurors were chosen Wednesday: a doctor who lives in Simsbury and works in the intensive care units at Hartford Hospital, and a Glastonbury woman who is retired from Travelers.
Defense lawyer Hope Seeley asked the woman if she had read or heard about the corruption case against the mayor, and whether she had formed any opinion.
"I guess the opinion I have is, 'Wow, there's a lot going on here' ... a range of charges. It seems like a complex situation," she responded.
Perez, 53, and 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, in which Perez said he had already paid Costa, the warrant asserts.
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 parking-lot deals without valid city contracts. In return, the warrant charges, Giles, a former Perez adversary, threw his political weight behind the mayor.
Superior Court Judge Julia Dewey ruled Wednesday that a juror selected earlier in the week — a Hispanic man who is a part-time bail bondsman — could not be dismissed from the jury solely because his job brings him in close proximity to criminal defendants.
Dewey said the state did not establish that the man would be a biased juror. Prosecutors Michael Gailor and Chris Alexy said they felt they had shown there was a potential for the man to be sympathetic to criminal defendants. They said their decision to excuse him had nothing to do with his race.
Defense lawyers Seeley and Hubert Santos had raised a "Batson challenge" to the man's dismissal, arguing that race was the sole factor.
"Your honor, we are now picking [the rest of] the jury based on the fact that we have a Hispanic juror," Santos told the judge.
Dewey indicated that this was a gray area of Connecticut law but said a juror's job — whether it be bondsman, correction officer, or police officer — did not automatically trump a person's constitutional right to serve on juries.
She said the Hispanic man did not indicate a bias in his answers to questions from the judge about his views on the criminal justice system.
"Their job alone doesn't exclude them," said Dewey. "I have to hear the 'why.' I might be wrong — it certainly would be a matter for appeal. But I don't think I'm wrong."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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