Alleged juror contact stops assault trial

Four defendants charged with assault had their trial start on Monday morning and then stop on Monday afternoon. The reason was an allegation that one of the seven jurors had inappropriate communication with one of the defendants.

Jude Theobalds, Johnathan Mellard, Steve Manderson and Jeffrey Barnes are accused of assaulting a prison officer at Northward Prison on 14 September 2004 and causing him bodily harm. Theobalds and Mellard are also charged with attempting to escape.

The Crown’s first witness had given his evidence in chief on Monday morning. After the luncheon adjournment, Mr. Justice Alexander Henderson conducted an inquiry into the allegation.

He then called all seven jurors back into court and told them of his inquiry. He said he had made no formal finding on the matter. He had concluded, however, that there was at least a reasonable probability that the juror in question did have an inappropriate communication and as a result had an inability to judge the evidence fairly and objectively.

Because of that risk, he was ordering that the jury be discharged and the case start again before a different jury panel. He regretted the imposition on jurors’ time, but he considered his action to be necessary in the interest of having a fair trial.

Jurors for the March session of Grand Court who had been released on Monday were contacted by court staff and asked to return on Wednesday morning. Approximately 50 attended.

Because each defendant could challenge seven persons and the Crown could challenge seven and the judge could excuse anyone whose reason he considered acceptable, only five jurors had been sworn after all of the potential jurors had been called.

Mr. Justice Henderson then directed Deputy Clerk of Court Cecile Collins to go into the community and find sufficient people to fill the gap.

The Judicature Law provides that, when the number of jurors available is for any reason reduced below the number required, the jury panel shall be made up by ‘talesmen’ – persons who are eligible to serve but who have not been summonsed.

By 2.30pm, nine talesmen were in attendance. From them, one further juror was selected.

Court was adjourned for another half hour and four more talesmen were brought. The seventh and final juror was then selected.

By this time it was almost 4.00pm and Mr. Justice Henderson released the jurors until 10am on Thursday when the trial was expected to get underway.

He first instructed them to put out of their mind anything they might have heard about this matter because it was essential that defendants be tried only on the evidence given in court.

He also told them they were not permitted to have any contact, directly or indirectly, with any defendant, attorney or witness in this matter. Further, they were not to discuss the matter with anyone, except amongst themselves.

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