LIHUE — A man recently found guilty of theft charges could soon be facing a new jury due to alleged prejudiced statements made in the jury room during deliberations.
Representing Cody Safadago, 47, formerly of Washington state, attorney John Murphy told the court there were several statements made during deliberations in the theft case against his client that could have tainted the jury’s verdict.
Murphy said information seen on Facebook about the defendant’s other case involving a hit-and-run accident that killed 19-year-old Kayla Huddy-Lemn, and the fact that Safadago is often referred to on Facebook as a thief in the Hanalei area, were discussed by some jury members.
“The foreperson told the other jurors they needed to tell the bailiff this information, however, the foreperson was then persuaded not to report it,” he said Wednesday.
He also told the court that after the verdict was returned, he went to a local store where he saw a jury member, who told him about the issue in the jury room.
Additionally, another jury member contacted the court about possible misconduct and statements about the issue were also made to another attorney.
Because of Murphy’s discussion with the juror, Judge Kathleen Watanabe told Murphy he had made himself a witness in the case.
“That’s fine,” Murphy said.
Watanabe asked him if there will be another attorney stepping in to represent him as a client.
“Hopefully a new trial is going to be granted, or if a new trial’s not granted, I’ll file a notice of appeal,” Murphy said.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Arakawa argued the motion to set a new trial was premature, stating to the court that each jury member needs to be brought in and questioned about the incident.
“If the court believes there is substantial prejudice, after that then the court should bring in all of the jurors to question the extent,” he said.
Murphy told the court that juror misconduct could substantially prejudice the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
Watanabe said she considered Murphy’s motion as an offer of proof to support his request for a new trial.
“I just want to say this is very, very frustrating to the court. I’m sure it is to counsel, when jurors are told repeatedly, ad nauseam, on the hour, that they are not to read any media coverage and then there’s media coverage during the week of the trial having to do with an unrelated case. It’s very frustrating,” she said.
Watanabe said this is something she’s raised with the administration.
“Hopefully they’re going to address it. I’m not saying that the court has the authority to issue a gag order. This court certainly did not, but I hope better judgment would be exercised by parties outside of the judiciary because this is exactly what could happen,” she said.
Even so, she said, that doesn’t excuse juror misconduct, if that in fact did happen.
Based on evidence brought forth in next week’s hearing, the court will make a determination as to whether a new trial in this matter will be scheduled.
Safadago was found guilty in September of theft of about $1,000 worth of items from a Hanalei fine arts store last year.
He is scheduled for a jury trial in a manslaughter case at the end of this month.
Bethany Freudenthal, crime, courts and county reporter, can be reached at 652-7891 or firstname.lastname@example.org.