The V.I. Supreme Court has ordered an evidentiary hearing on claims of juror misconduct for two men convicted of assaulting James "Jamie" Cockayne before he was stabbed to death in June 2007, a move that could potentially lead to new trials.
The two men, Kamal Thomas and Anselmo Boston, were both sentenced to 12-1/2 years in prison on assault and weapons charges for beating Cockayne the night of his death. Thomas' attorney Michael Joseph has submitted an affidavit alleging an unnamed juror approached him to say another juror had prejudged the case.
The ruling applies to Thomas and Boston only, not to Jalil Ward, who in a plea agreement was convicted of killing Cockayne.
V.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Rhys Hodge wrote the decision, directing V.I. Superior Court to hold an evidentiary hearing for both defendants on attorney Joesph’s claim.
Hodge wrote in the court's decision that Joseph claimed a juror told him another juror said "(t)hose guys killed the [w]hite boy and got away with it and we have to teach them a lesson,” and "every time there was a break during the trial other jurors would openly discuss how the defendants had killed the white boy, and that they were going to convict the defendants."
The juror allegedly told Joseph he or she wanted to talk to the judge about these events, but did
not want to write a letter, leaving Joseph to make the claims himself.
The trial court denied Thomas' request for an evidentiary hearing, citing federal rules of evidence and saying the unidentified juror had a conflict of interest in the case. The Supreme Court decision ruled the trial court erred in its interpretation of the federal rules.
Hodge wrote that the trial court correctly pointed out the juror making the claims had not made any statement nor contacted the court, and that "the only evidence of juror misconduct was the affidavit of Attorney Joseph, which contained double hearsay."
But the trial court never says how it knew which juror was involved and what sort of conflict of interest existed, Hodge said. "And while we agree that a signed affidavit from (the juror purportedly complaining of bias) would have been preferable, denying Thomas’s motion for a new trial without conducting even a limited evidentiary hearing regarding jury misconduct was an abuse of discretion, Hodge wrote on behalf of the court.
The ruling was in response to a filing by Thomas' attorneys, but the court applied it to Boston too, on the legal grounds that the two defendants were in identical situations, with the same charges and jury, and would be affected by the same alleged misconduct.