A former D.C. police officer convicted of child sexual abuse has filed a motion for a new trial after a juror wrote a letter to the judge expressing regret.
The unidentified juror writes of being "haunted" by the verdict and claims other jurors dismissed the rule of law.
Thirteen days after Wendel Palmer was convicted of sexually abusing a girl in his church youth choir, a juror wrote a four-page letter to the judge.
In it, the juror -- who is only identified by number -- claims a mistrial in the case was very likely until intense pressure was applied by other jurors who didn't seem to have a problem with the prosecution’s burden of proof.
In the letter sent to Judge Herbert Dixon in November, the juror in seat No. 13 says as soon as deliberations began, there was a vote of 10 to 2 in favor of conviction.
"By late on our second day deliberating, (the juror wrote) only one of us was not ready to convict, and it was me.”
By way of explanation, juror No. 13 said the government had not met its burden of proof that Wendel Palmer had sexually abused the young girl in his church choir, but went along with the others.
"Because I am not really built for confrontations, I provisionally accepted their argument that if those 11 people thought Wendel was guilty, I needed to respect that," the juror said.
Still, juror No. 13 was troubled, writing: "Several of the other jurors explained … that because they couldn't think of a reason for (the accuser) to lie, she must be telling the truth. That kind of logic struck me as very far afield from our task.”
"That's an absolutely correct analysis by the juror,” said Benowitz. “In fact, it's a complete shifting of the burden away from the government. It's the government’s burden to prove Officer Palmer guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and according to this juror, switched it back to the defendant and that is just improper.”
Also in the letter to Judge Dixon, the juror writes, "I am haunted by our final verdict.”
The juror also writes, "I continue to have regret over my decision to compromise, which I reached under intense (and I mean, intense) pressure from the other jurors.”
"In the jury system,” the defense attorney said, “there are going to be arguments during deliberations. There is going to be pressure placed on people to defend their position, but when it goes to that extent and it gets that result where decisions are not being made on solid legal ground, that's the problem.”
In his 20 years practicing law, Benowitz says he has never seen a letter like this. He says he and his client found it very upsetting to read.
Although the juror admits telling Judge Dixon during the polling of the jury it agreed with the verdicts, the juror goes on to say, "I wish I had been stronger, more strategic, more disciplined and had held firm on not guilty, but instead I spent most of the last day in there crying.”
There was never any indication from the jury that it was hung or that there had been any turmoil.
Bill Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, says prosecutors are aware of the motion and will respond at the appropriate time.
Granting a new trial is up to Judge Dixon.
In the meantime, Palmer is scheduled to be sentenced next month.
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