HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The state Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected the appeal of a convicted murderer who said his trial judge improperly dismissed the only member of the jury who believed he wasn't guilty, which may have prevented a third mistrial in the case.
Justices issued a 7-0 ruling rejecting the allegations raised by Miguel Gonzalez, who was convicted of murder in 2011 after a third trial and sentenced to 50 years in prison. Gonzalez was found guilty of shooting Miguel Vazquez to death at a Bridgeport house party in 2007.
Gonzalez's lawyer, Lisa Steele, argued that trial Judge John Kavanewsky abused his discretion and violated Gonzalez's constitutional rights when he dismissed forewoman Quamay Alves-Baldwin on the eighth day of deliberations.
The Supreme Court ruled that Kavanewsky was justified in removing Alves-Baldwin and rejected claims by the defense that the jury was "obviously" deadlocked.
Kavanewsky, after questioning the jurors, determined that Alves-Baldwin was refusing to deliberate in good faith and had improperly suggested during deliberations that witnesses had been bribed. The judge also excused another juror who called the court to report she couldn't make it to deliberations one day because of a medical condition.
Two alternate jurors present during the trial joined the 12-member jury and reached a unanimous guilty verdict after four more days of deliberations.
Before Alves-Baldwin was dismissed, the jury sent notes to Kavanewsky saying it was having trouble reaching a verdict and asking whether jurors could "get rid of" Alves-Baldwin. Jurors, when questioned separately by Kavanewsky as he investigated the jury turmoil, said Alves-Baldwin was refusing to discuss the case and kept changing her views on what evidence she found credible.
The Supreme Court noted that Kavanewsky cautioned jurors before questioning them to not reveal anything about the substance of the deliberations or their views on what the verdict should be.
When Alves-Baldwin was questioned by the judge, she told him, "I think we're kind of at a point where one is not listening to the other because one is not giving the answers that the others want to accept."
Alves-Baldwin later told the Connecticut Post, "The other jurors wanted me removed because I didn't agree with them."
Steele, Gonzalez's attorney, argued that federal and state case law imposes a high standard for removing jurors that wasn't met in Gonzalez's case. Steele also wrote in the appeal that Alves-Baldwin did deliberate in good faith.
Steele wrote that Alves-Baldwin, "like some jurors in the two prior trials of this defendant on these charges which resulted in hung juries and mistrials, was not persuaded by the state's evidence in this case. ... At worst, she was having trouble explaining her reasoning to the strong personalities in the majority of the jury."
Matthew Weiner, a state prosecutor involved in the appeal, said the case appeared to mark the first time the state Supreme Court took up the issue of removing a juror for misconduct.