January 26, 2012

Juror’s bad dream becomes defense nightmare

What would you do if you were defending a man accused of bludgeoning someone to death with a baseball bat, and a juror disclosed having a nightmare in which the defendant chased her around with a baseball bat?

You might request that the juror be dismissed.

That’s what happened this week in a murder trial St. Lawrence County, New York.

But the judge denied the defense request, despite a plea from the juror's family that she is emotionally overwhelmed by the case. Besides her nightmare, the juror also told the court that she started crying when she saw her father sitting in a recliner that reminded her of the chair in which the dead man was found.

The ruling shocked the defendant.

"I just about fell over," defendant Wayne T. Oxley Jr told a reporter. "I was pretty shocked she stayed on the jury. I kind of lost my breath."

The prosecuting attorney said it wouldn't be fair to discharge a juror just because of what she dreamed. "Dreams are dreams, you can't make them not happen," said the attorney.

Prominent forensic psychologist Saul Kassin of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice disagreed.

"It's clear she has formed a negative emotional opinion," Kassin told a reporter from the Watertown Daily Times. "If I were on the defense team, that would make me nervous. People often have difficulty separating reality from fantasy."

This is Oxley's third trial. The first ended with a conviction for second-degree murder, later overturned on appeal. A retrial ended in a hung jury. If Oxley is convicted and successfully appeals based on the juror's emotional bias, Judge Jerome J. Richards's ruling could end up a nightmare for him as well.

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