Schenectady County

Retrial sought in Schenectady shooting

A juror’s alleged comments to a prosecutor — possibly while drunk — that he based his vote on the de
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A juror’s alleged comments to a prosecutor — possibly while drunk — that he based his vote on the defendant’s race in an attempted murder trial is the basis of a defense effort to overturn the conviction.

Acting Schenectady County Court Judge Richard Giardino held a hearing Wednesday to determine whether the alleged comments from “Juror 6” were enough to set aside the guilty verdict against Michael Estella, convicted in the 2006 Olympic Diner shooting that injured three. Giardino ordered that the juror’s name not be publicized.

Estella, 22, who is black, was convicted in September after a two-week trial. The jury, which had two black members, found that Estella was the one that fired into the diner filed with 20 people on the morning of Aug. 6, 2006.

The trial lasted two weeks and included several witnesses who were reluctant to testify.

Defense attorney Adam Parisi made standard motions after the verdict to set it aside. In one, he argued that one of the jurors acted as a weapons expert during deliberations. Giardino denied that motion. But prosecutor Amy Burock attempted to investigate that claim and she contacted Juror 6.

She reported to the court that Juror 6 told her he was distracted in court. When asked why, the juror said he was distracted by Burock’s “captivating beauty” and that she was “just like a real lawyer.”

The juror, who is white, responded to whether the weapons issue affected his verdict, “I guess I based my [decision] on race.”

But he also got key facts of the case wrong, saying Estella was only identified by one person when he was identified by several.

When Burock called him back a few days later to tell him she was going to report the conversation to the court, the juror said he had had a few drinks and that he had worded it poorly and wasn’t a bigot.

The juror testified Wednesday at the hearing before Giardino, repeated that assessment and denied saying it in the first place.

“Half my friends are black,” he said. “I would never do that.”

But he later appeared to leave open the possibility, under questioning by defense attorney Parisi, though he said he didn’t remember saying it and that it would have been out of character.

Parisi is arguing for the verdict to be set aside, essentially forcing a retrial. He is not arguing that the juror discussed his alleged views with the other jury members, only that Juror 6’s decision was based on race.

Prosecutors are arguing that the statement was part of the ramblings of an intoxicated man and that the juror’s sworn testimony is that his verdict was not based on race.

The comment, Burock said, was “despicable and inappropriate” but one made under the influence of alcohol.

They are also arguing that the evidence in the case was overwhelming. The jury deliberated just three hours on a two-week case.

Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney noted the odd and complex position in which the incident puts his office.

“We are not interested in convicting people based on race,” Carney said. “Although he said that at one point, among other things, he also made statements that were inaccurate about the proof,” Carney said.

Giardino did not rule on the motion Wednesday, instead allowing the attorneys to submit briefs. A decision is expected in February.

Monitoring the case is Fred Clark of the local chapter of the NAACP, who attended Wednesday’s hearing. He’s also sent a letter to Giardino asking him to set aside the verdict based on the alleged juror comments.

A sworn statement shouldn’t be needed to nullify the verdict, Clark said, something no one would give. “The fact that he said it should be enough to overturn the verdict and order a retrial,” Clark said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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