The juror whose absence led to a murder mistrial told a judge Friday she has suffered from panic attacks since she was 5.
The sudden attacks have affected her life in many ways, she explained. She hasn’t, for example, worked in 12 years.
Jury duty, she testified, was her chance to do something normal.
“It was the first thing I was able to do, go in and accomplish and feel good about myself in 10 years,” she testified in a tear-filled account Friday.
The juror, identified by the court only as Allison S., is facing possible contempt of court charges for not showing up for deliberations in the recent murder trial of Emmanual Martinez. Judge Richard Giardino declared a mistrial in the case Aug. 6 after the juror failed to come to court.
Prosecutor Peter Willis then moved to have the juror held in contempt of court, arguing she willfully disobeyed the judge’s order to return to court.
If found in contempt, the juror faces up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Testimony and closing arguments ended yesterday. Giardino said he may rule next week.
“Believe me, I felt really good about myself for those two weeks I was coming in,” the juror testified Friday. “People would say they saw something change in me.”
But when deliberations began, she said, her panic returned and she felt trapped.
She relayed none of that to anyone at the courthouse, only saying she was sick when contacted about her absence.
In her testimony, the juror said that when deliberations were to resume for the first full day, she made it to outside the courthouse. But she panicked and couldn’t go in.
The judge ended up sending a sheriff’s deputy to haul her into court Aug. 6. By then, the mistrial had been declared.
She said her positive experience as a juror changed once the jury started deliberating, going from the big courtroom to the tightly controlled small room.
Her biggest concern was that, as the first juror selected, she was automatically considered the foreperson. She said she didn’t know that until deliberations began, which added to her panic.
Throughout the trial, she also knew that alternate jurors could step in if she couldn’t continue.
On those two points, Allison S. didn’t know that foreperson duties could be delegated to another juror.
More importantly, she didn’t know that once deliberations began, that alternate-juror safety net was gone. At that point, substitutions could only be made on the consent of the defense. The defense had already consented for the alternate juror to be released.
In his closing arguments and questioning of the juror Friday, Willis emphasized that she told the court nothing about panic attacks.
“I think clearly her conduct was willful,” Willis told Giardino.
Stephen Signore, the juror’s court-appointed attorney, argued that, with his client’s history, the case needed to be looked at from her perspective.
Signore noted his client’s demeanor throughout the hearing. She’d been constantly visibly upset, twirling her hair, unbuttoning and buttoning her sleeves and crying.
It was her intent to complete her duties, Signore said, but she couldn’t due to her long-standing condition.
“This was her one shot at doing something normal and it didn’t work out for whatever reason,” Signore said. “In hindsight, should she have ever engaged in this? Probably not. But the point is, you’re being asked to apply what we would do.”
Signore said that isn’t an appropriate standard.
Because of the juror’s absence, the case will have to be retried.
During more than two weeks of testimony, prosecutors attempted to prove that Martinez gunned down Jose “Mickey” Torres on Labor Day weekend 2013.