Monday, October 17, 2011
C.A. Orders New Hearing in Killing of San Bernardino Infant
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal has ordered a hearing on claims of juror bias at the trial of a man convicted of killing his girlfriend’s 14-month-old son.
San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Kyle Brodie sentenced Joseph Patrick Simon to 25 years to life in prison for the 2006 killing of Jayden Bell. Jurors found Simon guilty of second degree murder and assault on a child causing death in the 2006 incident, but deadlocked on a charge of torture.
Sheriff’s deputies arrested Simon and the child’s mother, Aimee Lynn Bell, in November 2006 on suspicion of abusing Jayden after authorities found him unconscious in the parking lot of Inland Center in San Bernardino. The child was pronounced dead the next day at Loma Linda University Medical Center, and an autopsy report revealed blunt force trauma to the abdomen, resulting in bleeding from the liver, right kidney, and intestine.
It also showed blunt force trauma to the head and neck, resulting in bleeding in the brain and elsewhere.
Bell pled guilty in 2008 to one felony count of child endangerment and was sentenced to two years in state prison.
Prosecutors argued that Simon, who called 911 to say Jayden had stopped breathing, assaulted the child while waiting for Bell in the parking lot.
The defense argued on appeal that Simon is entitled to a new trial because a juror waited until after the trial to disclose that her granddaughter was the victim in a child molestation case, tried about two years earlier by the Simon case prosecutor.
The prosecutor explained to the judge that she had met the juror briefly during the earlier trial, and that their only conversation occurred when the prosecutor asked her to remain outside the courtroom during the victim’s testimony to avoid embarrassment to the victim.
The juror disputed that recollection, saying she had also spoken to the prosecutor for a few minutes before closing arguments, and then briefly by telephone after the court declared a mistrial. She said she did not disclose that she knew the prosecutor, because no one asked her and it was obvious the prosecutor did not recognize her during voir dire.
Brodie ruled that there was no misconduct, because the juror was not asked whether she knew the prosecutor and would have answered truthfully if she had been, and had credibly answered in the negative when asked if she told any other juror that she knew the prosecutor. The judge further ruled that the prior interaction did not did not give rise to a presumption of bias on the part of the juror.
But Justice Art McKinster, in an unpublished opinion Thursday for the appellate court’s Div. Two, said the judge’s findings were unsupported by substantial evidence.
“Here, despite the trial court’s conclusion that Juror No. 14 was credible, the court’s finding that the juror did not intentionally conceal a material fact is not only not supported by the record, it was flatly contradicted by the juror herself. Juror No. 14 did not deny that she had intentionally withheld the information; rather, she acknowledged that she did, but she attempted to excuse it. She candidly admitted that she knew that the parties, and particularly the defense, would want to know of her acquaintance with the prosecutor before selecting her as a juror, but she did not reveal the information because, she said, she did not know how to bring the information to the court’s attention unless she was directly asked whether she knew either of the attorneys, and she was abiding by the admonition not to discuss the case with anyone. Consequently, the court’s conclusion that the juror credibly testified that she did not intentionally conceal a material fact is not supported by substantial evidence.”
McKinster noted that the juror had, on voir dire, disclosed that she had a son-in-law—the defendant in the molestation case—who was incarcerated, and that he was awaiting trial in San Bernardino County. When asked if there was anything about his case that would prevent her from being impartial in Simon’s, she answered in the negative.
Her lack of explanation that her son-in-law was awaiting retrial or that the prosecutor in his case was the same one who was prosecuting Simon showed a lack of candor, McKinster said, so the trial judge should have applied a presumption of prejudice.
On remand, the justice continued, the prosecution must be afforded an opportunity to rebut that presumption. If it can, the conviction and sentence should be reinstated; otherwise, the defendant should get a new trial, McKinster said.
The case is People v. Simon, E050821.
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