Arundel jurors must take the stand

Judge set to question panel about discussion during murder trial

April 25, 2001|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Three months after convicting Shane E. Pardoe of first-degree murder and conspiracy, an Anne Arundel jury will return to court today for an unusual hearing. This time, they will testify.

Circuit Judge Pamela L. North told county prosecutors to subpoena the 12-member jury after accusations surfaced that several jurors wrongly discussed the case before hearing all the evidence against the 21-year-old Glen Burnie man. The proceedings could lead to a new trial.

"No, they are not going to be happy. Imagine, they are on jury duty and they have to come back under subpoena," said Abraham A. Dash, professor at University of Maryland School of Law, noting that many people dislike jury duty and that the court is disrupting the lives of these jurors again.

But, he said, the inconvenience has to be weighed against the judge's need to ensure a fair trial, especially in a murder case in which Pardoe could be sentenced to life in prison. The judge may feel a need to create a clear record for an appeal as well, he said.

Jurors were told not to discuss the case with each other outside of deliberations or with anyone else because the discussion could taint their perceptions of what they saw and heard in the courtroom.

"The witnesses coming forth saying it took place could be lying. They could not be lying. You don't know," said Byron L. Warnken, University of Baltimore law professor.

The victim's family fears the defense is trying to manipulate the judicial system. The defendant's family says they want a fair trial.

Legal experts say this type of questioning of the jury is unusual but not unheard of. Just as during the January trial, jurors have been ordered by North to keep mum.

According to the defense, a man married to Pardoe's step-aunt testified that he heard a black male juror -- who appeared to be napping during the trial -- saying to a woman, "I couldn't believe what he did with those Timberland boots."

The prosecution in the trial had argued that Pardoe was wearing the victim's boots when he was arrested.

Another man, whose nephew is a friend of Pardoe's, also reported he heard a black juror outside the building tell three other jurors that it was obvious Pardoe was guilty.

Three black male jurors were questioned by prosecutors and provided affidavits in which they swore no wrongdoing. But because other jurors were alleged to have talked about the case, North said last month she wanted to hear directly from each juror.

If none of the jurors admits the allegations, North will have to decide whom to believe. If any juror confirms even a portion of the allegations, she will have to decide whether remarks compromised the jury in the highly charged trial.

"I think testimony from both of those witnesses is highly suspect," Assistant State's Attorney Frank J. Ragione said at last month's hearing, a remark disputed by defense lawyer Stephen R. Tully.

But North said the witnesses' word might be no more questionable than that of jurors, who might not want to admit disobeying a judge's order.

North's remarks, and the prospect of a new trial, have upset David Hightower, father of the victim, Robert E. Hightower, 18, a neighbor of Pardoe's.

He has written letters about the proceeding to elected and appointed officials. He said he fears the defense is trying to dodge a guilty verdict with the allegations of juror misconduct and that North appeared to be pro-defense.

"It is too transparent for me to believe --and for her to accept it," Hightower said.

But Gail Winebrenner, Pardoe's aunt, said the men who made the allegations have no reason to risk a perjury charge and 10-year prison term for her nephew. "They have more to lose than they ever have to gain," she said.

She said she believes Pardoe, whom she helped raise, did not get a fair trial.

Hightower was killed Feb. 11, 1999, after a party at Pardoe's apartment that included drinking and drugs. Pardoe, who is awaiting sentencing, maintained the killing was in self-defense, an argument that did not sway the jury.

Two other people have pleaded guilty in connection with the murder.

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