Second juror ‘vanishes,’ false start on second mistrial for Shaheed Brown
A juror “vanished” into thin air and was replaced Thursday by an alternate in the second murder trial of former Newark gang member Shaheed Brown.
The woman, Juror No. 8, was the second juror to be dismissed in the retrial of Brown, who is accused of gunning down Enrico Smalley Jr. outside of La Guira Bar in July 2014, leaving only 12 jurors remaining.
That was significant because the loss of an additional juror would result in a mistrial, forcing prosecutors and the defense to embark through a third trial.
And it almost ended that way, again, Thursday.
Those 12 jurors returned to a courtroom after about four and a half hours of spirited discussion and uttered the same words that haunted those at Brown’s first trial: We are deadlocked and further deliberations will not be fruitful.
But when Judge Andrew Smithson polled each juror, he found they were more divided than they knew.
Two of the 12 jurors, both women, said they were “not sure” if a unanimous verdict was out of reach if they returned to the deliberations room once more to try to hash out the issues.
Apparently that was the only prodding needed. The jurors went back into the deliberations room, returned 15 minutes later and said they wanted to pour over the case for a few more hours Friday.
On their way out, they provided a list of things to the prosecutor that they need to possibly un-hang them.
If they are unable to come to a verdict Friday, prosecutors must decide whether to try the case a third time.
The two trials have already been contentious and hard-fought, with a cutthroat rivalry developing between Assistant Prosecutor Brian McCauley and defense attorney Edward Heyburn.
Their relationship grew even more acrimonious when Heyburn suggested to The Trentonian following the first day of jury selection in the second trial that State Police Detective Joseph Itri offered racist testimony at the first trial.
Itri testified at the first trial that he believed Brown was armed because of his sagging pants, which he contended were weighed down by a handgun. The murder weapon, a 9 mm Luger, was never recovered.
An alternate subbed in for the unaccounted-for juror, and the panel started from scratch around 10 a.m. after deliberating the case over the last two days.
There was no word about the woman’s whereabouts by the end of the day.
Fellow jurors reported to Smithson that the woman complained Wednesday of stomach pain and had her head down on the table at times during deliberations.
Juror deliberations were delayed by 40 minutes Thursday morning as court staff made numerous efforts to get in touch with the juror but could not reach her by phone.
After hearing from 11 witnesses – eight put on the stand by prosecutors, three by the defense – over three weeks, and listening to closing arguments Tuesday, the jury deliberated about five and a half hours over two days.
Not wanting to delay the panel’s discussions, and without any idea of where the woman could be, the judge asked attorneys what they thought about substituting in another woman for the missing juror. They agreed.
Another juror, an African American man, was dismissed last week prior to the end of testimony because of an apparent work conflict.
There were also concerns about whether he may have overheard conversation while standing in the hallways of the courthouse during breaks and whether it may have impacted his ability to deliberate the case.
The jury asked Tuesday to review surveillance tapes from two city bars, focusing in on the moments before Smalley was gunned down. Smalley was shot six times, twice in the head, within seconds.
He and Brown were off camera at the time of the shooting, but the tapes showed another man, Alvie “King” Vereen, walked with Rodney Sutphin, toward where the two stood.
Itri testified that Brown manipulated a dark-colored object near Poplar Street, about three minutes before Smalley was shot.
Brown’s attorney looked to undercut that by arguing Vereen was more likely the shooter. He contended Vereen appeared to reach toward his waistband with his left hand prior to stepping off screen, which coincided with when bar patrons reacted to shots on the soundless surveillance tapes.
The problem is Brown and Vereen are friends and were arrested together in Newark for an alleged carjacking in August 2014, about a month after Smalley’s murder.
The jury is not aware of the true extent of Vereen and Brown’s prior association.
McCauley told jurors in his closing argument that Brown and Vereen were friends and Vereen followed around “alpha” male Brown like a “puppy dog.”
Neither Brown nor Vereen testified in either trial. Jurors are not aware of Brown’s prior criminal record, which includes convictions for attempted murder and aggravated arson.
He spent time in solitary confinement in Newark’s high-risk gang unit of Northern State Prison, which has since closed.
Brown is believed to be a former reputed member of the Grape Street Crips, though his supporters and attorney have said he is no longer active in the gang lifestyle.
His attorney has previously driven a wedge into his client’s alleged association with the Grape Street Crips, a brutal gang the authorities say have controlled and terrorized many Newark neighborhoods, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.