For more than a month now there's been courthouse buzz about a development brewing in the completed trial of fashion designer Anand Jon Alexander, who was convicted last November of 15 counts of sexual abuse and one count of rape. The word was that lawyers for Anand Jon, as he is known professionally, would bring startling new evidence to his January 13 sentencing hearing that would warrant a new trial. January 13 came and went, however, with nothing more than an agreement from both sides to reconvene in Judge David Wesley's courtroom February 27.
Today, with Jon appearing in court wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, news media got a glimpse of the new evidence and it is indeed dramatic. Although the defense motions are currently sealed, along with the lips of attorneys and prosecutors alike, some details emerged in court and were later amplified during a defense news conference held outdoors. Jon's defense is basing its request for a new trial on two foundations.
The first is a bizarre incident that occurred when the trial was, as
new defense lawyer Ronald Richards put it, "a live situation during
deliberations." This involved an attempt by Juror No. 12 to speak to
Anand Jon's sister, Sanjana, during verdict deliberations. The man,
about whom the original jury's foreman had complained to Judge Wesley
because of his unwillingness to deliberate, had contacted Sanjana
during this time. He requested to speak to her and she agreed to meet
him at a Starbucks. Since Sanjana Jon was neither a witness nor a
member of the defense team, she was free to speak to the juror without
informing the court -- although her brother's lawyers immediately did
so once they learned of the meeting.
Jon's lawyers also claim
they informed the prosecution team of Mara McIlvain and Frances Young
of their intention to carry out a "sting" by secretly wiring Sanjana in
order to record what was on No. 12's mind. They never got the chance --
District Attorney's investigators intercepted the juror just as he was
about to enter the coffee shop and prevented him from meeting Sanjana
"But for the District Attorney's blocking the door to
justice" -- this would be the door to Starbucks -- "we would have found
out why the juror contacted Sanjana," Richards said at the news
Now, Jon's lawyer don't merely want to learn what
No. 12 wanted, they are also asking, through interviews and email
records to find out who in the D.A.'s office authorized the
interception. If its names extend high enough to disqualify the entire
office from prosecuting a new trial, Richards said, the case would be
tried by the state attorney general's office. That event is by no means
certain, though, and Judge Wesley has set April 1 for the next hearing
date. In the meantime, the defense team will try to persuade the juror
to be interviewed by its members. Eventually, it seems, No. 12 will
have to appear once before Judge Wesley in open court -- either on
April 1 or at a later date.
One question that needs to be
clarified for the public is whether or not the juror's conduct was
brought to Judge Wesley's attention at the time it occurred and, if it
were, why didn't the judge feel the deliberations were compromised by
"If it happened during deliberations," says USC
law professor Jean Rosenbluth, a former federal prosecutor, "it would
have been unheard of for
the court not to know -- and for the judge not to have questioned the
juror. Either the juror did
something wrong or he didn't. The judge must have thought nothing bad
had happened because he let deliberations go on."
defense's second grounds for a new trial was what it called
"prosecutorial misconduct." Jon's attorneys claim that during the trial
prosecutors twice threatened a member of their team, Eric Chase --
once with arrest and, at another point, with disbarment. The defense
contends that the threats were acts of intimidation that lowered
Chase's level of aggressiveness during cross-examination of prosecution
prosecution today was represented by Mara McIlvain, who stood quietly
through most of the proceedings. McIlvain's face was drawn as she left
the courtroom and, outdoors, she appeared somber as she walked past the
place where Jon's supporters would gather to meet the press. During
that press conference, new lawyer Ronald Richards, who had once
represented Jon before his trial began, said he and his colleagues hope
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to prove Anand Jon's verdict was tainted and that some jurors were
addressing issues other than the charges they were tasked with
evaluating. Suddenly a trial that had seemed history gave the
appearance of being very much alive, at least until April Fool's Day.