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Juror could see jail time for talking about trial

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by Krystal Paco

Guam - Could a Facebook post or even a conversation with a friend cost you fines or even worse, jail time?

Two jurors who sat in one of the island's largest drug trafficking cases last year appeared today in federal court for a status hearing following accusations of jury misconduct.

"I was very disappointed," said Chief Judge Francis Tydingco-Gatewood as she addressed the court, specifically Juror Number 1 and Juror Number 7 this morning.

As we've been reporting, both jurors were accused of jury misconduct after defense attorneys in the Mateo Sardoma case argued their defendants weren't given a fair trial. As a result of the alleged jury misconduct, defense attorney Curtis Van De Veld motioned for a new trial after his client Mateo Sardoma was convicted. Although Sardoma was later allowed to change his plea and is set for sentencing in the summer, the federal court couldn't ignore the allegations against the jurors.

During evidentiary hearings back in March, both jurors took the stand to explain themselves. Juror Number 7 stated she was merely joking when she wrote a Facebook post before jury selection that read, "Jury duty why in the world would the District Court of Guam choose me to be part of jury duty? Oh boy! So not looking forward to tomorrow. You're guilty son. Lmao."

On the stand back in March, she explained she picked up the slang phrase from hanging around with military friends and watching Judge Hatchett. She also admitted to communicating with fellow jurors about their lunch plans.

As for Juror Number 1, he admitted to talking to a female inmate who resides on the same cell block as co-defendant Maria Edrosa. According to Pay-Tel records, he was recorded saying, "I don't think the government has sh*t on them even though i think they're guilty. Shoddy police work." PayTel records also show he talked at length about the trial as well as jokingly stated he went out and bought a plate of the drug ice after seeing it presented as evidence.

Following today's proceedings, it appears Juror Number 7 may be home free, but the same can't be said for Juror Number 1.

According to US assistant attorney Fred Black, Juror Number 7's Facebook posts aren't enough to proceed with contempt of court charges, stating, "I think she violated the court's order, but not the spirit of the court's order." as a result, Juror Number 7 was thanked for her work and dismissed from the courtroom.

As for Juror Number 1, Attorney Black requested the court allow for FBI and ATF to interview the juror further as he anticipates to file a petition for contempt of court charges later in September. He adds that the matter may require bench or jury trial. The chief judge granted the request on the condition it follow the sentencings to be held this summer for the twenty individuals named in the Sardoma case.

In response to Black's recommendations, Georgette Bello-Concepcion who represents Juror Number 1 requested no further action be taken on her client. Bello-Concepcion added "I think he's suffered for his actions" noting that as a result of the alleged jury misconduct, her client was forced to resign from his federal job and remains unemployed while serving as the sole provider for his elderly mother.

The court will address Juror Number 1's case later this year. Because of the incident, the chief judge stated she has written to the Ninth Circuit to recommend stronger language be used in instructions to jurors to include that they "may be held in contempt of court, could go to jail, and could be fined."

Tydingco-Gatewood also noted her and her team were asked to attend an upcoming jury utilization workshop to be held in Indianapolis next month.

In addition, the chief judge will call all the jurors who served on the Sardoma case back to address them on the matter noting "we all have to learn from this."

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