BLOOMINGTON — A Normal man facing sentencing next week for attempted murder will not have a new trial, a judge ruled Tuesday in his rejection of claims of jury misconduct.
Ross Johnson, 21, was convicted in October of attempted murder, home invasion and aggravated battery with a firearm in a shooting in October 2012 on Gettysburg Drive that injured four people.
Defense lawyer Brendan Bukalski claimed in his motion to impeach the jury’s verdict that several members of the jury may have violated rules of conduct, including having contact with an outside source about the case and reading a newspaper account of the proceedings before the trial was over.
Judge Robert Freitag denied the motion, saying no specific evidence exists to tie any juror to a conversation between a man and his son while the son was in jail with Johnson. Bukalski alleged that the man may have taken information about Johnson’s gang affiliation back to a juror.
Calling the motion “a fishing expedition,” the judge also refused to give the defense more time to talk to several jurors who had yet to speak to a defense investigator. The defense complained that it took the state 10 days to supply court-ordered jury records.
The law offers particular protection to the jury deliberation process, said the judge. It is improper to question how jurors arrive at their decision, including any inquiry of second guesses jurors may have about their verdict, said Freitag.
The fact that a juror read a news account is clearly against the directive given by the judge after a trial begins but there is no indication that the newspaper article cited in Johnson’s case prejudiced the panel, the judge ruled. The judge also denied a defense request for a new trial.
Bukalski argued that the jury was allowed to see prejudicial photos of Johnson with two others who were in what was described as gang poses. One person was holding a gun in the photo.
Assistant State’s Attorney Kevin Sanborn said the issue of gang membership was important for the jury to hear because it related to a possible motive for the shooting.
Johnson faces 50 years in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 27.