Possible juror bias forces mistrial
Trial focused on two assaults in Blair County Prison
HOLLIDAYSBURG — A jury trial focused on two assaults inside the Blair County Prison ended Tuesday when a mistrial was declared based on a breach of juror etiquette.
Judge Wade Kagarise said Tuesday that the juror told him she thought she was developing a bias during Monday’s trial proceedings and that she had discussed her feelings with fellow jurors.
Monday was the first day of what was to be a five-day trial for defendants Curtis “Tank” Ramsey, Charles Frank and Zachary Moore, facing criminal charges for their alleged roles in March assaults of two fellow county prison inmates.
The trial began with Kagarise presenting typical juror instructions, including ones advising jurors to perform their duties without bias and forbidding discussion of the trial until the deliberation stage.
On Monday afternoon, one of the jurors forwarded a note to Kagarise, indicating that she was developing a bias against Moore and defense attorney Mark Zearfaus based on their conduct during witness testimony.
Zearfaus admitted that his client was talking a lot with him during testimony.
If she’s forming a bias, she should be dismissed, Zearfaus said in court on Monday.
Instead of resuming testimony on Tuesday, Kagarise met in chambers with attorneys to disclose what he learned from talking with the juror and that the juror had discussed her feelings with fellow jurors.
“She told the judge that (Moore) was clapping, that he did it twice,” Zearfaus said later. “But I didn’t see that and no one else observed that.”
After meeting with the attorneys, the judge announced in court that he had dismissed that juror and that he would hear from defense attorneys requesting a mistrial.
“She tainted the rest of the jury,” Zearfaus said, drawing support from defense attorney Richard Corcoran, representing Ramsey, and Robert Donaldson, representing Frank.
Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio said he agreed that granting the mistrial would be in the best interest of the case.
Kagarise advised the remaining jurors, who showed little reaction to being dismissed, that the abrupt end of the trial had little to do with them.
“This in no way reflects any kind of belief that the jurors here today couldn’t be fair and impartial,” Kagarise told them. “Sometimes, it’s best for the future of a case not to go forward.”
Zearfaus also said Tuesday that he wouldn’t fault the juror for making the court aware of what she observed or what she thought was going on.
“My client is allowed to say things to me during testimony and tell me when things aren’t true,” Zearfaus said. “But if she saw something that, in her mind, was wrong, and she’s forming an opinion on the first day, then she did the right thing by self-reporting it.”
Kagarise said he intends to retain the case and conduct a status conference so it remains ready for trial before a new jury.
“We’re definitely going for a retrial,” Consiglio said Tuesday.
“We’re looking forward to testing the evidence in court,” Donaldson said on Frank’s behalf.
When court concluded Monday, only two of the prosecution witnesses had testified, a retired prison lieutenant and an inmate who said he was beaten up and that Moore held a homemade knife to his chin. A second inmate, who reported being sexually assaulted by fellow inmates attempting to remove tobacco from his rectum, was scheduled to testify Tuesday.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.