Judge Seated Juror Who Declared Defendant Guilty Before Trial
Truth, justice and the American way, right pal?
Jose Felipe Velasco insists Orange County Judge David A. Hoffer cheated him out of a fair trial by placing a juror on the supposedly neutral citizen's panel after she repeatedly declared the defendant guilty before hearing any evidence.
Velasco, who is serving a prison term of 123 years to life after that panelist--identified as Juror 112 in court documents--helped convict him in 2009 of committing multiple sex crimes against underage girls.
"The judgment must be reversed because the trial court's erroneous failure to discharge a biased juror deprived appellant of his 6th Amendment right to a fair trial by an impartial jury," Velasco, the 45-year-old owner of Kung Fu Martial Arts Association at the time of his arrest, wrote in a June 2012 appeal for relief from federal judges. "The presence of a biased juror cannot be harmless. The error requires a new trial."
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia G. Rosenberg--who studied the trial--couldn't find anything wrong with Hoffer, a former federal prosecutor, seating the juror.
The case opened when Velasco got one of the victims, who was 14 years old, pregnant after 21 sexual encounters and the youngster admitted the situation to her family, according to the government.
After an Orange County prosecutor gave an opening statement, Juror 112 notified Hoffer that based on her own experiences she believes criminals should forgo trials in such sexual assault cases and go straight to prison to spare victims additional turmoil.
The prosecutor then asked the juror: "You haven't heard any evidence. How would you vote?"
Juror 112 responded, "I would have to vote guilty."
Statements by lawyers are not evidence, and Hoffer followed up with the juror, according to court transcripts reviewed by the Weekly.
The judge asked if she could return a verdict of not guilty if the government couldn't prove it's case beyond a reasonable doubt.
"I don't think I would be able to," the juror replied.
The prosecutor tried again: "Let me ask you this flat-out. Let's say the victim takes the stand [and] you flat-out don't believe her. In fact, you think she's lying. You look at her [and conclude] 'I don't believe a word coming out of her mouth.' Are you going to convict this man anyway?"
Juror 112 responded before the first witness in the case had been called, "That depends. I still feel he was at fault."
Hoffer, appointed to the bench in 2003 by Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, and the local government's lawyer continued to ask questions and finally got her to say she "would try" to be a fair juror.
Over defense objections, the judge put her on the panel.
Because Juror 112 eventually said, "I think so," to Hoffer's question about whether she could treat the defendant innocent until the government proved its case, Rosenberg concluded there was no evidence the judge had been unreasonable and recommended a denial of the appeal.
Late last month, U.S. District Court Judge J. Spencer Letts, a 1985 appointee by President Ronald Reagan, accepted Rosenberg's recommendation and closed the case without comment.
The convicted child molester will continue to serve his punishment inside California's Corcoran State Prison, also home to the infamous, homicidal cult leader Charles Manson.
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