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Judge denies lawyer's request for new trial after juror's hug

Union Leader Correspondent

October 25. 2017 9:03PM
A jury needed just two hours last month to find Randy Baillargeon of Berlin not guilty of negligent homicide and of two other charges in connection with the Aug. 10, 2016 death of a woman who fell from his truck while it was moving. (John Koziol/Correspondent)

LANCASTER — Saying there was no proof of improper conduct, a judge on Wednesday denied the motion of Coos County Attorney John McCormick to reconvene and interrogate a jury that McCormick alleged may have been tainted because its foreman hugged the acquitted defendant.

On Sept. 22, the jury in question was sitting in Coos County Superior Court in the courtroom of Justice Peter Bornstein where Randy Baillargeon of Berlin was on trial for negligent homicide, reckless conduct and conduct after an accident.

The state alleged that on the morning of Aug. 10, 2016 in Berlin, Baillargeon operated his pickup truck in a way that caused the death of Kristin Black, 34.

After three and a half days of testimony, the case went to the jury which took only two hours to find Baillargeon not guilty on all three charges.

As the jury mingled after the verdict in their designated parking area at the courthouse, four jurors observed the foreman drive up to Baillargeon and his mother and father and hug each of them before leaving.

Concerned, the four jurors brought what they saw to the attention of court officials and McCormick subsequently filed a motion asking Bornstein for permission to question the entire jury, or the foreman and the four complaining jurors.

The “spectacle” of the foreman’s actions, McCormick said, showed that “the jury may have been biased or tainted given the foreperson’s affection for the defendant and his family.”

Attorney Len Harden, who represents Baillargeon, objected to McCormick’s motion, saying Baillargeon did not seek the hug; did not discuss the jury process nor ask questions of the foreman; and that the hug came from someone who was a stranger.

Harden said the hug had no bearing on the jury’s deliberation and that the double-jeopardy clause of the U.S. and New Hampshire constitutions prevented Baillargeon from “any further proceedings after his acquittal.”

In his order, which was dated and filed Wednesday, Bornstein wrote that after reviewing both the motion for and objection to voir dire, he found the state had not made a legitimate claim that the jury was guilty of improper conduct that produced their verdict.

The statements of the complaining jurors, he added, refer only to the foreman’s “post-verdict extrinsic contact” and “…do not indicate or even suggest” that there was such contact before the jury reached a verdict.

Finally, the statements contain no allegations that the foreman engaged in improper conduct either during the trial or deliberations, wrote Bornstein, “Rather, the state merely speculates that ‘the jury may have been biased or tainted given the foreperson’s affection for the defendant and his family.’”

Without prejudice to the state’s rights to communicate with the jurors per Superior Court rules and to conduct “investigations it deems proper,” Bornstein, citing a past precedent, summed up that “In short there is no evidence that “there was any impropriety, wrongdoing or violation of an oath of a juror affecting the verdict.’”

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