A middle-level appellate court overturned a jury jury conviction for the second time in four months.
The State Appeals Division Fourth Division said last month there was an error of law in the jury selection process for the drug trial of Sid Shabazz Harrison, 11 Cady St., Auburn, in 2020.
Harrison was convicted of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a Class B crime, in a trial in February 2020; fourth degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a class C crime; and two second degree cases of drug paraphernalia, an offense. He was convicted in September of that year by Cayuga Court Judge Thomas Leone for every single charge, all served at the same time, with 10 years imprisonment and three years post-release surveillance being the longest sentence. The appeal court’s decision of December 23 granted a new trial.
The court ruled that a testimony from a prospective juror during the jury selection process for Harrison’s trial regarding the credibility of the statement by police officers raised “serious doubts about his ability to deliver an impartial judgment,” and therefore the judge should have allowed that juror , be removed for an important reason.
“After the prospective juror stated that he was a former correctional officer and had ‘many friends and family’ in the prosecution, he agreed that he ‘would tend to give an officer more credibility than that [he] would a layperson, ‘said that based on his experience, he saw the police as’ honest people’ and specifically described one of the officers who would later testify for the people as a ‘righteous person’, “the ruling reads.
The ruling found that although the court asked the prospective juror further, the Appeals Chamber concluded that the prospective juror’s responses to questions from the court did not indicate that the prospective juror was making an impartial judgment and setting aside all prejudices could. As a result, the Harrison Defense was wrongly forced to use one of their haunting challenges to remove that future juror.
The jury break in December follows a similar appeal court ruling last summer in relation to another case in Cayuga County Court. In that case, Justin Tillmon, Auburn, was convicted on jury trial of 20 crimes in March 2019, including two Second Degree Assault Incidents, a Class D crime, for injuring two Auburn police officers.
The appellate court found in an August 2021 ruling that during the jury selection process for Tillmon’s trial, an aspiring juror said that “he was’ not sure ‘whether he could be fair and impartial based on his family members’ experiences with domestic violence” .
The defense was denied an important cause to remove that juror, and “the court was wrong when it subsequently failed to obtain ‘unequivocal assurances’ from the prospective juror that they would be able to deliver an impartial verdict,” says in the decision of the court of appeal.
That trial was led by former Cayuga County Court Judge Mark Fandrich, who retired last month.
One of Tillmon’s convictions was for first-degree criminal contempt, a Class E crime, for violating a protection order. The Cayuga District Prosecutor said at the time that Tillmon had repeatedly named his victim of domestic violence.
Two Auburn Police Department officers were injured while attempting to arrest Tillmon in January 2018, the APD previously announced after it was informed of an alleged domestic incident on Washington Street. The victim at the crime scene was attacked, thrown down a flight of stairs and locked in a room, the APD said.
Tillmon was sentenced to 14 years in prison by then Judge Fandrich in June 2019, seven for each charge of assault and two to four years on the charge of contempt. He was also convicted of tampering with a fourth degree witness, illegally detaining second degree, and criminally obstruction of breath.
As a result of the waivers, new cases will be initiated in the Harrison and Tillmon cases. Joseph Sapio served as Harrison and Tillmon’s defense attorney during their original trials, while attorney David Elkovitch was hired to handle their appeals.
Elkovitch spoke about the appeals court’s decisions in an interview with The Citizen on Jan. 4.
“You need a fair and impartial juror, every defendant is guaranteed that. If you have someone on the jury who has their opinion or believes someone else just because they have a badge, that’s not the case.” right, “said Elkovitch.
Cayuga County’s Assistant District Attorney Christopher Valdina, who frequently does appeals judicial work for the prosecutor’s office, said he respectfully disagreed with the appeals court’s rulings. Valdina said the way a person gets along in a courtroom may be different than in a transcript being reviewed by the appellate judges.
A transcript from one of the days of jury selection for the Harrison trial shows that Leone asked the prospective juror in question some additional questions and Leone was assured by the prospective juror that he might be fair. Valdina said he believed Leone got along so well, and Valdina added that by the tone of voice and body language of the future judge, “it was clear that he was able to be fair.”
Valdina said he believed judge and acting prosecutor Brittany Grome Antonacci, who was a senior prosecutor’s assistant at the time of the trial and who led the prosecution, had “no question” that the potential juror in question could be fair.
“The Appeals Department came to a different conclusion when they looked at the minutes,” Valdina said.
He added that while prosecutors believed the appeals court should have upheld Tillmon’s conviction, “we can understand why they might have come to a different conclusion in this case by reading the transcript.”
Valdina said Tillmon’s new trial is set to begin April 11, while Harrison’s new trial is pending. Tillmon is in the Cayuga County Jail while Valdina said he believes Harrison is about to be transferred to jail by the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.