Justice denied as Basil's guilty verdict is set aside
Decision to overturn verdict misguided and unneeded
Closure remains a fleeting prospect for the loved ones of William Sager, who died after being pushed down a flight of stairs at Molly’s Pub last May.
A jury determined in January that Jeffrey Basil, the manager of the University Heights-area bar, was guilty of second degree murder – seeming to bring to an end a long and painful story for those involved and offering a modicum of justice with the conviction.
But all that was eradicated by State Supreme Court Justice Penny Wolfgang’s decision to vacate the verdict.
According to Wolfgang, a lone prejudicial juror voided the entire process because she had an arrest record and a history of involvement in the military that was not disclosed during jury selection.
The juror had served in the Air Force Reserve, which she did not reveal during the selection process.
However, the juror contends that she was not asked whether or not she had served in the military.
The lack of disclosure regarding her past in that case would not be the juror’s fault, as Wolfgang suggests, but instead an error on the part of those responsible for selecting as unbiased a jury as possible.
If this detail about the juror is critical enough to end up overturning a conviction, it’s deeply problematic that officials involved in the case failed to give her an opportunity to disclose such information.
The juror did provide incorrect information about her arrest record when asked if she’d ever been accused of a crime.
That is her mistake – she says she forgot, which is understandable considering the arrest was in 1997 – but an arrest for grand theft auto almost two decades ago seems unlikely to bias an individual in a murder case.
The issue of the juror’s military history is – potentially – more problematic, because Sager was a military veteran.
Consequently, the juror’s past could have been a source of bias, making Sager seem like a more relatable and sympathetic victim, and encouraging the juror to convict Basil based on her personal feelings rather than the evidence at hand.
With that in mind, it would appear that Wolfgang’s decision to overturn the murder conviction is a sound one.
Except there’s another critical detail about the juror in question, one which dramatically weakens Wolfgang’s argument. The juror – accused of being biased against the defendant – initially did not support a guilty verdict for Basil. Along with two other jurors, she had to be convinced by the rest of the jury to convict him.
This renders Wolfgang’s claims of bias and deception moot.
Additionally, two other jury members had a history of military service and an alternate juror had an arrest record.
The decision to single out this juror, who did not intentionally conceal her history and clearly was not negatively biased against Basil is unfounded and unfair to all those involved in this case. What was surely a source of relief for Sager’s loved ones - a guilty verdict and a long-awaited conclusion - has now been denied.
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