A judge postponed sentencing Thursday for a pair of teens convicted in the slaying of 17-year-old Matthew Minkler to determine whether jurors discussed evidence they were instructed to ignore.
Kody Harlan’s attorney, Ryan Helmick, asked for a new trial and filed court papers in which a juror said she was misled and pressured by fellow jurors into finding the pair guilty of first-degree murder in August.
Helmick argued that there was “extreme intrinsic juror misconduct” during deliberations, and that the panel discussed evidence about a stolen Mercedes-Benz that Harlan was driving the day Minkler was fatally shot inside a vacant Henderson home.
The juror, identified in Helmick’s filing as Shayra Esparza, told the attorney after trial that discussion of the vehicle “played a major role” in deliberations. Helmick wrote that meant jurors were more likely to determine that the shooting death was intentional and part of a planned robbery rather than an accident, as Helmick had argued.
“The idea that some of these people had was that if Mr. Harlan and Mr. Caruso were out stealing cars then they probably robbed Matthew Minkler too,” Helmick wrote.
Jurors deliberated for more than five hours before convicting Harlan and Jaiden Caruso.
In a separate filing, Helmick added: “Consideration of this inadmissible evidence during deliberations was extremely improper and prejudiced Harlan.”
Esparza also told the defense attorney that another juror had convinced her that the panel could “overrule her, so it didn’t matter what her vote was” regarding first-degree murder.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Giancarlo Pesci objected to a delay in sentencing for Harlan and Caruso, arguing that their attorneys had more than a month to track down other jurors.
“It speaks volumes in bolstering the fact that this is a spurious claim,” the prosecutor said. “There is nothing to support it.”
District Judge Douglas Herndon decided that the juror’s statement about the stolen vehicle called for additional information from her and possibly other jury members.
At trial, prosecutors said Caruso and Harlan planned to rob and kill the victim. Prosecutors argued that Caruso fired the fatal shot and shared a video of Minkler’s body in a pool of blood on Snapchat, and that Harlan took cash from the victim’s pockets.
“Bro,” Caruso said in the recording, “I just caught a body.”
Defense lawyer Mace Yampolsky acknowledged to jurors that Caruso fired the .357-caliber revolver that killed the victim during a June 2018 party in an abandoned Henderson home, but the attorney blamed drugs and alcohol for the shooting.
Along with murder, Caruso and Harlan, both now 18, were found guilty of robbery with a deadly weapon. Harlan also was convicted of a felony charge of accessory to murder.
Caruso’s attorneys have joined in the motion for a new trial.