A judge denied a new trial for a pair of teens convicted in the slaying of 17-year-old Matthew Minkler, although a juror who found them guilty testified Monday that she had considered evidence she was instructed to ignore.
An attorney for one of the convicted killers, Kody Harlan, tried to argue that a juror was misled and pressured by fellow jurors into finding the pair guilty of first-degree murder in August.
That juror, Shayra Esparza, told District Judge Douglas Herndon on Monday that she also weighed evidence about a stolen Mercedes-Benz that Harlan was driving with his co-defendant, Jaiden Caruso, the day Minkler was fatally shot in a vacant Henderson home.
“Did the fact that Kody and Jaiden were driving around in the stolen car make it more likely to you that it could have possibly been a planned robbery?” Harlan’s lawyer, Ryan Helmick, asked the juror.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Was it a factor that you considered in reaching your own verdict?”
Esparza said the stolen Mercedes was discussed for about a minute during deliberations, adding that no other jurors mentioned considering the vehicle as evidence when they weighed their decision.
Jurors deliberated for more than five hours before convicting Harlan and Caruso.
Five other jurors who testified Monday confirmed that the Mercedes played no role in their verdict.
“I’m satisfied that there is absolutely zero evidence that anybody else was affected by anything or had any discussions about the stolen car in a way that would constitute misconduct or render any kind of prejudice to either defendant,” Herndon said.
The judge is scheduled to sentence Harlan, 19, and Caruso, 18, in two weeks.
Helmick had argued that considering the stolen car led jurors to determine the shooting was intentional and part of a planned robbery rather than an accident.
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.”
Caruso’s lawyer Mace Yampolsky, who joined Helmick’s arguments on Monday, acknowledged to jurors that Caruso fired the .357-caliber revolver that killed the Minkler 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 were found guilty of robbery with a deadly weapon. Harlan also was convicted of a felony charge of accessory to murder.