CARSON CITY — A federal appeals court on Thursday reversed a district judge and granted a man involved in a 1999 robbery and shootout with Las Vegas police a new hearing on a juror misconduct claim.
The case involves Manuel Tarango Jr., who was convicted of multiple felony counts stemming from an attempted robbery of a bar where Metro Mike’s Pigs in a Blanket, a band made up of off-duty Las Vegas police officers, was playing. A shootout ensued. One robber was killed, several patrons were shot and a police officer, Dennis Devitte, was shot several times.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling, said claims by a holdout juror in the case that he was tailed by Las Vegas police on his way to a second day of deliberations, which then influenced his vote to convict, requires an evidentiary hearing.
The appeals panel said U.S. District Judge Robert Jones did not investigate whether the tail, which went on for more than seven miles, amounted to improper influence of a juror.
During deliberations in November 2005, Clark County District Judge Michelle Leavitt was told of a holdout juror by the foreman. Leavitt ordered deliberations to continue and on the next day Tarango was convicted of seven felony counts including attemped murder with a deadly weapon.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal mentioned the holdout juror in a story, and the next day the juror wrote to the court about being followed by a Las Vegas police car on the way to resume deliberations.
“I found that action unnerving,” the juror said.
With no alternate juror available, the case could have resulted in a hung jury.
In a second letter to the court the juror said he failed because he “let fear of reprisal enter into (his) mind and heart.”
Tarango’s attorney attempted to have the case dismissed based on an attempt by a third party to influence the process. But the verdict was upheld when Leavitt found no misconduct, calling the juror’s claim ambiguous, vague and nonspecific.
Tarango was sentenced to 22 to 58 years; the conviction was upheld by the Nevada Supreme Court in 2007.
Jones denied a hearing on the misconduct issue on appeal to federal court, upholding the state court finding that Tarango failed to show any improper external contact.
But the 9th Circuit reversed the decision, saying that once the issue of external misconduct was raised, federal law required investigation to determine if it was harmless or if it prejudiced Tarango’s right to a fair trial. The court ordered a federal district court hearing into the claim.
Contact Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-461-3820. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801