TAMPA — Comments of jurors in the aftermath of the Bloomingdale library rape trial have prompted defense attorneys to question whether Kendrick Morris' fate was decided by an impartial panel.
After delivering a verdict earlier this month, jury foreman Robin Richter told the St. Petersburg Times she knew Morris was "guilty as hell." Later, on tampabay.com, fellow juror James Wileman wrote a scathing comment:
"As a (juror) on the case," he wrote under the name bentleyj, "(I) truly believe that there were more than one persons knowing outside information!! I believe he is guilty as well but really really believe some people were not telling the truth under oath!!! I (won't) mention any names … foreman!!!"
Wileman, in an interview with the Times on Thursday, said he has no proof that Richter had outside information about Morris during the trial. It's just his opinion, he said.
In theory, a tainted jury could cause a judge to order a new trial.
Defense attorneys want to talk to Wileman.
Morris' public defenders filed a motion in court this week seeking a judge's permission to do so. Lawyers are not allowed to contact jurors after a trial without the judge's permission.
"There is reason to believe that one or more of the jurors in this case possessed outside knowledge of Kendrick Morris, the Bloomingdale library rape, the Bloomingdale library rape victim, pretrial rulings … and conviction for a previous rape," public defenders wrote in the motion.
Morris, 18, was found guilty of beating and raping a young woman outside the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library in 2008. The case generated many news stories because of its brutality and the lasting consequences on a woman, now 20, severely disabled by the attack.
Thursday afternoon, Wileman told a Times reporter he didn't respect Richter's quick vote of guilt because she didn't show interest in discussing the case and simply pointed to the DNA evidence that linked Morris to the crime.
"In my opinion," he said, "she had other information."
Richter adamantly denies that. She said evidence introduced at the trial made it clear Morris was guilty. She said she would never have broken the rules, which exist to make sure a defendant's fate is decided by an impartial jury. And she's angry that defense attorneys are insinuating otherwise.
"That calls my integrity into question," Richter said. "I don't know where they got that idea."
Part of Wileman's suspicions stem from a comment Richter made to the Times. She stated that she was shocked to hear after the trial that Morris had previously been convicted of raping a 62-year-old day care worker, a fact that never came up in the Bloomingdale rape trial.
Richter clarified Thursday that a bailiff told her about Morris' previous trial as she was on her way to her car after the verdict. The jury had been dismissed. The judge had even told the jurors they could do whatever searches they wanted and talk to whomever they'd like.
But Wileman said he walked with Richter and the other jurors all the way to the parking garage. A bailiff never discussed any previous cases, he said.
Morris' public defenders also filed a motion to subpoena Richter's Facebook records. They cite her Facebook status updates during the trial, in which she writes that she hopes she gets picked for an interesting case, then says she will serve in a "tough trial" expected to last two weeks.
On the day a DNA expert testified for hours on the stand, Richter wrote "boring, boring, boring testimony from one witness all day." While Wileman said he found those comments terrible, he noted they do not prove that Richter violated the judge's instructions not to search for outside information, discuss details of the case with others or expose herself to media coverage before a verdict.
He hopes she didn't, he said, because he doesn't want Morris to get another trial.
"He was guilty beyond all reasonable doubt," Wileman said.
The defense has also filed a motion for a new trial, saying the judge erred in decisions not to suppress DNA evidence, move the trial out of Tampa or sequester a jury.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.