Prosecutors questioned the impartiality of a juror in a Holton, Kan., sexual assault trial after her husband posted online that the case was a “witch hunt,” unsealed transcripts show.
The juror was allowed to stay on the Jackson County panel that last month cleared Jacob Ewing of charges of aggravated indecent liberties and aggravated criminal sodomy with a child younger than 14 years old, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
The newspaper said it has obtained unsealed transcripts of a closed-door meeting with the judge in which a special prosecutor, Jacqie Spradling, voiced concerns about the juror and the trial’s setting in Holton, a 3,300-resident town divided by allegations against Ewing.
“If she steps out and looks like she’s 18 years old, that’s on her,’’ said one potential juror. “That’s just how I feel about it.” Another man excused from the jury pool said he thought he’d probably have to find Ewing not guilty because the young woman’s father should have kept better track of her, and a woman said it would bother her conscience to judge him.
Maxwell Kautsch, a Kansas attorney representing the Capital-Journal, filed a motion to intervene in Jackson County District Court seeking to bring the release of the transcript. He argued the document should be public and that Judge Norbert Marek overstepped his constitutional authority by not releasing it as yet to the public.
At issue were posts by the juror’s husband on a Facebook page dedicated to Holton, with the husband questioning the accuser’s age – she was 13 at the time of the alleged attack in 2014 – and describing the trial as a “witch hunt.”
When confronted about that during the private meeting with the judge April 20 before deliberations, the juror denied discussing the case with her spouse and said his feelings about Ewing’s guilt or innocence wouldn’t compromise her impartiality, the transcripts show. She called herself “a very independent thinker,” and said, “I apologize for my husband.”
“It’s not like we’re deciding whether to have turkey or ham for Thanksgiving, you know. It’s a very serious, serious matter,” the transcripts quote her as saying.
But the juror also admitted she didn’t want to be on the panel, fearing Holton run-ins with people involved in the case.
“Because it’s just a high-profile case and, regardless of which way it goes, who wants to go to Wal-Mart and run into, you know, the victims’ advocates or, opposite end, the defendant’s family?” the transcript quotes her as saying. “You know, it’s just not something that’s going to be comfortable.”
Spradling unsuccessfully asked that the woman be replaced, citing the juror’s reluctance to serve and her contemplation of avoiding public places.
Ewing remains jailed, awaiting more sex crime-related trials scheduled for June, August and October. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.