Juror Furor: Anand Jon Case Takes Troubling Twist
Call it the extension of March Madness by other means. Those of us reporting on the post-trial hearings of the Anand Jon case have known for more than a month that today would be the date of a hearing regarding explosive charges that the District Attorney's office had thwarted a January 7 meeting between Jon's sister, Sanjana, and a rogue juror who'd expressed to her his sympathy for the defendant. Yet some of us in the media this morning, myself included, began speculating that perhaps Judge David Wesley would reject the defense's motion for a new trial and summarily sentence Jon, who faces the possibility of spending life in prison.
April Fool's, it quickly turned out, but the madness would continue for the rest of the day. During the hearing Jon's lead defense attorney, Leonard Levine, questioned a list of witnesses who were connected to the trial and to the bizarre events surrounding January 7. A little recap is in order. Fashion designer Anand Jon Alexander, known by his brand name, Anand Jon, was convicted last November of 15 counts of sexual assault and one count of rape. Toward the end of the trial, and before deliberations had begun, Juror No. 12 had contacted Sanjana Jon in the courthouse's cafeteria and gave her his phone number on a slip of paper.
Then, after the trial, Sanjana allegedly got a call from Juror No. 12 requesting a meeting.
"You know we can help," the man is said to have told her. "We need to meet with you alone."
A January 7 meeting was arranged to take place in a Starbucks. It wasn't clear today whether the juror and Sanjana Jon were acting against court instructions -- or thought they were -- by meeting nearly two months after Anand's conviction. The juror definitely broke the law, however, if he had reached out to Sanjana during the trial. Then, he had allegedly told her, "We know this is a difficult time for your mother and brother. Tell them not to worry. We know your brother's innocent. Everything's going to be okay."
What the maverick juror had on his mind will never be known. When Sanjana disclosed her planned meeting to Anand's lawyers, they contacted Judge Wesley shortly before it was scheduled to take place, and informed him and prosecutors Mara McIlvain and Frances Young about it. The attorneys also asked Wesley's permission to place a wire on Sanjana for the Starbucks meeting, in order to learn his intentions. Wesley acceded to the request, agreeing that it was possible the juror could be trying to carry out an extortion plot. (Without that extortion element it would have been illegal for civilians on the defense team to run a surreptitious recording of the juror.)
The D.A.'s office assigned a team of investigators to attend the Starbucks sitdown as unobtrusive background actors. However, when the juror approached the coffeehouse, investigators intercepted the man and attempted to interview him for 15 minutes. During that time they divulged to him that they were investigating a possible case of jury tampering in the Jon trial. "Weirded out," as the juror described himself to the investigators, he left the scene without meeting with Sanjana.
Today Leonard Levine sought to find out why the D.A.'s office had interfered with the January 7 meeting. Why, he would ask throughout the day, couldn't the D.A. investigators allow the meeting to take place, then interview the juror? The clear implication from Levine's questions was that the defense believes the prosecution, in order to protect the guilty verdicts it had won against Anand Jon, deliberately sabotaged a meeting whose secretly recorded conversations might result in a mistrial.
Deputy district attorneys McIlvain and Young did not appear at ease in their unaccustomed roles as witnesses compelled to explain their actions. Both prosecutors told Levine they observed a hands-off attitude to their department's investigators and let them run the surveillance as they saw fit. McIlvain even said she hadn't inquired about the results of the critical January 7 Starbucks meeting after it had been interrupted by the investigators, and only learned after that day about what had transpired.
The day's highlight, however, was testimony from lead investigator Brian Bennett, a by-the-book straight arrow who seemed to have stepped into court straight from a David Lynch movie. It was his decision to question the juror before the man had a chance to meet with Sanjana, and his plan that scared off the juror without getting him to divulge anything to her -- or to the investigators. Over and over, Levine would ask him what possible damage would it have done to the D.A.'s investigation to have let the meeting with Sanjana unfold before his people confronted Juror No. 12, and over and over Bennett replied that letting "civilians" run an investigation involving a recording device was not the way his office operated and was "not a road we were going to go down." After all, he said, the defense could have been concocting the whole meeting as a pre-scripted show designed to win their client a new trial.
Before long Lenny Levine, who'd been questioning witnesses from the defense table, was up on his feet prowling around the podium, unable to contain himself. Here was a D.A. investigator claiming that his department inadvertently wrecked the defense "sting" simply because he couldn't "control" it.
"What was there to control?" Levine repeatedly asked, doubling over in disbelief, as though punched in the gut. "Was this a turf battle?"
Bennett denied this -- just as he denied the insinuation that he thought his interception and attempted interrogation of Juror No. 12 would have a chilling effect on the man.
Before lunch recess Judge Wesley asked Bennett a question of his own. What would Bennett have done, had a civilian investigator behaved the way Bennett and his team had, during a police-run sting?
"I see where you're going with that," Bennett smiled, knowingly.
"No," Wesley cut him off, "don't tell me where you think I'm going. You'd have him arrested, wouldn't you?"
"Probably," Bennett said quietly. Wesley returned the witness to Levine.
"That says it all, your honor. No further questions."
The questions Judge Wesley put to the D.A.'s investigators, and his clear impatience with their answers to Levine, does not augur well for the prosecutors, who are trying to keep this case from being taken away from them and given to the state attorney general's office for retrial. Juror No. 12 has yet to be called into court and questioned under oath. The next hearing, with more D.A. witnesses, is scheduled for April 17. After today this strange, shape-shifting case is no closer to a conclusion than before, but the search for something resembling light continues.
"The truth," Mara McIlvain had told Levine, "is whatever the truth is, and that's what we have to get to."