The Supreme Judicial Court today ordered a new trial for Anthony Villalobos, whom a jury convicted of involuntary manslaughter and assault and battery for his part in a fatal 2009 beating outside a now closed club on Stanhope Street, because the judge in his trial never conducted an investigation into the impact of two jurors falling asleep.
Villalobos, a Revere resident, was one of a number of men dressed in black tuxedos and red vests who went to Club 33 on Aug. 20, 2009 after attending a funeral in Lynn. At closing, officials said, one of them got into an argument with Jose Alicea of Hyde Park; 13 of the men were eventually tried and convicted for their roles in punching and kicking Alicea to death.
At issue was what the judge in his trial didn't do after an assistant Suffolk County District Attorney notified him that "some jurors fell asleep during the trial" - interview the jurors in question to determine whether they had in fact been caught napping and then whether their snoozing might have affected their deliberations. One juror, the prosecutor reported, had fallen asleep "several times" during testimony; the next day, another juror "was sound asleep" during a witness's cross examination.
The judge, the justices continued, appeared to be under the mistaken notion he could not do anything unless he personally witnessed the jurors nodding off - which they did not when he watched them carefully after the assistant DA's report.
Citing another case in which they had ruled snoozing jurors were enough of a reason to call for a new trial, the justices continued:
The Commonwealth argues that the sleeping jurors missed minimal and relatively inconsequential portions of the testimony. Based on only the record before us, however, we cannot be sure that this is true. The purpose of a voir dire is
to investigate the report that one or more jurors were sleeping and to determine what, if anything, the sleeping jurors missed.
Because the judge did not conduct a voir dire, we do not have these essential findings.
In the circumstances of this case, the judge's response to the prosecutor's reports leaves us with "serious doubt that the
defendant received the fair trial to which he is constitutionally entitled."