A juror in the epic fraud case surrounding philanthropist Brooke Astor's fortune has told defense lawyers an angry jury-room clash spurred her to convict Astor's son and an attorney, even though she thought they were innocent.
The juror, whose account forms the basis of defense papers filed Monday seeking to overturn the guilty verdicts, also said her fellow panelists collaborated after the trial to downplay the confrontation in public remarks.
"At the end, I'm ashamed I couldn't stand my ground. But I couldn't take it any longer," juror Judi DeMarco said, according to an investigator for one of the defense lawyers. "I don't want to see anyone innocent go away, but I had to do what I had to do."
Astor's 85-year-old son, Anthony Marshall, and estates lawyer Francis X. Morrissey Jr. were convicted in October of taking advantage of the socialite's advancing dementia to siphon millions of dollars from her estimated $200 million fortune.
Considered the doyenne of New York society, Astor gave away nearly $200 million to charity before her death in 2007. She was 105 and suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Marshall and Morrissey, 67, were sentenced to one to three years in prison but remain free on bail during their appeal. The papers filed Monday ask the trial judge, Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice A. Kirke Bartley, to overturn the jury's verdict, saying DeMarco was pressured into convicting them.
Tensions on the jury became apparent during the deliberations, when the panel sent a note saying one member — later identified as DeMarco — felt "personally threatened" and wanted to be dismissed for the sake of her "personal safety."
Defense lawyers said that merited a mistrial, or at least one-on-one interviews of jurors by Bartley. He declined both requests — as well as DeMarco's bid to get off the jury — and told the panel to keep deliberating. Jurors rendered the verdict three days later.
Sworn statements by defense lawyers and the investigator, filed Monday, say the note was sparked by near-violence amid deliberations over a charge related to a more than $1 million raise Marshall awarded himself for managing his mother's money. The defense says DeMarco refused to sign a statement of her own for fear of unpleasant publicity.
According to the defense investigator's statement, fellow juror Yvonne Fernandez started cursing at DeMarco and made hand gestures DeMarco interpreted as gang symbols because Fernandez had previously told her she knew gang members.
Then Fernandez "started coming at me" so aggressively that a third juror grabbed Fernandez and whisked her to a restroom, the statement said.
After the judge declined to take her off the jury, DeMarco told the investigator, she felt vulnerable and demoralized. She said she agreed to a guilty verdict out of exhaustion.
DeMarco, a lawyer with Bloomberg LLP, and Fernandez, a technical director for TruTV, didn't immediately respond to telephone and e-mail messages Monday. Prosecutors had no immediate comment.
After the trial, DeMarco told the defense, several jurors crafted a party line for responding to media inquiries about the note: They would say tempers flared at times, but the panel ended up united.
By e-mail, they held extensive discussions about responding to media requests, and one even suggested "ground rules" for a potential joint television interview: They would field only one question about juror conflicts and insist on the right to strip the broadcast of any statement the group felt was too revealing, according to transcripts of the messages that DeMarco gave the defense investigator.
"The idea here is that we get asked and then can use the 'Frustrations rose on occasion, but we always moved past it,' perhaps including the 'everyone kissed and made up after,'" the juror wrote, according to the transcripts. The interview never occurred.
Meanwhile, Fernandez said she's shocked to learn of the new allegations.
Fernandez says things got "nasty," but then she and DeMarco made up and hugged. She said DeMarco even left her a pleasant voicemail message.
Fernandez told The New York Times: "All this is very surprising."
The legal system is often loath to probe into deliberations or second-guess jury verdicts. But defense lawyers say the court should in this case.
DeMarco's account of her experience make clear the proceedings "denied (Marshall and Morrissey) their right to a fair trial before an impartial jury," Morrissey lawyer Thomas P. Puccio wrote.