Federal judge denies Roger Stone a new trial, rejecting claim that jury foreperson was biased

A federal Judge on Thursday denied President Trump’s associate Roger Stone a new trial, after ruling that the foreperson of his November jury was not inherently biased against him. Stone had asked for a new trial after posts and tweets by the foreperson that were critical of Mr. Trump and his policies were unearthed. 

In her 81-page opinion, Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the foreperson’s posts about Trump could not be considered evidence of explicit bias against Stone. 

“In the absence of any explicit statements of opinion about Stone, the defense casts its arguments about bias in terms of some sort of blend of ‘anti-Stone and anti-Trump sentiment,'” she said. “But linking them together in a sentence does not make them one and the same; there is zero evidence of ‘explicit bias’ against Stone, and defendant’s attempts to gain a new trial based on implied or inferred bias fail.”

The foreperson’s comments came to light after the prosecutors in Stone’s case abruptly withdrew on February 12th, 2020, protesting the Justice Department’s decision to overrule their sentencing recommendation for Stone with a lighter punishment.

The foreperson, who is chosen by the other jurors to speak on behalf of the jury, decided to speak out that day in defense of the prosecutors, writing on Facebook  that they “acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice.” She was later painted by conservative media figures as biased after posts and tweets were unearthed that criticized Mr. Trump and his policies.

Examples of her posts were provided to the court by the defense. On January 30, 2019, just after Stone was arrested, the foreperson retweeted someone who wrote, “Roger Stone has y’all talking about reviewing use of force guidelines. Not Alton Sterling Not Eric Gardner Not Walter Scott Not Sandra Bland… But Roger Stone!!! Think about that.” 

On August 2nd, she shared an Atlantic article on Twitter titled, “We’re All Tired of Being Called Racists,” with the caption, “Then stop being racists. Co-signing and defending a racist and his racist rhetoric makes you a racist. Point blank.”

The day after the prosecutors stepped down, President Trump weighed in, too. “Now it looks like the fore person in the jury, in the Roger Stone case, had significant bias,” he wrote. “Add that to everything else, and this is not looking good for the ‘Justice’ Department.” 

Stone requested a new trial the following day, alleging the juror was dishonest about her political bias during jury selection and thus mishandled her role as foreperson of his jury.

On February 25th, Jackson held a hearing on Stone’s request and brought back the jurors from Stone’s November trial, including the foreperson. Jackson questioned the foreperson and two randomly selected other jurors from his trial about her conduct and potential bias, to which the two unidentified jurors stated that they had not witnessed any misconduct on her part. 

When asked about whether she responded honestly on the juror questionnaire, the foreperson said, “I don’t have in memory every tweet or share that I’ve done, which is why I said I can’t remember . . . which was the honest answer at that time.”

Mr. Trump weighed in again during that hearing. “There has rarely been a juror so tainted as the forewoman in the Roger Stone case. Look at her background. She never revealed her hatred of ‘Trump’ and Stone. She was totally biased, as is the judge,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Roger wasn’t even working on my campaign. Miscarriage of justice. Sad to watch!”

Ultimately, Jackson was not persuaded by Stone’s argument that the foreperson tainted his trial due to an alleged political bias. “The Court finds that the foreperson did not answer questions falsely on the questionnaire or during voir dire, she did not engage in misconduct during the trial, and the defendant did not use diligence to discover the information present in his motion,” Jackson wrote. 

“Therefore, the Court concludes in its discretion that the defense has not presented grounds for a new trial under Rule 33, nor has it supplied any reason to believe that there has been ‘a serious miscarriage of justice.'”

Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison after a federal jury convicted him on seven charges of obstruction, making false statements and witness tampering in November 2019 in a case stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The judge has ordered Stone, who is currently out on bond, to self-surrender to the Bureau of Prisons when instructed to by the Probation office, but added that he has two weeks to appeal her decision.

As part of her order, Jackson has released Stone and his legal team from the gag order which barred him from speaking to the media or posting on social media. 

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