The Federal District Court ruling in USA v. Fell is available, via Scribd.
The Barre Montpelier Times Argus publishes the editorial, "A bedrock principle."
The decision by U.S. District Judge William Sessions to overturn the 2005 conviction of Donald Fell for the murder of Terry King, of North Clarendon, was a bitter disappointment for the victim’s family. But misconduct by one of the jurors who had sentenced Fell to death left Sessions with no alternative.
Everyone deserves a fair trial by an impartial jury. That is a bedrock principle embedded in the Constitution. Unless the courts adhere to fundamental principles of fairness, even in cases of the most heinous crimes, then democracy is undermined.
"Vermont Judge Vacates Death Penalty Conviction," is by Mark Hamblett of New York Law Journal.
The conviction and death penalty sentence of Donald Fell for the 2000 abduction and murder of a Vermont woman was vacated Friday because of juror misconduct.
U.S. District Judge William Sessions in Vermont said Fell, convicted in 2005 in the abduction of Teresca King in a Rutland supermarket parking lot on Nov. 27, 2000 and her murder three days later, will get a new trial because a rogue juror, Juror 143, visited crime scenes during the trial and then repeatedly lied about it, and therefore violated "the 'fundamental integrity' of Fell's trial."
"For Fell, the integrity of the trial was a matter of life or death," Sessions said.
The reversal was the result of years of work by a legal team led by Lewis Liman, a partner with Clearly Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, who worked the case pro bono. The defense filed under 28 U.S.C. §2255 for a writ of habeas corpus in 2010.
Sessions held four days of hearings, including on Aug. 15 2013 when he heard testimony from Juror 143 and a second juror. A third juror under suspicion appeared on Sept. 27, 2013. Liman amended the petition on October 22, 2013 to add new factual allegations against the jurors.
Sessions also heard from Juror 143's former girlfriend who implicated him and he also heard arguments from Liman that both the trial and the death penalty verdict were irredeemably tainted. By March of this year, Liman's motion had expanded to 400 pages and included about 20 claims for relief.
The Burlington Free Press reports, "Judge orders new trial in Fell case," by Sam Hemingway.
According to court documents filed by Fell's lawyers over the past two years, Juror 143 secretly traveled to Rutland during the trial to look at the crime scenes, told a third party about what he saw and shared his observations with the jury panel.
Those observations included conclusions by Juror 143 about the neighborhood where Fell lived and the parking lot where King was abducted that were not part of the evidence presented in court.
"There is no question that Juror 143 was exposed to prejudicial information that was never introduced at trial nor subjected to the judicial safeguards of cross-examination, confrontation, and counsel." Sessions wrote. "For Fell, the integrity of his trial was a matter of life and death."
Compounding the misconduct, Juror 143 failed to tell the court at any time what he had done, and then lied under oath last August when questioned about his conduct during a court hearing before Sessions, the judge said in his ruling.