June 17, 2008

Juror Probe May Get Teen a New Trial

By Jeff Wiehe, The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Jun. 17--A Fort Wayne teenager sentenced to 50 years in prison for the brutal beating of a local business owner could be getting a new trial.

A juror who helped convict 17-year-old Trevor Dakkar Hardy three months ago in the beating of Allen County Sweeper Co. owner Dale Skaggs may have recognized Skaggs and given an incorrect answer on his jury questionnaire, Hardy's lawyer said Monday.

Every bone in Skaggs' face was broken in the assault, which occurred in the middle of a summer night last year as three men entered Skaggs' home while he slept. They beat Skaggs with an aluminum bat and faux-stone lamp and then took cash from his home. Two men admitted to the beating, pleaded guilty and implicated Hardy in the attack. The men were both sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Hardy, who was charged as an adult, took his chances with a jury and lost.

P. Stephen Miller, Hardy's attorney, presented evidence during a hearing Monday that the juror may have recognized or been familiar with Skaggs or a woman he was sitting with during the trial. Miller tied the juror to Skaggs and the woman by the juror's employment in the mental-health field.

Miller also supplied evidence showing the juror may have had multiple inter- actions with police through the years as both a witness and a victim, though on his questionnaire he indicated neither he nor anyone close to him had witnessed or been a victim of crime.

"We understand the defendant is not entitled to a perfect trial, that there is no such thing," Miller said. "By not indicating (his police involvement), the juror left out the possibility of being dismissed."

Miller indicates in court documents the juror was "guilty of gross misconduct and that the Defendant is entitled to a new trial." Miller also asked Judge John F. Surbeck to authorize an investigation into the juror, which would require him to be brought into court and questioned.

Surbeck said afterward he could only remember one time -- maybe -- in his 20 years on the bench in which a juror was brought into court and investigated after a trial. Allen County prosecutors said Monday the evidence Miller provided did not warrant an investigation and called the juror's involvement with police "minor."

Some of the juror's involvements with police date back nearly a decade and occurred at a mental health facility where he apparently worked. Court records show he was the contact person for one report of a battery, was a witness to vandalism, was a victim of a disturbance and filed battery, lost property and burglary reports.

Surbeck said he would do his best to rule later this week on whether an investigation into the juror should be initiated. Hardy will remain in Allen County Jail in the meantime.


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