In a relatively unusual step, the Court issued an unsigned en banc Decision Order putting the appeal on hold until a new Yuma County Superior Court Judge* looks into "the circumstances of Juror 47’s alleged misconduct and knowledge of the Gill Murder and prior conviction, and whether or not it was harmless."
Before the trial in 2017 began, Juror 47 indicated that she had heard of the "La Mesa Street Murders" of two adults and four children. However, she did not tell the judge and attorneys that she also knew that Strong had been convicted of a subsequent murder of a Yuma physician (Satinder Gill). An
However, citing Ninth Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court opinions, the Arizona Supreme Court found that the judge should have looked into whether the juror's undisclosed information was "possibly prejudicial" and whether it impacted the guilty verdict ("harmless" or not).
“Harmlessness in this context means ‘that there is no reasonable possibility that the [external information] influence[d] the verdict.’” If the state does not show harmlessness, the conviction is unconstitutional, and the court must grant the defendant a new trial. If the prejudicial effect of the external information is unclear from the existing record, the trial court must hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the circumstances, the impact thereof upon the juror, and whether or not it was prejudicial.
In this case, because Strong established the presumption of prejudice, but it is unclear from the existing record whether he, in fact, suffered prejudice, Strong is entitled to an evidentiary hearing." (citations omitted)Strong was sentenced to two life terms in the Gill Murder, and is on death row for the La Mesa Street Murders.
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*The judge who initially handled the trial has since retired.