LAS VEGAS — A U.S. appeals court panel said Friday that a Nevada prison inmate is entitled to an evidentiary hearing of his claim that Las Vegas police intimidated a holdout juror into convicting him during his 2005 trial in a bar shootout involving off-duty officers.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling came as a postscript to a March 3 finding that previous hearings and an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court were too narrowly focused.
It said the full appeals court won’t reconsider, and a federal judge should hear evidence about the juror’s testimony that a marked Las Vegas police car followed him for 7 miles (11 kilometers) as he drove to court for deliberations in the case of Manuel Tarango Jr.
“The record before us is insufficient to determine whether the police tail influenced the verdict and prejudiced Tarango,” the panel said in the 2-1 opinion. “The district court should permit Tarango to offer limited evidence to show prejudice.”
Tarango, now 35, was convicted in state court and sentenced to 22 to 58 years in prison in the December 1999 shootout at a bar that left one robber dead and several people wounded, including a police officer who was shot several times.
The shooting at Mr. D’s erupted in a room full of off-duty officers while a rock ‘n’ roll band of off-duty colleagues called Metro Mike’s Pigs in a Blanket performed on stage.
“The opinion recognizes that the state courts did not provide Mr. Tarango a fair hearing on his jury tampering claim,” said Tarango’s lawyer, Ryan Norwood. “We welcome the opportunity to have that hearing in federal court.”
During deliberations in November 2005, the jury foreman informed Clark County District Judge Michelle Leavitt the panel was deadlocked 11-1. Leavitt ordered deliberations to continue.
Because there were no alternate jurors available, the case could have resulted in a hung jury.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal mentioned the holdout juror in a story. The next day, the juror wrote to the judge about the “unnerving” experience of being followed by a Las Vegas police car from Henderson to the downtown Las Vegas courthouse.
In a second letter to the court, the juror later wrote he felt his vote had been influenced by fear of reprisal.