Two of six young men convicted of a fatal shooting outside a Tacoma convenience store have asked for a new trial, citing among other matters restrictions on the public’s access to the courtroom.
Pierce County prosecutors said Morris, who was not a gang member, was hit during a retaliatory gang shooting May 1, 2015, as he was leaving a convenience store with friends.
Defense attorney Peter Connick asked for a new trial on Kitt’s behalf Aug. 18, and Krentkowski’s attorney Walter Peale joined him several days later.
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Convicted on Aug. 11 along with Kitt and Krentkowski was Jermohnn Gore, 17. It’s not clear whether he plans to join the others in the motions for a new trial.
The motions note that Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend ordered additional searches and the confiscation of cellphones outside the trial, and that some people were denied entry during the proceedings.
“It is clear from case law that the court has considerable discretion in how it manages the courtroom,” Peale said. “And the courthouse security has considerable discretion in how they manage security concerns outside of the courtroom.
“And the balance between the discretion that’s allowed ... with the public’s right to access is a delicate one.”
Periodically during the trial, Arend told the audience that people entering and leaving the courtroom was disruptive to the jury and attorneys, in part because opening the door let in noise from a hallway.
She asked that observers do their best to wait until breaks to come and go. When she felt that didn’t stop the disruptions, visitors were allowed to enter the courtroom only at breaks or between witnesses.
She also ordered cellphones be left with security outside, where a guard kept them in the hallway between breaks.
The guard also used a wand to search observers before they entered the courtroom and searched handbags.
Asked during the trial about the extra security measures, Arend’s judicial assistant, Dan Vessels, said the judge asked those in the courtroom repeatedly to turn off all phones and make sure they were put away.
When that didn’t happen, he said, the additional measures started.
Connick, who didn’t return a News Tribune message left with his office, noted in his court filing that irregularity in court proceedings can be a reason to grant a new trial.
His motion included statements from two attorneys who said guards would not let them into the courtroom when they tried to watch the trial.
“I told Mr. Connick that I had not been refused entry to court while in session before and that I thought it strange,” wrote one of the attorneys, Peter Mazzone. The attorneys were not part of the defendants’ defense.
Asked about the security measures, a woman at the trial who declined to give her name said: “We feel that it is a form of harassment. It’s a closed court in some regard. That’s not happening in other courtrooms.”
Peale, one of the defense attorneys, told The News Tribune recently that he knew of complaints from people turned away from the courtroom and was getting information from people who allege they were improperly excluded.
Deputy prosecutor Greg Greer said he thought Arend handled the balance between security and public access well in this case.
“It’s something that Judge Arend, I’m confident, struggled with, but I think she did a good job,” he said.
Greer said cellphones sometimes went off in court during the trial, and that Arend told the audience she’d start confiscating phones until the end of the day if they went off, and she did.
When cellphones continued to disrupt the courtroom, Greer said, the judge started having all phones left with security outside.
He said witness intimidation had been a security issue in the case as well.
An audio recording of part of a witness’ testimony showed up on Facebook,
He noted that he charged two people with witness intimidation after the trial started.
Maria Nicole Baker, 30, pleaded not guilty at arraignment last month to second-degree assault and intimidating a witness.
She was a witness herself, and allegedly hit another person who testified in the back of the head outside the courthouse for what the witness said in court.
And 20-year-old Jaquel Demerson was sentenced Sept. 2 to a month in jail after he pleaded guilty to tampering with a witness by telling someone not to testify.
In addition to the extra security measures, part of Kitt’s and Krentkowski’s bid for a new trial is that they didn’t have a truly random jury.
One juror and his son share the same name, except for their middle initial. When the older man noticed the middle initial on a certificate of appreciation after the trial, he realized his son was the one who had been summoned to jury duty.
Court Administrator Chris Gaddis said that situation is an outlier. Jurors must input their birth dates when they check in online, but not if they choose to bring their summons cards to the courthouse to check in, which happened in this case.
Gaddis said he was still reviewing whether the middle initial had been printed on the card, and said that when court officials realized the mistake, they retroactively made sure the man met qualifications to be a juror.
Arend has yet to set a date to consider Kitt’s and Alexander’s request for a new trial, and it’s not clear whether Gore plans to join them in that motion.
The three are to be sentenced this month.
Co-defendants Trevion Tucker, 16; Lance Milton-Ausley, 18; and 17-year-old Jeremy Bolieu pleaded guilty in the case and got sentences ranging from about 12 to 15 years.