A member of the jury that convicted Molly’s Pub manager Jeffrey Basil of murder in last year’s death of a bar patron concealed her military service and arrest record when she was questioned during jury selection, Basil’s attorney said Thursday.
As a result, Paul J. Cambria Jr. has asked State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang to set aside the verdict and order a new trial.
He said the juror’s failure to reveal her service in the Air Force Reserve and her arrest on grand theft charges in Florida in the 1990s deprived Basil of his right to a fair and impartial jury.
If Basil’s lawyers had known she had served in the military, Cambria said, she would not have been picked to serve on the jury, since the victim, William C. Sager Jr., was an Air National Guard crew chief.
“During all facets of jury selection, it was made abundantly clear to the jury pool that Mr. Sager was a military veteran, specifically an Air National Guardsman and Afghan War veteran,” he said in his legal papers.
“Therefore, counsel repeatedly asked questions to garner each potential juror’s experience in the Armed Forces, due to the overwhelming potential for juror sympathy.”
He said all potential jurors were asked if they had any military experience.
“Once again, and despite hearing three days’ worth of questions and disclosures regarding Armed Forces experience,” the juror “failed to make any mention of her Air Force Reserve service, which included six months active duty between 1998 and 1999,” he said.
Cambria said the juror showed her bias toward Sager in a Jan. 22 interview with Channel 7, a day after the jury convicted Basil of second-degree intentional murder for pushing Sager down the stairs May 11 at the Main Street bar, causing a skull fracture that led to his death July 31 after 82 days in a coma.
During the interview, the juror indicated that she was especially affected by the testimony of one of Sager’s military friends, Matthew Baird, who tended to the 28-year-old victim in the bar’s parking lot as Basil yelled at Baird and others to leave.
“You never leave a man behind, and that was heartfelt to me,” the juror told Channel 7, recalling Baird’s testimony that he was trained in the military “to never leave a wingman behind.”
Cambria said the juror’s comments showed “that she was not acting as a fair and impartial juror when rendering her verdict against Mr. Basil, thus depriving him of his constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury.
“Because of her military background alone, and the effect that … had on her, counsel would have excused her either for cause by the court or peremptorily,” he said.
Cambria also cited the juror’s statement during jury selection that she had never been accused of a crime, even though she had been charged in 1997 in Clay County, Fla., with stealing jewelry from a store where she worked.
The case, however, was not prosecuted.
Cambria said that “her prior arrest and the disposition of her charges as a result of favorable treatment by the prosecution would as well have been more than enough basis for a peremptory challenge.”
Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said Assistant District Attorney Christopher J. Belling, who prosecuted the case against Basil, will file legal papers responding to Cambria’s motion.
Basil, 36, of Amherst, is scheduled to return to court April 7 when Wolfgang is expected to rule on the motion. If she denies it, Basil is expected to be sentenced.
He faces a prison sentence of at least 15 years to life and at most 25 years to life.