WASHINGTON (CN) — Finding insufficient evidence that the foreperson of his jury was biased against him, a federal judge in Washington on Thursday denied longtime GOP strategist and Trump confidante Roger Stone’s request for a new trial.
“The assumption underlying the motion — that one can infer from the juror’s opinions about the president that she could not fairly consider evidence against the defendant — is not supported by any facts or data and it is contrary to controlling legal precedent,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote in a fiery 81-page opinion Thursday. “The motion is a tower of indignation, but at the end of the day, there is little of substance holding it up.”
Jackson in February sentenced Stone to more than three years in prison for lying to Congress and obstruction of justice, following a stunning move from the Justice Department to walk back an original sentencing recommendation and ask for a lighter sentence after President Donald Trump publicly criticized the original ask as too harsh.
The prosecutors who handled Stone’s case either left the case or resigned from the Justice Department entirely after the reversal.
After the back-and-forth at the Justice Department over the recommendation, Tomeka Hart, the foreperson on Stone’s jury posted on Facebook in dismay that political considerations appeared to have crept into the agency’s sentencing decision on the case.
Stone’s attorneys then went through Hart’s social media history and found she had mentioned former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, made negative comments Trump and shared a post commenting on Stone’s arrest.
“The juror failed to advise the court that she is extremely partisan,” Stone’s attorneys wrote in the motion. “The evidence strongly indicates that she was a ‘stealth juror,’ covering her bias to enable her to intrude into the trial process at the most fundamental level.”
As revealed during jury selection, Hart previously ran for Congress as a Democrat and had served on a local school board in Tennessee. Under questioning from Stone’s attorneys during jury selection, Hart said she might have future political aspirations.
She also indicated that she followed the news and was aware of the charges against Stone, but neither Stone’s attorneys nor the government moved to strike her from the jury, according to Jackson’s opinion.
Jackson, an appointee of President Barack Obama, held a hearing on Feb. 25 featuring testimony from Hart and two other jurors, delving into Hart’s social media posts and the inner workings of the jury.
Ultimately, Jackson found nothing revealed in the hearing or in Hart’s social media posts suggested she lied on her jury questionnaire.
While she shared multiple articles about Mueller’s investigation and two posts that mentioned Stone specifically, that does not go against her statement that she couldn’t remember if she had posted on social media about the Russia probe, Mueller or Stone, Jackson wrote.
The same is true of her knowledge of Mueller’s investigation and Stone’s case, Jackson said. Hart explicitly stated that she knew about the charges against Stone and had followed Mueller’s probe “somewhat closely.”
Jackson also found that Hart’s political views were not a secret based on her answers to questions during jury selection and that there is no evidence Hart had preformed opinions about Stone that would have prevented her from being impartial.
“This court has now had the opportunity to question the juror on two occasions,” Jackson wrote. “During the individual voir dire, the foreperson swore in open court — subject to cross-examination — that she could be impartial in deciding the case. The court found her testimony to be entirely sincere and credible – and from all indications, the defense did too, because it did not even ask to strike the avowed Democrat with ‘opinions’ about the president at that time.”
Finally, Jackson said Hart’s social media posts are not the kind of new evidence that can support a motion for new trial, because there is no evidence Stone’s attorneys attempted to investigate her internet history during jury selection and declined to ask her follow-up questions when they had the chance.
Robert Buschel, an attorney with the firm Buschel & Gibbons who represents Stone, did not immediately return a request for comment on the decision. The Justice Department also did not immediately return a request for comment.