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N.J. Court Reverses Sentencing Role of Jurors

TRENTON, N.J. (CN) - Two jurors who pleaded for a judge to be lenient with a man found guilty of murdering his father have no say in the matter, New Jersey's appeals court ruled Monday.

The two jurors, among the 12 who found John Mahoney guilty in 2015 of first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of his father, had suggested to the judge that Mahoney receive "significant therapy" and probation for the crime.

Two days after Christmas in 2007, then-18-year-old Mahoney shot and killed his father, a Piscataway, N.J., police officer, according to local news reports.

Mahoney's defense attorney argued that he had suffered years of physical and verbal abuse by his father committed self-defense. Prosecutors called Mahoney "spoiled" and said he shot his father because of overprotective and strict house rules.

Mahoney - who had shot himself in the arm after killing his father - initially told police that an intruder shot his father, but later admitted to committing the crime.

Tape recordings played during court proceedings revealed Mahoney's father cursing and slapping his son after he quit the high school football team. Mahoney was found guilty after an eight-week trial.

A week after returning the verdict, one of the jurors sympathetic to Mahoney's alleged abuse wrote to him, saying she wished for him to have a second lease on life and encouraged him to be strong.

Juror number two wrote to the judge as well, asking for probation and extensive mental health therapy. Juror 10, who claimed to write on behalf of several other jurors, also wrote to the judge, saying that Mahoney needed "treatment not punishment."

Mahoney's counsel said the two jurors would testify at Mahoney's sentencing hearin but prosecutors filed a motion to preclude them from doing so. Relying upon a 1992 Wisconsin appellate court's opinion, the judge overseeing Mahoney's case agreed to let the jurors speak as long as they did not delve into their jury deliberations.

The prosecutors appealed that decision, arguing the two jurors had "no relevant role" in testifying.

The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division agreed on Monday, finding that a judge may not consider anything a juror says regarding aggravating or mitigating factors during sentencing, and that a juror's responsibilities and role end once a verdict is reached.

"To allow juror participation would unnecessarily create a substantial risk of distracting the jurors from their primary purpose - serving as judges of the facts," Judge Douglas Fasciale wrote for a three-judge panel, adding that allowing jurors to speak at a sentencing hearing "undermin[es] the sanctity of the jury's deliberative process."

The state appeals court called the case "tragic" but also said that "well-settled safeguards" already in place - including allocution by the defendant or statements by family members or victims - would help the judge determine an appropriate sentence for Mahoney.

"The jury fulfills [its] duty by weighing the evidence calmly, without passion, prejudice, or sympathy," the 15-page ruling states. "This is so because allowing these emotions to influence their decision has the potential to deprive both the state and defendant of a fair and impartial trial by fair and impartial jurors."

As for judicial precedent, Fasciale wrote that the judge in the Wisconsin case had "correctly cautioned" against too broad an interpretation, which rendered that opinion null for Mahoney's case.

Mahoney faces 30 years in prison for his conviction. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 5.

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