In rare move, judge looks into blog use

One by one, jurors who convicted a Seattle man of first-degree murder a month ago were ushered into a courtroom on Wednesday.

It was a rare post-trial questioning of panel members over whether any of them improperly conducted Internet research about the case.

Afterward, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne said there was no hint of impropriety, and that Noel Caldellis’ conviction should stand.

“I don’t see any evidence of misconduct,” Wynne said. “It appears the jurors followed the instructions of the court.”

The questioning was the latest trial-level bid by Seattle defense lawyer Raymond McFarland to overturn the conviction of Caldellis, 20. He was convicted of gunning down a college student from Mukilteo on Sept. 3, 2006.

The next stop for McFarland will be at the state Court of Appeals, where he vowed to challenge rulings that Wynne made during the trial.

Meanwhile, Caldellis is behind bars, awaiting a Feb. 13 sentencing. He faces a prison term between 34 and 42 years.

In his 29 years as a judge, it’s the first time Wynne has called a jury back to question them about possible impropriety without first being provided some evidence of jury misconduct, he said.

Of concern here was an Internet blog posted by an uncle of victim Jay Clements, 21. The blog included comments on the case and some news stories. McFarland became aware of the blog after the trial concluded Dec. 11. The blog started in September 2006 and was removed after the trial.

McFarland was concerned about a posting by someone who said she was a juror — a day or two after the trial concluded.

Jurors are sworn to uphold the law and to follow the judge’s instructions. Among other things, they are not allowed to conduct independent research on the case they are hearing, or to read newspaper coverage of trials.

McFarland told the judge that if a juror posted a message so soon after the five-week trial, it raised the question whether somebody on the panel had seen the blog earlier.

Wynne agreed to question the jurors to address McFarland’s concern. Deputy prosecutor Matt Hunter called the defense inquiry “a fishing expedition.”

Individually, the seven women and five men who comprised the jury came into Wynne’s courtroom Wednesday. Two said they weren’t aware of the blog. The rest said they learned about it after the trial and after the judge released them from their obligations as jurors.

Some said they did Internet research afterward. None said he or she had any indications the other jurors knew about the blog during the trial.

Earlier on Wednesday, Wynne denied three motions brought by Caldellis’ lawyer, seeking a new trial. The defense argued the judge and the prosecutor made mistakes.

Clements was killed during a Labor Day weekend party when Caldellis and some of his friends went to Brier for a fight.

The jury ruled that Caldellis exercised “extreme indifference to human life” when he fired a .357-caliber pistol into a crowd gathered to watch the melee. Clements was shot twice.

Caldellis also was convicted of two counts of second-degree assault.

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