A male juror in Ruben Flores’ jury was excused from the Kristin Smart murder trial on Thursday after seeking “spiritual guidance” from his priest — forcing the jury to restart their deliberations with an alternate juror.
Judge Jennifer O’Keefe received a note from a woman on Ruben Flores’ jury that the male juror had gone to confession and discussed the case. Outside the presence of the rest of the jury, the female juror told the Court that the male juror was “feeling anxious about making a decision one way or another.”
An alternate juror was sworn in shortly after the man was excused.
“You do need to begin your deliberations anew,” O’Keefe told Ruben Flores’ jury.
Outside the presence of the jury, O’Keefe said that the Court “observed” both jurors and found the female juror’s statements “credible.”
O’Keefe cited several court cases where jurors had discussed the case outside of their trial, resulting in an overturned verdict.
O’Keefe called the male juror into the courtroom around 1:45 p.m on Thursday, addressing him outside the presence of the rest of the jury. He confirmed that he went to confession on Saturday to meet with his priest, but maintained that he knew not to discuss the case until after jury deliberations concluded.
“I know what I’m told,” the juror said. “I’ve been on juries before.”
The juror told O’Keefe that his conversation with the priest “had nothing to do with [the specifics of the case],” assuring the Court that he did not discuss the facts of the case nor the process of jury deliberations with his priest.
“I didn’t ask, ‘Can I do this, can I do that,” the juror said, explaining that he just went seeking spiritual guidance before making a “difficult decision.”
O’Keefe called the female juror into the courtroom shortly after. She told the Court that the male juror approached her Thursday while they were waiting to be let into the courtroom and told her that he “had been thinking about it all week.”
She told the Court that the male juror had spoken to her about his conversation with his priest. According to the female juror, the male juror’s priest told him that, regardless of the verdict, “there is someone up there that oversees, in a sense, everybody’s judgment.”
After discussing with prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle and Ruben Flores’ defense attorney, Harold Mesick, O’Keefe called the male juror back in and excused him from the trial.
O’Keefe said the female juror had given her a “conflicting” story of what happened that directly contradicted what the male juror told the court earlier that day, specifically noting that the female juror said the male juror had spoken to his priest both in and out of confession.
The male juror said that, outside of confession, he talked to his priest about his father, who had prayed to the Virgin Mary asking to have a daughter because everyone else in the family had had sons. He maintained he didn’t discuss the case outside of confession.
“Sometimes even the appearance of impropriety is just as bad as actual impropriety,” Judge O’Keefe told the male juror.
O’Keefe added that her biggest priority was to protect the “fair and impartial administration of justice,” thanking the male juror for his service before excusing him.
Juries for Paul and Ruben Flores have deliberated for about three days. Deliberations did not occur Monday through Wednesday due to a scheduled court break.
Ruben Flores’ jury began their deliberations with the new juror just before 3 p.m. Thursday.