Lawyer accused of juror tampering in hazing trial


Published: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE— A defense lawyer Tuesday denied a criminal contempt of court allegation that he improperly contacted a juror who had been dismissed before the start of the felony hazing trial of five Florida A&M University fraternity brothers.

The indirect criminal contempt complaint by Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker also alleges that attorney Richard Keith Alan II was more than an hour late for trial in December without contacting court officials to explain his absence.

Alan is set for arraignment Feb. 19. He posted a $2,000 bond and was released from custody shortly after Dekker sentenced his client, Jason Harris, and a co-defendant, Michael Morton, to two years in prison Monday. It was the first prosecution under a new state law that makes hazing a felony if it results in serious bodily injury.

Dekker alleged that on Jan. 11, without court authorization, Alan went to the home of Gwendolyn Wiggins, who had been selected as a juror but was excused before lawyers made opening statements at the trial Dec. 12.

The judge had granted the state's peremptory challenge after Wiggins said she was worried about her ability to focus on the testimony due to medical problems that included back pains, high blood pressure and epilepsy.

Alan had opposed the replacement of Wiggins, who is black, with an alternate because he felt the jury wasn't diverse enough without her. All five defendants and the victim, Marcus Jones, 20, of Decatur, Ga., are black.

Jones testified that he was punched and still has pain in his buttocks from being beaten with wooden canes during an initiation ritual on four separate nights.

Dekker also alleged Alan incorrectly told Wiggins he had court approval to speak with her, questioned her against her will and improperly sought the woman's medical records.

In response, Alan cited a motion he had filed before the sentencing that asked Dekker to disqualify herself, alleging she was biased against his client. Alan wrote that Dekker's order against contacting Wiggins was invalid because the woman was not a juror in the trial.

Before Wiggins was excused, Alan asked for her medical records after arguing she may have been "tampered with" to falsely claim she had medical problems. Dekker called his request "nothing short of outrageous" and denied it.

It was the second trial for all five defendants. The first jury was unable to reach a verdict for any of the Kappa Alpha Psi brothers. The second jury also failed to agree on three of the defendants and they are set for a third trial March 12.

Alan and Chuck Hobbs, a lawyer for the other defendants, said Morton, 23, of Fort Lauderdale, and Harris, 25, of Jacksonville, will appeal on grounds that the new law provides no definition for serious bodily injury.

The maximum penalty is five years in prison. Dekker said one year might have been enough to punish Harris and Morton, a former chapter president, but she gave them two years as a deterrent to others.

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