BANGOR, Maine — It will be at least a month before a Superior Court judge issues a written decision on a South Berwick man’s request that his July conviction on charges connected to the hit-and-run death of a University of Maine student 21 months ago be set aside or that he be granted a new trial.
Superior Court Justice William Anderson spent less than 30 minutes Tuesday morning hearing oral arguments at the Penobscot Judicial Center.
Garrett Cheney, 23, was found guilty by a jury on July 28 of manslaughter, aggravated criminal operating under the influence of intoxicants, leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in serious bodily injury, and criminal operating under the influence of intoxicants in connection with the death of Jordyn Bakley, 20, of Camden.
Cheney faces up to 30 years in prison for the manslaughter offense alone. He remains free on $50,000 secured bail while awaiting sentencing.
A sentencing date has not been set, but it is unlikely to be scheduled before the end of November.
William Bly, the Biddeford lawyer representing Cheney, 23, said in the post-trial motions that a bystander implored jurors not to let Cheney “get away with it” and become another “Casey Anthony” as they were leaving the courthouse during a lunch break on July 26.
“The pressure this comment placed upon the jury cannot be credibly discounted and it deprived [the] defendant of his right to have his case decided by an impartial jury, one that remained untouched by prejudicial and improper outside influences,” Bly argued in seeking a new trial for his client.
A Florida jury on July 5 acquitted Casey Anthony of murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, whose disappearance she did not report to police for a month. The verdict in Anthony’s trial, which was broadcast live around the world, sparked outrage.
Bly also argued that Cheney should be cleared of all charges because the evidence presented was not sufficient to prove the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The attorney also criticized jurors for not deliberating long enough.
“Despite the length of the trial and extensive evidence presented to it over the course of the the trial, this jury deliberated for only 2½ hours,” he said in his written motion and reiterated on Tuesday. “It did not request a review of any testimony; it did not review key pieces of physical evidence. Instead, it returned a guilty verdict after very little deliberation and with minimal consideration of the facts before it.”
Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy said after Tuesday’s hearing that Bly was attempting to have “the jury verdict rendered suspect. It’s not the length of the deliberations that count.”
Bly also has asked for the names and hometowns of jurors so he can determine whether they were unduly influenced by the individual’s statements.
Earlier this month, Anderson denied a similar request for the jurors’ names from the Bangor Daily News.
“This request amounts to tampering with the verdict by a disappointed litigant for reasons unsupported by our statutes or case law,” Almy wrote in his motion opposing the release of jurors’ names.
The judge was made aware of the bystander’s statement and jurors were questioned individually about it when they returned from lunch, Almy said after the hearing.
“Mr. Bly at that time never raised any objection to continuing the trial and the judge found that everything was kosher,” the district attorney said.
Last month, Almy called Bly’s motions for a new trial and to set aside the verdict “perfunctory.”
“I expect that the court will deny them without much argument or even thought,” he said in a telephone interview. “These are fairly routine motions that are rarely granted. And there is no reason for them to be granted in this case.”
Post-trial motions tee up issues to be presented to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on appeal. Bly said after the verdict that it would be appealed.
There is no timetable under which Anderson must issue a decision.