MAYS LANDING — A member of the jury that acquitted an Egg Harbor Township man of vehicular homicide now faces accusations of contempt for allegedly violating his oath and reading newspaper coverage of the trial.
William Simkins was accused of chasing down three teens on bikes after they vandalized his car, fatally striking one. But a jury found him guilty only of leaving the scene of a fatal crash.
Simkins was supposed to be sentenced Friday to five to 10 years in prison, but instead testimony was heard on whether juror Peter Kearny acted improperly during his service.
Brian Sessa — who worked with Kearny at VO Financial in Egg Harbor Township — said Kearny not only revealed he was sitting on Simkins’ jury, but that he pulled up previous Press of Atlantic City stories on the case.
“He said that a young boy got killed, it was dismissed and brought back up,” Sessa testified Friday, saying he was familiar with the case from reading about it in the newspaper.
The dismissal referred to Superior Court Judge Michael Donio throwing out a previous indictment due to how the case was presented to a grand jury. Simkins was later indicted again by another grand jury.
Two of Kearny's co-workers — one of whom is his girlfriend — testified that he only told them he had been picked for jury duty, but nothing about the case.
When asked whether he read The Press' coverage of the trial, Kearny's attorney, Joshua Gayl, objected, instructing his client to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.
"I plead the Fifth," Kearny said each time he was asked about reading any of the stories, including whether he accessed The Press' website at the end of each trial day.
Sessa testified that he came forward because he was troubled by Kearny discussing the case and felt that Simkins should get a fair trial.
Sessa admitted on the stand that he has an extensive criminal history dating to 1986, but that he has nothing against the criminal justice system and that he felt he was treated fairly by both the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office in a previous case and by Superior Court Judge James Isman, who now serves in the county's Civil Court.
"I don't want to be here right now," Sessa said. "It just never sat right with me the whole time it was going on."
Sessa said Kearny told him about one trial day when Simkins' defense attorney, Lou Barbone, "tore apart a patrolman on the stand."
"This guy's a borderline genius," Sessa said Kearny told him. "But a genius can't get him off."
Sessa said Kearny then told him that Jacob Broschard "flew too far for it to be an accident" when Simkins fatally struck the teen riding his bike.
Donio gave Barbone and acting First Assistant Prosecutor Diane Ruberton until Wednesday to submit legal arguments both about Kearny's alleged violation and whether the verdict may have been tainted.
Because Simkins was acquitted of vehicular homicide, he could not be retried on that charge. But if the verdict were deemed tainted, it could mean a new trial on the leaving-the-scene charge.
Donio will release his findings at a hearing set for 1:30 p.m. Oct. 22.
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