INDIANAPOLIS | The Indiana Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday over whether to award a new trial to a Merrillville man convicted of murder last year after stabbing a patron at Hammond's Copper Penny bar.
A Lake County jury found Ernesto Ramirez, 32, guilty of murder and criminal gang activity for causing the death of Victor Adam, 34, of West Lafayette, on Jan. 13, 2011. Ramirez is currently serving a 64-year prison term.
Dyer attorney Marce Gonzalez, representing Ramirez, told the high court the verdict should be set aside and a new trial ordered, because the jury was tainted when Juror 282 told the others there was a potential gang-related shooting near her home during the trial.
Jail records indicate Ramirez is a member of the Spanish Gangster Disciples.
Hammond police found no evidence of a shooting at the juror's home, which was reported to the juror by a neighbor, who heard it from another neighbor.
Nevertheless, a police officer reportedly advised Juror 282, "You better get off that jury."
Upon learning of the incident, Lake Superior Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr., individually interviewed each juror. He dismissed Juror 282 but determined the remainder could still fairly judge the evidence against Ramirez.
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 in February that Stefaniak was correct in denying Ramirez a mistrial.
At the Supreme Court, Gonzalez argued Ramirez was entitled to a jury that had no exposure to Juror 282's allegation of a gang shooting near her home.
He said Ramirez's self-defense claim fell flat because jurors were afraid and unwilling to put themselves in Ramirez's shoes.
Questions from the justices focused mostly on whether mistrials should be based on the presumption of a tainted jury, or if a stricter standard, such as beyond a reasonable doubt, is required.
A ruling from the high court is expected in several months.