CROWN POINT | The trial of Jason R. Cozmanoff took a surprising turn Tuesday morning, with Lake Criminal Court Judge Salvador Vasquez excusing the jury selected after a marathon session Monday and ordering a new trial date set.
Vasquez announced Tuesday that, after the jury was selected, one of the potential jurors not called told the court bailiff that he actually witnessed the hit-and-run accident on March 6, 2012.
The judge explained this new information to those in the courtroom Tuesday and later to the jury before he excused them and thanked them for their service.
Cozmanoff’s family and the victims’ family members filled the courtroom Tuesday. Some of the victims’ families had traveled from Mississippi and Detroit to attend the trial.
Vasquez said the potential juror told the bailiff he was serving a sentence at the Lake County Work Release program and saw the impact as it happened. The man also said as many as 30 others waiting for an alcohol education class were looking out of the building’s windows when the incident occurred.
None of those in the work release program told police about seeing the incident during the investigation by the Lake County sheriff’s police.
Cozmanoff, 43, of Lakes of the Four Seasons, is charged with 13 felony counts related to the death of Lake County Correctional Officer Britney Meux, 25, and the severe injury to three other correctional officers while they were jogging along 93rd Street about 7 p.m. that day. The collision was directly across from the work release building.
“This is a total surprise. No one saw this coming,” the judge said.
This new information was shared Monday evening with the defense and prosecuting attorneys after the jury was empaneled, Vasquez said. The attorneys were able to talk with the man and he affirmed the information he gave the bailiff on Monday.
“A lot of effort has gone into this case. It is over a year old. It would be manifestly unjust to require this case to go forward,” Vasquez said in granting the defense request for a new trial date over the prosecuting attorney's objection. “The last thing we need is to do this again.”
He said an appeals court would likely reverse any guilty verdict Cozmanoff received and the case would be ordered tried again.
The continuation to a new trial date this fall will allow the defense and the prosecution to investigate this new information and interview potential witnesses, Vasquez said.
The date of Cozmanoff’s new trial will be established on Monday. That allows all the attorneys to consult their schedules, the judge said.