CROWN POINT | Lawyers for a Lake County teenager found guilty of a gang-related murder launched a surprise appeal Monday.
Hammond attorney James Foster alleged one of the jurors who convicted 17-year-old Martin "Anthony" Villalon Jr. last spring was seen speaking and hugging a member of the victim's family during the six-day trial.
Lake Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell, who planned to sentence Villalon on Monday, expressed skepticism about the defense's request.
"Whoever saw this sat on it and didn't say anything to the defendant's lawyer or the court," she said. She also objected to the defense motion as premature -- coming before, not after, sentencing.
Nevertheless, the judge canceled Villalon's sentencing and set a new hearing July 26 in which she will take testimony on the issue of potential jury misconduct. She said she will sentence Villalon only if his appeal fails.
Villalon, who lists addresses in Crown Point and Whiting, has been incarcerated since his arrest 1 1/2 years ago on suspicion he took part in the the shooting death of 15-year-old John Shoulders, of Hammond.
Police found Shoulders' body Aug. 22, 2008, in a residential driveway in the 1900 block of Warwick Avenue in the normally quiet Water Gardens neighborhood near Hammond's Wolf Lake.
Defense lawyer Thomas Vanes said he only learned of possible jury irregularities after the guilty verdict last spring. He said another teenager saw a juror and a relative of Shoulders talk and hug during a recess of the trial.
Neither Vanes nor Foster identified the juror, the member of the victim's family nor the witness to their contact.
Foster said there also are allegations of jurors carpooling to trial and a juror knowing more about a witness than the juror admitted when picked for the trial. Jurors are supposed to avoid meeting or talking about the case outside the jury room.