Robert Neulander was found guilty in 2015 of murdering his wife Leslie Neulander, but the verdict was overturned on appeal when the court learned that a juror had exchanged thousands of texts about the case. Neulander was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison in 2015 but the verdict was appealed and overturned in 2018 for juror misconduct. In October 2019, the state of New York’s court of appeals affirmed the decision and a new trial was ordered, court records show.
The decision by the state of New York’s court of appeals’ stated that a juror in the initial trial, juror 12, was found to have sent and received hundreds of messages during the trial about Neulander’s case despite clear instructions to not discuss the case. She also looked at various media websites that were writing about the trial.
The juror was identified as Johnna Lorraine, who not only received and sent messages about the case but also attempted to cover up her actions by lying under oath and deleting messages, the court’s decision stated. According to The New York Times, Lorraine was a 23-year-old high school cheerleading coach at the time of the trial in 2015.
Lorraine Sent & Received 7,000 Messages About the Trial & Attempted to Hide Her Actions Afterward
The court was alerted to Lorraine’s actions after the verdict came out in Neulander’s first trial, a New York court of appeals summary stated. According to the summary, a discharged alternate juror came forward and told the defense counsel that juror 12, Lorraine, had “exchanged text messages about the case with third parties while the trial was underway and received media alerts about the trial on her cell phone.” For example, her father sent her a text during the trial that said, “Make sure he’s guilty!” and another text from her friend referred to Neulander as a “scary person.”
According to the summary of events, Lorraine did not share those messages but instead deleted many of the texts and her web browsing history before turning her phone in for an examination by forensic analysts. She also lied in a sworn affidavit when she said that she “followed the trial court’s instructions ‘at all times throughout the trial,'” according to the report.
The statement of facts provided in court records showed that Lorraine “secretly and selectively deleted numerous text messages which she believed to be ‘problematic,’ and presented to the People the remaining portions of the text message exchanges.” It also showed that she erased her internet browsing history and could not provide an explanation of why. A detailed summary of the juror misconduct was also provided by the defense attorneys in a brief to the appellate court.
The Prosecution Argued Against Overturning the Guilty Verdict & Said Lorraine’s Messages Didn’t Show Any Bias During the Trial
The prosecution argued that although Lorraine engaged in juror misconduct, it was “significantly outweighed by the substantial proof of guilt presented at trial” and argued against overturning the guilty verdict, according to the court of appeals’ decision.
The Onondaga County district attorney, William Fitzpatrick, said that Lorraine’s actions were wrong but the text messages showed that she was serious about her duty as a juror, the Times reported. In one message, she said, “I can’t talk about it,” and in another, “I’ll tell you all about it soon.” Another message asked her if Neulander was guilty and she answered, “Can’t tell.”
Fitzpatrick pointed to one text sent the night before the verdict which read: “Like in reality someone’s life is in our hands! We could send an innocent man to prison or put a murderer away!” The District Attorney said that message showed that Lorraine “exhibited her respect for the jury process and the respect for the defendant’s case.”
The District Attorney’s office said that Lorraine would not be facing criminal charges for her actions, the Times reported.