Jurors serving during the sentencing trial for Michael Astorga, who was convicted of killing Bernalillo County Sheriff's Deputy James McGrane, sent him to prison for life. Prosecutors were aiming for the death penalty.
District Attorney Kari Brandenberg told The Albuquerque Journal that at least one juror said fear played a part in the decision not to sentence Astorga to death.
Brandenburg said she was contacted by a juror who said the 11-women, one-man jury had appeared close to approving the death penalty for Astorga, with only a single juror wavering.
“She thought they were going (for the) death penalty,” Brandenburg said of the juror who contacted her.
Then on Friday morning, the jury foreman sent a message to District Judge Pro Tem Neil Candelaria saying several jurors were concerned for their safety. They asked for assurances that their individual votes as jurors would remain anonymous, and they sought protection as they walked to their vehicles after the verdict.
Candelaria responded with a written message in which he assured jurors their safety was the court’s foremost concern. He also offered to speak privately with them about their concerns after the trial.
Some of the jurors apparently weren’t satisfied with Candelaria’s response, resulting in the subsequent 8-4 vote, Brandenburg said.
Brandenburg said she could not remember another case where jurors told a judge that they felt their safety was threatened. She said she did not know of any threats made against jurors.