Evidence presented to a Fresno County jury that voted to convict in a murder-for-hire case earlier this year was tainted by a detective's testimony, the defense team for Daljit Singh Multani said in a motion for retrial.
Singh's sentencing is today, but Superior Court Judge Kent Hamlin will hear the retrial motion first.
The most significant issue for a new trial raised by Singh's lawyer Anthony Capozzi came from a detective's testimony about police informant Joe Luis Yzaguirre Jr.
Yzaguirre, who was under witness protection, was shot just as Singh's trial was supposed to begin. The detective mentioned the shooting in his testimony after the judge told witnesses not to talk about it.
Singh, 44, was convicted in June of trying to hire a hit man to kill his former business partner, Rama Kant Dawar, last year. Jurors deliberated less than six hours before convicting him.
Working as a police informant, Yzaguirre secretly recorded Daljit Singh talking about wanting to hire a hit man to kill Dawar, police say.
In questioning during the trial by defense attorney Nick Capozzi, who also represents Singh, the jury heard a police detective say he met Yzaguirre when questioning him about a shooting in Clovis days before the trial was ready to begin.
During a recess after the comment was made, a female juror wrote a note to the court saying she was worried she might be retaliated against if the jury voted to convict.
The defense motion said Hamlin also considered declaring a mistrial because of the detective's testimony. But no other juror worried about the detective's comment, which Hamlin said at the time he thought was unintentional.
The juror continued to serve, saying she believed she could remain fair in her deliberation, prosecutor David Shabaglian said in his motion.
In Shabaglian's rebuttal to the defense motion, he said 11 other jurors said they were instructed not to use the shooting in their deliberations and didn't consider it.
Shabaglian also said the detective's mistake was not intentional.
In juror interviews with lawyers after the trial, one said he didn't even recall that Yzaguirre was in witness protection.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, firstname.lastname@example.org
or @beebenjamin on Twitter.